Ferrari's Geek Factor

The Ferrari factory in Maranello, Italy, isn't much to look at on the outside. It's on the inside where the magic happens -- from designing the company's championship racers and coveted sports cars to running IT operations for both daily work and race day.

Piergiorgio Grossi, Ferrari's CIO, stands outside the data center at the carmaker's Maranello headquarters. As a major player in high-stakes Formula 1 racing, Ferrari jealously guards its IT secrets. No cameras are allowed inside the data center, though Grossi and data center manager Massimo Martelli are happy to talk for hours about Ferrari's leadership in high-density computing -- and how cabling discipline can make the difference between winning a race and losing it.

"The difference between Ferrari and other carmakers is that we build a new car every two weeks," says Grossi, describing the demands on his data center during the eight-month Formula 1 season as the race team hogs IT resources for races held all over the globe. Ferrari's data center infrastructure, such as its cutting-edge, modular Symmetra PX 250/5,000 kW three-phase uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems from APC (pictured), is especially taxed during races, when realtime computation of car and race conditions is used to help Ferrari's pair of F1 drivers to the checkered flag.

The Ferraris don't have a reputation for being geeky -- quite the opposite, in fact. But the proof that this luxury carmaker has more than a little nerd in its makeup is the Ferrari-brand Segway, on offer at the company's theme store in Maranello. High-tech companies sponsoring Ferrari's F1 team include Acer and Advanced Micro Devices.

Ferrari isn't shy about slapping its famous prancing stallion logo, the cavallino rampante, on anything and everything in Maranello. This includes the dishware at the Ferrari-themed ristorante across the street from the carmaker's headquarters, where tech journalists were treated to nonequine meats and pasta by APC, a key infrastructure consultant and supplier for Ferrari when it built its data center in 2005.

Yeah, yeah -- but what about the cars? This racer was built by patriarch Enzo Ferrari in 1951 -- in the background is a much older roadster with a hand-cranked motor. Enzo Ferrari founded the company that bears his name in 1928 to train race car drivers on Alfa Romeos, and then ran Alfa Romeo's motor racing division from 1938 through the end of World War II. In 1947, he formed Ferrari S.p.A to build street-legal autos and to help fund Scuderia Ferrari, which remained a racing stable. All told, Ferrari has won 31 Formula 1 drivers' and constructors' titles.

Enzo Ferrari's favorite color wasn't red but yellow, a guide at the Galleria Ferrari in Maranello explains. Racing authorities gave Italy the color red for international competition and that color became deeply associated with the carmaker as the Ferraris racked up wins in Formula 1, Le Mans and other competitions. But Enzo Ferrari's yellow lives on in the company's logo and as an option for sports cars like this one from 1964.

In addition to Formula 1, Enzo Ferrari entered cars and drivers in such competitions as the World Sportscar Championship and the 24 Hours of Le Mans before deciding to focus only on F1 in 1973. This 1971 Ferrari 512 M was the team's last entry in Le Mans.

Ferrari's 1989 entry in the Formula 1 championship didn't win a title, but it did mark a historic technological change for the carmaker -- this F1-89 was Ferrari's first to incorporate electronics in the gearshift mechanism. Today's F1 Ferraris and the carmaker's most expensive supercars have sophisticated, computerized data-monitoring and telemetry technology.

The 1957 250 GT California remains one of Ferrari's most recognizable and beloved models. This one occupies its own small mezzanine at the Galleria Ferrari in Maranello. Royalty and celebrities alike have had love affairs with Ferrari over the years, while the team's lineup of F1 drivers includes such superstars as Alberto Ascari, Juan Manuel Fangio, Phil Hill, Nicky Lauda, Gilles Villeneuve, Michael Schumacher and Kimi Raikkonen.

The interior of the 250 GT California is simple, elegant and built for the business of driving fast and turning tight on challenging pavement like California's own Pacific Coast Highway.

The 1970s brought with it Ferrari's era of muscular supercars, like this 1970 Dino 246 GT. The Ferraris dominate the small town of Maranello, of course, but are by no means the only automotive legends in the valley stretching from Modena to Bologna. Neighbors include Maserati, like Ferrari now a subsidiary of Fiat, Ducati and Lamborghini.