Adrenaline rush

Adrenaline rush

Chris Taylor, IT manager for the Williams F1 racing team, discusses ICT in the ultra-fast lane.

Williams F1 racing team IT manager Chris Taylor never dreamed he would be working for a racing team. "I've always had an interest in Formula One. Though my background is engineering, particularly computer aided design and manufacturing [CADCAM]. I previously worked for a software company that supplied software and services to Williams F1, which is how I got to know the company," says Taylor, who headed the ICT support for the Williams F1 team when it competed in this year's Melbourne Formula 1 event in Australia. Taylor joined the company in 1998 as a CADCAM support engineer. Williams F1 doesn't employ a CIO, so as IT manager, Taylor reports to CEO Alex Burns. He occasionally gets to meet suppliers and sponsors, but it's quite rare that he attends a race event. Taylor is kept busy at the company headquarters in Oxfordshire, England."Our users are very engineering biased as you can imagine, which means we implement and support a wide variety of applications and computer resources. In addition, we have a variety of applications and databases to support the business as well as a race team with global network challenges." He says business continuity is important for the company at different times. "For example, during a race weekend, the event-related services, such as the AT&T global network, is critical to support the IT services for our engineers," he says. In the past eight months Williams F1 has implemented a virtual server infrastructure into its HQ datacentre and race team servers in Oxfordshire, England. "This has not only helped reduce the amount of hardware supported, but now provides a wider business continuity platform for about 90 percent of our applications and databases. This has been a great success in many ways and we expect to continue growing this technology especially provisioning services to the desktop." Williams F1 director Patrick Heard says IT is taken for granted because the racing team is used to receiving real-time data throughout the race. "When the system breaks down, it tends to create problems and put pressure on the team and factory. Chris [Taylor] has to keep that up and running. We get help at each track from AT&T to make sure everything is running smoothly." The rapid communication transmission of data allows the Williams F1 team to be supported. "In terms of data transfer from the car, that will be available in real time within the factory. Engineers will be studying that data and send a text back saying there is a problem with the car." Heard says that 20 years ago a race team would need more engineers travelling to the different Formula One tracks. Yet, "while they were at the track they weren't working on the new systems back in the factory." When AT&T became involved with the Williams team some years ago the company installed a global network. "This gives the team the opportunity to travel around the world, plug into our paring points and shoot data across the network, so their factory people can [possibly] make a decision to help the team win a race," says AT&T Australia sales director Martin Creighan. The network has enabled the centralisation of Williams' operations. "This is going to save the company money from a travel point of view and free up cash they can put back into the car," he says. The Williams team needs to be able to service the computing datacentres and all the information that it processes. The Williams team operates a 13 teraflop super computer that processes telemetry data. This happens in real time and the data is sent back to the factory. Creighan says business continuity is very important as the Williams F1 team has to talk to its facility in England. "We're providing a number of services to the Williams team, including hosting and connectivity through the AT&T virtual private network. Those networks have direct connections into the 38 internet datacentres AT&T has globally." Hamish Barwick travelled to Melbourne Formula 1 as a guest of AT & T.

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