Cloud computing would appear to be a perfect fit for the world of Formula One motor racing.
Teams need huge elasticity in their computing landscape in order to meet spikes in demand around races which are held in increasingly diverse locations, across eight months of the year. The IT organization is tasked with pulling together massive volumes of data on vehicle performance, telemetry and track conditions and within seconds, turn it into information on which the race team can make critical decisions.
This week, PAC sat down for a coffee with Graeme Hackland, IT Director at Lotus F1, at the Business Cloud Summit in London. Hackland was sharing Lotus’ experience in adopting cloud delivery models for security (it uses an e-mail scanning service from Symantec), and CRM (it uses Salesforce). The company has also built a private cloud infrastructure at its highly virtualized data center in Oxfordshire.
Like most organizations, Lotus F1 has not made a wholesale move towards cloud delivery, and indeed it has not adopted it as aggressively as you might think. It uses Dassault’s CATIA system as a its core PLM platform, and has recently announced the decision to deploy Microsoft Dynamics as the ERP system underpinning its factory operations.
So did Lotus consider a cloud alternative for its core ERP system? Hackland said that Lotus looked at 13 solutions, and that his project office are tasked with always considering a cloud option. However, he said that Lotus F1 is simply not yet mature enough as a company to put any of its three most critical systems – ERP, performance engineering and CAD – into the cloud.
Like many businesses, Lotus F1 has a wide spread of legacy applications, and to make the jump to a cloud delivery model was just too much, too soon. Instead, Dynamics will give it an end-to-end view of design, production and performance data to enable its management team to get an instant understanding of, for example, whether it is meeting new regulations on investment restrictions. A subsequent move to cloud may be on the agenda a further 18 months to two years down the line.
Hackland heads up a team of around 40 people, half of whom work in development. Avanade, the Accenture venture focused on Microsoft services is a key partner for development and testing services.
Lotus F1 is around 12 months into a move towards adopting agile development models and Hackland says that the main challenge has been cultural rather skills-related. He said that agile can feel like a loss of power for business analysts as they used to be interfaces between users and the developers. Product owners now deal more directly with developers, and because they need to steer each sprint, that can add an extra 2-3 hours a week onto their already busy workloads. Some developers can also find it awkward to engage with the consumer of the product they develop (although Hackland says that this hasn’t necessarily been a problem for his team).
Hackland said that while the structures and rules of the scrum sessions can be a drag, agile is delivering clear benefits in terms of the quality and flexibility of the software that is developed. For example, one current development project has changed in scope twice, but the more iterative approach of agile has meant that the development team can readily change course. Another side effect of the move towards agile is that Lotus F1 is now using greater testing resources as it is testing at an earlier stage in the lifecycle.
One of the main focus areas for the development team is the area of analytics, where Lotus F1 continues to produce in-house tools, as it views analytics as a real area for differentiation versus the competition. But does Hackland see the cloud offering any value in this area? He says that he can see Lotus F1 eventually moving away from the physical racks that it currently lugs around from one race to the next to support the data analysis run by the trackside team, and replacing it with cloud-based infrastructure.
Furthermore, the large and scalable computational power available via cloud would enable it to take its data analytics to the next level. For example, Lotus F1 is currently able to run 10,000 race simulations in three minutes, but it would like to get this down to under 90 seconds, so it can make decisions within a single lap of the track. However, Hackland says that the main barrier to this at the moment is not the performance, cost or security of cloud services; it is nervousness over the reliability of local bandwidth at the race location.
Lotus finished the recent F1 season in a respectable fourth place. But Hackland believes that IT will play a crucial role in helping them onto the podium in years to come.