Formula One racing team Lotus has overhauled its legacy datacentre infrastructure, setting up a private cloud to increase availability of critical systems as it targets victory at future world championship events.

Lotus has a total of 550 members of staff, operating the design, build and operation of its cars. Supporting its wider business are 44 IT staff, including 20 developers focusing on car analytics and configuration. The business also relies on a number of applications to support its manufacturing and design operations, as well as Sage and Microsoft Dynamics enterprise resource planning (ERP) software.

Last year Lotus began a three-year project to modernise its systems, targeting first place at the 2015 World Championship with improved technology.

“The project was a complete refresh and start again in terms of IT infrastructure,” Lotus deputy IT director Michael Taylor told CIO sister title ComputerworldUK at VMworld Europe 2013. “We have a very clear focus on challenging for the World Championship 2015, and to do that we need to have everything in place: people, process and technology are the three key areas we have been focusing on.

“The IT piece is really important. Everything relies on technology – from the machine shop to the actual racing of the cars.”

Replacing legacy systems

In order to achieve its aims, Lotus began the migration of its 140 legacy HP servers and NetApp storage, adding a secondary on-premise data centre to improve availability of its systems.

The two data centres were set up in an active-active configuration at its central campus, requiring load-balancing share excess capacity. The project involved introducing two vBlock 320 converged infrastructure systems, incorporating a total of one petabyte EMC VNX storage, Cisco UCS servers and VMware vSphere 5.5 virtualisation, including vMotion to enable workloads to be easily migrated between its data centres.

Lotus also uses VMware cloud set-up tools, such as vCloud Director, to manage its environment, though has stopped short of signing up for the full vCloud Suite. 

The team expects to have in the region of 600 virtual machines running when the legacy system migration is complete.

Need for high availability

Lotus chose VMware's virtualisation and management tools over others in the market due to its long relationship with the company and the "superiority" over competing systems. Taylor said that the reliability of the software was vital in ensuring that technology did provide a barrier to the team's on-track performance.

“We have been a VMware house for a number of years," he said. "We did a VMware versus Hyper-V assessment a few years ago and found the maturity of VMware meant it was a superior product.”

“We have been back to revisit it and Hyper-V has come on leaps and bounds, it is a credible alternative. But VMware has been operating in this space for a number of years and you can rely on them. You need to be 100 percent sure you can provide a service to the guys competing – you can't delay the race for five minutes while you reboot a server or a storage device.”

When fully up and running, the private cloud will help all aspects of Lotus' operations, helping the business respond quickly to the demands of the sport.

“The continued availability is very important from a business point of view: limiting or having literally no downtime. Also design teams knowing that they are not held back by IT or maintenance downtime,” said Taylor.

He added: “We log significant amounts of data, so giving our design and engineering teams access to more of the data that is logged in a timely manner, we are able to make better business decisions. That runs throughout the factory environment area to the rest of the organisation.”