Like any racing machine, ORACLE TEAM USA's boats require fuel—but don't look for a gas tank. "Wind is, essentially, the fuel for the sail wing," says Chris Bedford, meteorologist for ORACLE TEAM USA. "The idea is to have the boat in the most advantageous position vis-à-vis the wind, so it's pretty important."
Wind is also tricky to predict, and the team has turned to Oracle technology to help use that fuel most efficiently. Using performance data pulled from the team's Oracle Database, Bedford has built custom weather models that predict wind and weather by analyzing the meteorological interplay between the San Francisco Bay and the surrounding land mass.
For example, "If you look at the San Francisco Bay terrain, it can go from sea level to 300 feet inside a kilometer," he explains. "And some of the buildings affect the heat coming off the area, which then affects the winds." Moreover, wind conditions can vary significantly from the top to the bottom of the sail wing, which impacts sail wing configuration. Air density also affects boat performance—another factor Bedford takes into consideration.
To fully analyze this complicated interplay of meteorological factors, Bedford uses high-resolution models. "They give a better picture of what's happening, but it's costly in terms of computational intensity," he says. Fortunately, he can rely on the extreme performance of the team's Oracle Exadata Database Machine.
Oracle Exadata enables Bedford to get better results in less time. "Because it runs faster, Oracle Exadata allows us to do something called four-dimensional data simulation, which allows us to initialize the model runs with real observations," he says. "It's working well." All of this helps ORACLE TEAM USA accurately configure the boat to get the most out of the forecasted conditions. "The boat has different configurations depending on wind speed forecasts, but it takes time to make those changes, so you have make the call in advance," says Bedford—usually 8 to 10 hours ahead of time. The models give the team the added assurance that those calls will fuel a competitive advantage come race time.