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Meet Aston Martin F1’s incredible moving data centre

The Aston Martin Red Bull Racing team faces a great deal more IT challenges than your average enterprise as not many IT teams have to rebuild their data center 21 times each year and get it running it up in a matter of hours. Not many data centers are packed up and transported around the world by air and sea along with 45 tonnes of equipment. Not many IT technicians also have to perform a dual role as pit stop mechanic.

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The trackside garage at an F1 race is a tight working environment and a team of only two IT technicians face pressure from both the factory and trackside staff to get the trackside IT up and running very fast. Yet, despite all these pressures, Aston Martin Red Bull Racing do not have a cloud-led strategy. Instead they have chosen to keep all IT in house.

The reason for this is performance. F1 is arguably the ultimate performance sport. A walk round the team’s factory in Milton Keynes, England, makes it abundantly clear that the whole organization is hell bent on maximizing performance. 700 staff at the factory are all essentially dedicated to the creation of just two cars. The level of detail that is demanded in reaching peak performance is truly mind blowing. For example, one machine with a robotic arm that checks the dimensions of the components built at the factory is able to measure accuracy to a scale 10 times thinner than a human hair.

This quest for maximum performance, however, is hampered at every turn by the stringent rules from the F1 governing body – the FIA. Teams face restrictions on testing and technology usage in order to prevent the sport becoming an arms race. So, for example, pre-season track testing is limited to only 8 days. Furthermore, wind tunnel testing is only allowed with 60% scale models and wind tunnel-usage is balanced with the use of Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) software, essentially a virtual wind tunnel. Teams that overuse one, lose time with the other.

In order to maximize performance within uniquely difficult logistical and regulatory conditions, the Aston Martin Red Bull Racing team has had to deploy a very powerful and agile IT estate.

According to Neil Bailey, Head of IT Infrastructure, Enterprise Architecture and Innovation, their legacy trackside infrastructure was “creaking”. Before choosing hyperconverged infrastructure, their “traditional IT had reached its limits”, says Bailey. “When things reach their limits they break, just like a car,” adds Bailey.

The team’s biggest emphasis for switching to HPE’s hyperconverged infrastructure, SimpliVity, was performance. Now, with “the extra performance of SimpliVity, it means it doesn’t get to its limits,” says Bailey. HPE SimpliVity has helped reduce space, has optimized processing power and brought more agility.

One of the first and most important use cases they switched to hyperconverged infrastructure was post-processing trackside data. During a race weekend each car is typically fitted with over 100 sensors providing key data on things like tyre temperature and downforce multiple times per second. Processing this data and acting on the insights is key to driving performance improvements. With their legacy infrastructure, Bailey says they were “losing valuable track time during free practice waiting for data processing to take place.” Since switching to HPE SimpliVity, data processing has dropped from being more than 15 minutes to less than 5 minutes. Overall, the team has seen a 79% performance boost compared to the legacy architecture. This has allowed for real time race strategy analysis and has improved race strategy decision making.

Data insights helps the team stay one step ahead, as race strategy decisions are data driven. For example, real time tyre temperature data helps the team judge tyre wear and make pit stop decisions. Real time access to tyre data helped the team to victory at the 2018 Chinese Grand Prix as the Aston Martin Red Bull cars pitted ahead of the rest of the field and Daniel Ricciardo swept to a memorable victory.

Hyperconverged infrastructure is also well suited to the “hostile” trackside environment, according to Bailey. With hyperconverged infrastructure, only two racks are needed at each race of which SimpliVity only takes up about 20% of the space, thus freeing up key space in very restricted trackside garages. Furthermore, with the team limited to 60 staff at each race, only two of Bailey’s team can travel. The reduction in equipment and closer integration of HPE SimpliVity means engineers can get the trackside data center up and running quickly and allow trackside staff to start work as soon as they arrive.

Since seeing the notable performance gains from using hyperconverged infrastructure for trackside data processing, the team has also transitioned some of the factory’s IT estate over to HPE SimpliVity. This includes: Aerodynamic metrics, ERP system, SQL server, exchange server and the team’s software house, the Team Foundation Server.

As well as seeing huge performance benefits, HPE SimpliVity has significantly impacted the work patterns of Bailey’s team of just ten. According to Bailey, the biggest operational win from hyperconverged infrastructure is “freeing up engineers’ time from focusing on ‘business as usual’ to innovation.” Traditional IT took up too much of the engineers’ time monitoring systems and just keeping things running. Now with HPE SimpliVity, Bailey’s team can “give the business more and quicker” and “be more creative with how they use technology.”

Hyperconverged infrastructure has given Aston Martin Red Bull Racing the speed, scalability and agility they require without any need to turn to the cloud. It allows them to deliver more and more resources to trackside staff in an increasingly responsive manner. However, even with all these performance gains, Aston Martin Red Bull Racing has been able to reduce IT costs. So, the users are happy, the finance director is happy and the IT team are happy because their jobs are easier. Hyperconvergence is clearly the right choice for the unique challenges of Formula 1 racing.

Cars

Are you playing auto roulette with smart car devices?

Kaspersky analysed aftermarket connected smart car devices, and made a pleasant discovery

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There are currently two ways for car enthusiasts to obtain a connected vehicle – purchase a ‘smart by design’ car from a dealer, or improve their existing car with a number of additional ‘smart-devices’. While both scenarios create a greater driving experience, smart technology also represents a brand new area for malicious use, as the media and Kaspersky’s own research has repeatedly shown. This is inevitable – when a piece of technology becomes essential, related security issues tend to increase.

With this in mind, Kaspersky researchers set out to discover whether these reports on the security of IoT devices had any impact on manufacturers of smart devices for the automotive industry. The researchers analysed several randomly selected devices, including an OBD dongle scanning tool, a tyre pressure and temperature monitoring system, a smart alarm system, a GPS tracker, and an app-controlled dashcam.

The findings were a pleasant surprise: while the IoT industry has often been considered vulnerable, these automotive-related smart and connected devices proved to be quite secure, with no major vulnerabilities exposed. However, several security issues were also revealed: the ability to remotely access driving dynamics data via a scanning toll, the option to manipulate signals from the tire monitoring system, and, most alarmingly, the ability to open vehicle doors using the alarm system. However, all of these elements are either very hard to implement or bring no obvious or immediate outcome for a criminal.

“The devices we examined met many security policies and were satisfactory, with the exception of a few small issues. This is partly due to the limited functionality of these devices and the lack of serious consequences in the event of a successful attack through these products – but also thanks to the vigilance of manufacturers. We were glad to see that they have invested their efforts into making these devices more secure, a good sign overall for the automotive industry. Yet, this is still not a reason to relax: based on our experience, the smarter the device, the higher the chances that security issues will occur. That is why security should be considered more closely in the early stages of product development, especially as a new generation of smart devices come to the market,” notes Victor Chebyshev, security expert at Kaspersky.

To keep smart automotive devices even more secure, we advise:

  1. When choosing which part of your vehicle you’re going to make a little bit smarter, first consider the security risks. Think twice if the device has something to do with the car telemetry or access to its ‘brains’.
  2. Before buying a device, search the internet for news of any vulnerabilities. It is likely that the device you are going to purchase has already been examined by security researchers and it is possible to find out whether any issues have been found in the device, or have already been patched.
  3. It is not always a great idea to buy the most recent products released on the market. Along with the standard bugs often found in new products, recently-launched devices might contain security issues that haven’t yet been discovered by security researchers. The best choice is to buy products that have already been worked on with several software updates.
  4. Always consider the security of the ‘mobile dimension’ of the device, especially if you have Android devices – applications are often helpful and make life easier, but once a smartphone is hit by malware, a lot can go wrong.
  5. To overcome the challenge of smart device cybersecurity, Kaspersky has invested in Kaspersky OS, widely used in customised manufacturing hardware and software. This system can be used across a variety of fields: on mobile devices and PCs, IOT devices, intelligent energy systems, industrial systems, telecommunications, and transportation systems. Kaspersky sees opportunities in the further development of KasperskyOS to meet the needs of our customers and ensure the highest levels of security can be achieved in all these fields, including the automotive industry. More information can be found here.

Read the full text of the report on Securelist.

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Cars

How car-buying must change

The car-buying experience must innovate to evolve the automotive industry, writes TREVOR HILL, head of Audi South Africa

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Our relationship with motor vehicles is a complex mix of emotional and rational decision making. Add to this, external influences such as longer product-retention cycles (up from five years to as much as seven years), a struggling economy and probably the greatest product choice in the market we have ever seen; there is a significant need for manufacturers to reinvent the car-buying experience.

So, while the “future of mobility” is evolving to enable new technologies such as autonomous vehicles, connectivity, electrification and shared mobility – it is necessary that there be a proportional shift in how we can innovate how these products are purchased or considered at the onset.

This trend is not new. As early as 2013, global consulting firm McKinsey published a report highlighting three key trends that would impact customer decisions and engagement on the retail end of the automotive industry. These included: an enhanced level of what it called “touchpoint management”, sales and service upgrades and the role of the traditional Dealership in the customer purchase and sales decision journey.

Fast forward to 2019. The challenge for automotive brands is how to deliver a personalised, digital service in an industry once solely reliant on bricks-and-mortar Dealerships and a hard-sell sales approach. In the premium segment, there is even more room for innovation around the Dealership experience to meet the demands of personalisation and technology while still delivering on fundamentals. This includes aspects like physically experiencing the vehicle before purchase, expert product advice and the personal customer experience that enhances long-term brand experience and loyalty.

Behaviour-driven thinking dictates how we reframe and design the customer experience of the future. As an automaker in the premium segment, we focus on three key principles of behavioural planning:

  1. The paradox of choice: Offering customers more choices is not always better, as we can trigger an unintended “paralysis of choice”. When we have too many options, the likelihood that we will make a decision is reduced. Given this, Audi has reviewed our options specification for new products entering our model range and will be developing specific packages around various customer needs. This allows for reduced complexity of choice and ease of ordering a new vehicle. This will be reflected on our digital platforms when configuring any of the new vehicles such as the Audi Q8 and upcoming Audi A1 and Q3. This simplification is the first step towards addressing how customers experience us as a brand.
  • Availability: Creating opportunities for customers to assess choices through innovative and digital examples is a foundation of how we are slowly reinventing our Dealership experience. We are pioneering this by introducing the Customer Private Lounge (CPL) – one of a kind in South Africa and located at Audi Centre Centurion in Pretoria – that allows customers to build up their Audi using digital configuration and virtual-reality technology.
  • Relativity: Customers are more likely to make decisions based on the context. While traditional Dealerships will remain key to the customer’s sales journey, Audi aims to connect new opportunities within this environment. This includes a combination of traditional selling (knowledgeable consultant, premium environment) and digitalisation (customisation, low need to carry extensive showroom stock). 

The launch of the Audi Customer Private Lounge is the foundation of this latter effort. A recent Bain survey found that even web-savvy modern car buyers’ still make an average of 2.4 Dealer visits before making a purchase decision – underlining the critical importance of combining a relevant and unique Dealer retail experience when finalising a sale.

Another foundation of our retail experience effort effort is a 4000m2 Audi and Volkswagen Training Academy in Centurion, custom designed to continuously improve Dealer performance through training and skills development. Added to this is Audi’s global and digital initiative towards training – Audi Training Online. This is an online platform offering convenient learning for all Audi dealership employees around the world. Employees can access the portal at any time, from any location and easily upskill themselves on brand related topics, products, technologies and job related (technical and non-technical) subjects. Given the increasing technical complexity of our vehicles and new business and brand themes, a high level of knowledge and expertise is critical to ensure optimal customer satisfaction.

The evolution of training and customer experience is the first, necessary step to respond to today’s car-buying customers’ demand for a unique retail environment. As an industry, we need to respond to this opportunity sooner rather than later. This response must deliberately address the customer experience journey from information, to contact, to purchase, handover and to aftersales. This requires interventions in terms of personalisation, how we introduce opportunities for customers to be in control while still receiving expert guidance.

A more digital retail platform gives us a significant opportunity to better serve our customers through this journey. In the case of the CPL, a dedicated consultant, specially trained, takes the customer through the process of selecting the customised specification on their virtual-reality Audi, before they even encounter a salesperson. The CPL represents the first leg of Audi SA’s digitisation strategy. It’s progress in the retail realm, and a game changer for the automotive industry.

In future, automotive retail will require many new functions and roles to meet the demands of an omnichannel sales model. Building these new capabilities is a fascinating process, bringing in new skill and fundamentally refreshing the industry to benefit the most important stakeholder – the customer.

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