Mercedes-AMG Petronas
show image

Sooraj Shah

Contributing Editor

Sooraj Shah is Contributing Editor of New Statesman Tech with a focus on C-level IT leader interviews. He is also a freelance technology journalist.

“Back-up is the least sexy bit of IT, but when it goes wrong you’re in a world of pain,” says Matt Harris, head of IT at Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1

It’s easy to get fixated on the excitement of Formula 1 – take the sensational win for Lewis Hamilton in the German Grand Prix last weekend – without thinking about everything that goes on behind the scenes.

Often, from a technology perspective, the main story centres around the data analytics capabilities needed for F1 teams to succeed. But for the data to be available at all times – even in case of disaster – there needs to be the technology to back it up.

“You’re talking about a part of IT that nobody wants to care about – probably the least sexy bit of IT because you don’t care about it until something goes wrong – but when it does you’re in a world of pain, so it’s absolutely critical to us,” says Matt Harris, head of IT at Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 team.

In fact, it’s even a hard discussion to talk about backing up data with those higher up at the organisation.

“We always talk about what we need for data storage, and then we need additional investment to protect that and this makes it a harder conversation,” says Harris.

When Harris joined the Mercedes AMG Petronas team, the vast majority of systems were Windows based, and this meant that over the years it has had various different traditional back-up system. Over the last seven or eight years, the organisation has got to one system that can back up both Linux and Windows environments.

“People in IT were permanently changing tapes or managing back-ups or trying to work out how to back-up something new that generates a terabyte a day; we couldn’t keep doing this as we didn’t have a big enough team to try and manage data back-up,” he says.

After looking at several different solutions, which Harris says he’d prefer not to name, everything changed when his team had a call with Bipul Sinha, the co-founder and CEO of cloud data management platform Rubrik.

“We first spoke to him over WebEx and we were blown away with the conversation. We didn’t look at anything else. Rubrik does what we want to now, but the future vision that Bipul sold to us around data management really set a benchmark for us for what we needed,” he states.

Some of the criteria Mercedes AMG Petronas had included was integration with Pure Storage, the ability to not affect the performance of the server, and the ability to back up VMs, Oracle file servers, SQL servers and other traditional file servers. Rubrik ticked all of those boxes.

Another important factor was the ability for the vendor to cope with the increasing data growth at Mercedes AMG Petronas.

“We’re not a normal organisation when you compare our size to our data growth. Businesses our size wouldn’t be producing 45TB of data a week, and most companies our size would be producing fractions of that. Perhaps there are some that do in a financial house or in data generation places,” suggests Harris, adding that some of Rubrik’s upcoming features will help the F1 team to deal with the growth.

Harris exemplifies the stark difference year-on-year of data generated by stating that data held for the whole of 2002’s races would now be the equivalent of merely going for a test practice.

“The whole year’s data growth is massive. We have a challenge for next year as we’ll have double the capacity and way bigger throughout. At the moment, we have to debate how much data we can generate from the car, how quickly we can take it off and turn the car back around again – so we don’t take off all of the data because of internal errors, but next year they’ll get rid of that so we’ll generate four times the amount of data per outing of the car,” he explains.   

As well as the technical capabilities, Harris and his team wanted a product that would help the organisation to back-up data easily.

“All of the other solutions we looked at weren’t going to change my fundamental problem – it needed to be simple and easy. Ideally no one [from our team] needs to get involved in it.

“There’s been about an hour’s worth of training for the guys which has been very simple – there’s not much you have to understand,” he adds.

This is in huge contrast to what the organisation was doing previously.

“We wanted to look at things differently and have the ability to recover data but also not be something that someone has to manage all day because it’s just painful. It doesn’t matter how clever the person is – even if they’re clever and can do the best back-up work, you’re waiting some of the most talented resource by giving them the most boring job to do,” Harris says.

“This is why we use Rubrik as we learnt there was way more we could do instead of just business continuity,” he adds.