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Speedboats race with the cloud

Sharon Gaudin | Oct. 29, 2014
SilverHook Powerboats uses a private cloud to analyze and visualize racing data in real-time -- at 140 miles an hour.

He also hopes to one day equip boat drivers with wearables to monitor and transmit their blood pressure, temperature, heart rate and oxidization levels, as well as the boat's stats. "...That's the next level," said Hook. "You see what's happening to the people."

Gary Barnett, an analyst with Ovum, said this is a great idea, not just for SilverHook, but for other racing outlets.

"It's definitely an interesting use of the cloud, for sure," he said. "And in the context of racing, this is really significant. In Formula 1 racing, the ability to get real-time data from the car to the engineers during a race has become crucial in winning races.... The big benefit of basing this on cloud infrastructure is the idea of what's next? Having designed the solution this way, SilverHook can easily add another boat or boats. They just scale the infrastructure to support more data."

Silverhook is working with IBM to build their private cloud on Bluemix, IBM's cloud platform.

Allan Krans, an analyst with Technology Business Research, called it "a good cloud use case, since it's a highly variable workload.

"During races, it needs high capacity," Krans said. "Afterwards, the traffic dies down very quickly. So this type of application is probably one that would not be feasible in a traditional IT environment."

Using a private cloud, as opposed to a public cloud, also helps SilverHook.

"One thing that's interesting ... is the use of a private environment, not for security because it's not sensitive information, but for performance and reliability," said Krans. "There's likely advertising and merchandise sales that would have a business impact if the feeds weren't working on race day and that justifies private versus the public cloud."

The big issue for Silverhook has been reliably transmitting all of the boat's data to the cloud while the boat is doing more than 140 miles an hour and being sprayed with salt water. That makes holding a connection and reliably transmitting a live stream of data -- using a basic SIM card and a cellular network -- a big challenge.

Hook noted that racers can get decent cell coverage a mile or two out into the ocean; otherwise, they switch to VHF radio.

"You need a real robustness of the physical performance of the entire system," said Hook, who noted that work on the boat's cloud system started in the spring. "At the speeds we're going and the impacts we're taking, you have to ensure a constant stream of data to the cloud. If a boat hits 6.9 Gs, there could be an interruption to the data stream. If it's being transmitted six times a second, then the analytics software IBM has can join the dots. If there's a gap in the data, it can propagate the missing data in between. That keeps a steady stream."


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