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Combining private and public cloud

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Do you want a private cloud or a public cloud? Most oil companies actually want both, Microsoft says - and here's what it thinks is the best way to do it

There is a growing school of thought among cloud computing professions outside the oil and gas industry that if you're going to use cloud, you may as well go all in, and put all of your data on it.

But this isn't what most oil and gas companies want, says Brad Anderson, Corporate Vice President of Cloud & Enterprise at Microsoft.

Many oil and gas IT managers are interested in cloud solutions, but far from ready to put all of the data on a cloud system, and often prevented from doing so by regulatory requirements, or security concerns.

What they need is a system which enables them to work with their own servers and in the cloud at the same time.

This can be an extraordinarily difficult technical challenge, but Microsoft is probably best positioned to do it, because it provides a consistent platform across your datacenter (Windows Server and System Center, available commercially) and the public cloud (Windows Azure)it runs in its own datacenters. This makes it easier to bring private and public together in a hybrid cloud approach using common technology across both, such as virtualization, networking, identity, database and storage.

Benefits of cloud

The benefits of cloud computing to the oil and gas industry are well documented but it doesn't hurt to repeat them.

Perhaps the most important benefit is the agility you get. You can increase and decrease the number of servers you are using at a moment's notice, and pay for what you need, for example if you have a difficult subsurface data processing task to do.

A second benefit is that you don't have to make such big investments in your own hardware - installing it and managing it.

A third benefit is that cloud computing can make it easier for remote workers to gain access to their data. Wherever they are in the world, the cloud datacentre can provide faster access than your corporate network.

A fourth benefit is that cloud systems can be better for handling real time data, where you can suddenly need large amounts of storage capacity.

A fifth benefit is that cloud computing can also be sold en masse - so when you sell an asset (such as an oilfield), passing the associated data just comes down to giving the acquiring company a password.

Azure and Windows Server

Microsoft provides the 'Azure' public cloud, and also provides the same software which runs much of Azure, to companies in Windows Server and System Center, to run private clouds.

Because the systems are consistent, it is fairly easy to move data and applications from one to the other, 'Windows Server is a better operating system because of what we learn every day from Azure and the services running on Windows Server,' he says. These products are designed to work together.

Microsoft also offers a service level agreement for Azure, backed by monetary penalties if the agreed uptime is missed.

Microsoft has spent over $15bn in the past 3 years building its global data centres, and considers running data centres as part of its core competencies. It now builds every single one of its products with the cloud in mind - and associated security, availability and operability.

'Making a Hybrid Cloud interoperable, enabling friction free data movement, and delivering a seamless end-user experience is an extraordinarily technical process under the hood - but the Hybrid Cloud model shifts much of the burden of these complexities to Microsoft,' he says.

'Our cloud-first approach to building the products that enable a Hybrid Cloud means that we have already addressed the enormous technical complexities required to make heterogeneous platforms work together, build upon one another, and deliver a unified end-user experience.'

Most oil and gas companies today are looking for IT to be provided as a service, Mr Anderson says.

'When we meet with [oil and gas companies] about their IT requirements, much of what they need tends to end with the words 'as a service'. These include areas like infrastructure as a service, database as a service, and monitoring/alerting as a service.'

Oil and gas case studies

One large (name undisclosed) services provider in Texas, with over 50,000 employees, recently moved one of its data centres to Microsoft and is now moving 8 more.

The company had outsourced most of its datacentre services, and had its infrastructure in a mixture of owned and leased facilities around the world.

The IT managers were complaining that although the outsourcing company had done the work, they had failed to make anything happen more efficiently and faster. They were spending 6-8 weeks to deploy a single server, and each datacentre had its own way of doing things.

Microsoft proposed a solution based on Microsoft System Center and Windows Server which would enable the company to continue to work with its on premise systems where it wanted to. It would also develop automated systems for deploying servers, covering the most common and time consuming tasks, using virtualization.

This meant it would be possible to provision 'virtual' servers in 1-2 hours, and keep better records of the steps involved.

The process of setting up a server had 20 manual steps, and involved 5 different workgroups and 3 enterprise management systems. The Microsoft hybrid cloud system was able to talk to all of these systems.

The organisation has now started a project to have its databases provided as a service, and IT infrastructure as a service.

It gives the IT department better control over the infrastructure and faster results.

Setting up a server includes working out who owns it, managing the costs, disaster recovery / backup and ensuring it is compliant to company systems.

Another major oil and gas company is using the 'Database as a Service' approach for new requests for database servers. Before doing this, it was installing a new server for every database request, but without keeping data about usage, capacity or lifecycle, so it had around 800 database servers. But with the new system, people just request a database, not a database server, and then a decision can be made later if it needs a new physical machine, or to share a server with another database.

Another major oil and gas company worked with Microsoft to develop a subscription monitoring solution. So people who manage the various software applications in the company have their own monitoring portal, where they can see the uptime, performance and utilisation of their application - and they can also get an internal bill for the computing costs. So it could be considered an internal cloud service system.

Another Texas oil and gas company was selling a number of its business units - which meant that the IT managers had to find a way to partition its IT systems into separate data centres. Microsoft Azure had capability to make a copy of the critical business services, but with connectivity back to the central IT systems. This means that if that part of the company is sold, you only need to disconnect the link to the central IT systems, and the new owner can link the cloud system to its own central IT systems.

'By using Hybrid Cloud solutions from Microsoft, both of the companies have benefitted from incredible flexibility, efficiency, and additional operational possibilities that had not been previously available,' he says.

ORYX GTL, a company based in Qatar converting natural gas to liquids, has been working with Microsoft since 2006, and has an extensive private cloud using Windows Server and System Center. They have since moved to hybrid cloud storage with Microsoft Azure (servers) and StorSimple (data storage management).

This enabled the company to respond faster to demands for its infrastructure from employees. It could scale up and down much faster, and did not need to run its own infrastructure any more.

Associated Companies
» Microsoft Oil and Gas
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