General Motors has opened a new US$130m 'enterprise data centre' that will serve as the computing backbone for the automaker's vast global operations.

The centre, said to have been benchmarked against the best in the world, is key to GM's efforts "to transform its IT operations to help the company work smarter and faster from the design studio to the factory to the showroom floor", the automaker said.

Located at the technical centre in a Detroit suburb, the facility is the first of two information technology operations and command centres that bring in-house global IT infrastructure and consolidate a network of multiple sites.

The two centres will integrate and streamline all aspects of product development, manufacturing, marketing, sales and OnStar applications to speed access to any GM employee anywhere in the world.

"Having a single nerve centre for our global operations will get newer vehicle designs and technologies into our customers' hands quicker and improve the bottom line," said GM chairman and CEO Dan Akerson.

"IT is back home where it should be and it further drives unnecessary complexity from our businesses while improving our operational efficiency and better supporting our business strategy."

Innovations include:

  • Crash test simulations enabled by super-computing generate data that is analysed and applied in vehicle design and development or refinement of safety technologies, saving US$350,000 for each physical crash test avoided.
  • An application that enables global product development teams to make tooling payments to suppliers at key points throughout the development cycle helps suppliers prioritise the timing of critical parts and reduce overall engineering expenses by millions.
  • Chevrolet tracked sales data of last year's Impala in markets where car buyers traded in non-GM models, enabling a boost to sales of the new 2014 Impala in markets where it previously underperformed.

The enterprise data centre and a companion data centre at the Milford Proving Ground are part of a previously announced plan to transform GM's global IT footprint from 23 facilities to two by 2015. Construction of the $100m data centre expansion in Milford will begin this summer.

GM IT is using the Warren and Milford data centres to create a secure, private cloud that allows super-computer applications, servers and data storage to be efficiently and quickly accessed among multiple users.

"Our data centre consolidation is just one of the initiatives driving the transformation of GM's business," said Randy Mott, GM vice president and CIO. "It's part of an overarching strategy to transform not only information technology but also allow GM's business operations to be more responsive to our customers, quicker to market and deliver on our objectives to shareholders."

The 5,040 sq ft IT operations and command centre has 48 work stations and a 955 sq ft video wall composed of 28 configurable screens that monitor data use across operations around the clock.

The modular design of the facility's 'white space', where the technology resides, enables future expansion for handling the increasingly complex computer simulations needed for work on vehicle design, fuel economy, safety, and quality requirements.

A server acquisition and installation process that used to take weeks now takes hours. Data mirroring, redundant feeds and shared storage capability minimise downtime and help ensure information security. The centre's efficient electrical system has robust backup generators to provide uninterrupted service.