Oil and Gas Opinion Vertical Markets

Managing the churn within the ‘cloud’

Companies in the oil and gas sector are moving towards a centralised computing topology – a ‘Cloud’ model says Bill Green, global account director, Hermes Datacomms.
Bill Green, global account director, Hermes Datacomms

Companies in the oil and gas sector are moving towards a centralised computing topology – a ‘Cloud’ model. Bill Green, global account director, Hermes Datacomms, in an interview with SatellitePro ME outlines a consultative approach, that offers resilient connectivity with consistent SLAs on a globally measured basis.

When providing global communications for the oil and gas sector in more than 54 countries, Bill Green, global account director, Hermes Datacomms, is typically technology agnostic. The solutions would range from VSAT, leased line, MPLS, MicroWave or Trunked Radio – “whichever provides the best service-level agreement (SLA) at the best price”. The core of the business for Green hinges on whether his team gets to know of a breakdown before the customer is told by the end-user.

When the cost of loss of communication on an oil rig is anywhere between US $250,000 to $2 million, there is no room for a communication system that is less than 99.9% reliable. “The challenge,” says Bill Green, “is the fact that your remote site could be Sakhalin Island, north of Japan and east of Russia – one of the remotest and coldest places you can imagine and the customer will expect the same level of communications as they enjoy in the head office in Perth.”

Challenges for the cloud model

The oil and gas sector with multiple rig sites is a perfect candidate for the ‘Cloud’ model. However unlike most other sectors, the oil and gas upstream industry combines business-as-usual sites with hostile and Greenfield environments. Remote sites churn within the cloud, and could cause colossal monetary loss in the event of a failure. The churn also calls for change and routine management that would normally drain resources from the company’s core competency.

Tasked to manage global WAN for the oil and gas sector, Bill Green and his team have devised an initiative to offer resilient links to centralised data centres on an intelligent network outsource basis.

“This is a consultative approach,” affirms Green. “Firstly, we review the requirements and understand what the service needs to achieve. As per our ‘Intelligent network outsource’ proposition, we would then provide quotes from our own infrastructure and also provide quotes from other service providers. Suppliers are selected and charges are quoted at cost plus a management fee, or at cost from Hermes utilising its infrastructure. Along with the transparent pricing, a recommendation is given on the best SLA available. Throughout the whole process, the client retains control at all times, without the need for time consuming reviews of the marketplace. By being flexible and transparent, the customer knows that he is getting the best value for money.”

Remote sites are treated as peer nodes on the network with city-based sites, thus offering a consistent SLA on a globally measured basis

Remote sites are treated as peer nodes on the network with city-based sites, thus offering a consistent SLA on a globally measured basis. The oil and gas company then has the confidence to service users at any point in the network from the data centre, says Green.

Reiterating that transparent SLAs are not just a philosophy, Green says, “Technology-wise we apply the solution necessary to meet the user’s requirement, not push inventory space segment or fibre. For instance, a client with 37 remote sites was moved to MPLS which is cheaper than VSAT, but we would rather be the ones to let him know of a possibility of reducing communication costs.”

Consistent SLAs across all sites

The main thrust of the intelligent network outsource initiative is to maintain consistent SLAs across all the sites ranging from the remote sites to the business-as-usual locations. Green says, “We strive to offer consistent SLAs on a global basis. I will not discriminate between remote sites and a site in Houston. If we commit to giving 99.9% connectivity – then all the sites will enjoy the same quality of service. We will deploy equipment and ensure redundancy, among other initiatives, to ensure consistency.”

Forecasting spend and the inclusion of management SLAs

Underlying the importance of protecting the integrity of crucial seismic and geological data, among other areas of information, Green says, “The unique aspect of our initiative is we are trying to offer a forecastable spend throughout the lifecycle of the contract. This level of transparency is unique in the market place. We are allowing the customer to know what the network spend is over the three years.

The danger of not including management SLAs is that when people are prioritising work, the things that you do not measure go to the bottom of the ‘to do’ list.

“The benefit for us is that we have a client for three years and the client can plan return on investment over the period. Also another aspect to our offer is the wide-ranging nature of the SLAs. While we have technical SLAs that can be measured, we also include, in our contract, a management/administrative SLA. This would define the number of meetings we will have, the number of conference calls and so on. The danger of not including management SLAs is that when people are prioritising work, the things that you do not measure go to the bottom of the ‘to do’ list. The management SLA does put us under more pressure, but it drives us to provide a superior level of service.”

The need for a commercially flexible network

When asked about what he meant by a commercially flexible framework for a global network service in the oil and gas sector, Green explained the need for flexibility. “There are a number of different elements to flexibility. The ability to deploy very quickly is important. Typically in the industry, the IT department is the last to know that a communication link was needed on a remote oil rig yesterday! In addition, flexibility entails the ability to work the bandwidth when the operations get under way and when operations scale down, to take that bandwidth down. “

Technology enabling flexibility and cost saving

“From the technological point of view, what is exciting for me are auto-deployable VSATs, among other developments. These self-aligning antennas allow communications to be up in seven minutes at the press of a button allowing for greater flexibility in rig moves. This is a cost-saving feature for the client because we do not have to send a skilled engineer each time the rig moves. Another exciting development, the meshing technology, allows for sites to talk to one another and the sharing of critical data.”

There are challenges when working on a global scale, Green admits. “You are occasionally competing with local providers, say in Russia or Africa. These local providers can often come in with a cheaper solution. However our customers whose operations are typically spread over multiple regions realise that they need a robust and resilient link on a global scale with corresponding economies of scale. Also we offer them a 24/7 global services desk with a single point of contact. The network is monitored in our hubs at Shrewsbury, UK and in Dubai, UAE. All our service providers are located at the hubs, and that keeps them competitive on price.”

In the face of constraints on budgetary spend across the oil and gas sector, Bill Green and his team, leverage experience, a global network and local partnerships to provide a transparent commercial model that they believe ensures best value and best SLA.