Pushing the boundaries
“During a trial period, we experienced a number of cooling and power supply failures. The single, unclean power feed into the building was unreliable and inconsistent. Too much stress was being placed on the computing hardware.”
Technical Director, Emirates Team New Zealand
On the dramatic and public world stage of elite sport, technology plays an increasingly important role. It enables teams such as Emirates Team New Zealand to push the boundaries of innovation.
During the lead up to the last America’s Cup campaign, Emirates Team New Zealand applied leading edge technology to revolutionise its yacht design process. Using a high performance computing (HPC) solution, the team was able to test and fine tune new boat designs in a virtual environment before committing to the physical build. Different factors such as crew weight, hull size, dagger board form, sail position, and many other variables were explored in a simulated environment to assess the aerodynamics and velocity of a multi hull catamaran. Ultimately, the aim was simply to design a faster boat.
But while the HPC cluster could empower the team to innovate well beyond what they’d done in previous campaigns, the physical environment at ‘The Shed’ – the team’s headquarters in the Viaduct, Auckland’s CBD - was far from ideal.
Not wanting to undergo expensive and time-consuming improvements to The Shed’s infrastructure, Nick and his team began shortlisting suitable data centres.
The priorities for their data centre partner included:
- High power and cooling density at around 30kW per rack
- High availability - no downtime or operational outages. This was particularly important early on as the team was working to tight deadlines.
- High bandwidth connectivity – a fast and secure connection from The Shed direct to the HPC cluster
- Scalability and flexibility – the ability to adapt to requirements during each stage of the campaign
- Regular but secure access to the rack
Emirates Team New Zealand discovered that Vocus was one of the few New Zealand data centre providers who could offer such immense power and cooling density. This, combined with a 100 per cent uptime track record during the past decade, and robust infrastructure that met all the key requirements, led the racing team to choose Vocus.
Once the rack and HPC solution were installed - a straightforward process which took just a couple of days - the team began fully leveraging the technology, marking a new era in discovery: “We increased our boat design options tenfold as a result,” explains Nick. “We went from physically testing 30-40 designs [in previous campaigns] to more than 300 virtual designs.
“It allowed us to complete an entirely new design option within just three days. This was unimaginable in previous years.”
Smooth performance, fast connection
Four years on, and the solution has been nothing short of smooth sailing. The data centre has delivered consistent, efficient performance under intense pressure. Consequently, Nick admits to hardly ever thinking about the cluster’s location as ‘it all just works really well’.
This is helped by the fast, uncontended connection – a key component in the solution. The secure fibre connection from Vocus links the rack to The Shed where a VPN then connects the team’s engineers – many of whom are based around the world. Nick adds: “Vocus provides an essential part of our IT infrastructure now, and one that has proven to be a good decision. Knowing that our HPC is in an environment that’s specially suited to keep it running optimally, with reliable connectivity, is very reassuring.”
"Vocus provides an essential part of our IT infrastructure. Its high power density racks means we can choose hardware based exclusively on our needs and not on power restrictions."
Nick Holroyd, Technical Director, Emirates Team New Zealand
Moving to a data centre eased the financial strain for a team who is the only commercially-funded competitor in the world’s oldest sporting trophy. “It meant we could pay for this out of the Opex budget, not Capex,” says Nick, “as well accurately forecast the cost.”
The move also helped the team future-proof its IT strategy, as Nick explains: “It means there’s no limits to the technical specifications of our next generation cluster. We can choose hardware based exclusively on our needs and not on power restrictions.”
- Emirates Team New Zealand’s intensive computing solution requires unusually high power and cooling density at around 30kW a rack.
- The team hosts its HPC cluster at Vocus’ data centre; this facility has redundancy built in with separate transformers, 2N unlimited power supply, and 2N diesel generators on standby should external power supply fail.
- Vocus’ high security facility has engineering staff on site 24/7, biometric security, swipe card access and CCTV surveillance.
- A private, dedicated fibre link from The Shed to the cluster via the Vocus network.