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Doing more with your bandwidth

Thursday, November 24, 2011

ISN Solutions has advice about how oil and gas companies can get a better understanding of how network bandwidth is being used, both within your office and between sites, including via satellite - and how to work with your corporate software reliably from an offshore platform, and how to enable geophysicists to work on their models from the airport lounge

UK oil and gas IT consulting company ISN is helping oil and gas companies get more efficiency out of their network communications bandwidth, helping them run software applications over a satcom link, and letting geoscientists work on their models remotely.

ISN was founded in 1999 by a group of ex employees from Enterprise Oil. It serves a number of UK small to medium sized oil and gas companies, including Tullow Oil, Petroceltic, Afren, Premier Oil, Northern Petroleum and Summit Petroleum.

Most companies have no idea what their office and satellite bandwidth is being used for, says David Ellison, director of ISN Solutions. If your network suddenly seems to be going slowly, you may never discover it is because one of your colleagues is listening to a particularly bandwidth-hungry internet radio channel.

Just like a road network, the internet has traffic jams (bottlenecks) and roadworks (parts of the network being unavailable) - but unlike a road network, people have no idea where they are - they just notice that their overall performance is down, he says.

Normally, people only discover such problems when users complain. 'That's no way to run an IT operation,' he says.

There was one case of a person in an office in Nigeria who downloaded an update to his Garmin GPS and crippled the Internet connection for the entire office for a few hours, he says.

Meanwhile people are using many different devices which use up bandwidth, and they are taking them onto rigs and expecting to be able to use them.

There are a range of network analysis tools coming onto the market which can give you a much better understanding of what is going on.

ISN tested a range of network management systems, and chose TotalView One from a company based in Victoria, British Columbia, called PresiNet. ISN liked it so much it arranged to have exclusive UK distribution rights for the oil and gas industry. 'We found it answered all our questions,' Mr Ellison says.

The tool can enable you to monitor all the network traffic around your local and wide area networks.

You can have misconfigured devices, which are continuously trying to gain access to a server which doesn't exist (because it has the wrong IP address setting).

You can use the tool to spot security threats, for example if there is a lot of network communications to your human resources system at 3am on a Sunday morning.

You can spot viruses and Trojans, which can be responsible for large amounts of data communications, without the user knowing.

The software aims to get a deeper understanding of what is actually communicated, not just tell how many data packets are going from A to B, as traditional 'flow analyser' software does.

You can view latency (delays in data transfer) and jitter (variation in packet delay).

The PresiNet box plugs into the 'replicated port' of a typical network switch, and the network switch sends a copy of all data to this port.

The same system can be used to monitor communications across a satellite communications link, so you can find out exactly how your very expensive and very limited satellite bandwidth is being used.

You can monitor data communications from a remote office in the same way.

Offshore access to business applications

Many oil and gas companies are keen for their offshore staff to be able to work on corporate software tools, such as SAP, procurement systems, SharePoint (document management), Primavera (ERP systems), JD Edwards. The benefits of this are that you can have a single data centre for your entire company, and keep offshore infrastructure to a minimum.

To work on offshore software, data does not need so much bandwidth (data communications speed), but it does need to be reliable, otherwise the software sessions end up disconnecting, and the effect of latency needs to be minimised, or users become quickly frustrated.

To make this work reliably and smoothly, ISN recommends using Citrix tools for working with software remotely, together with a ND Satcom 'Xwarp' system to manage the satcom link, making sure that the data connection is used to maximum extent. An Xwarp box is installed on both sides of the satcom link (Ie one box offshore, one box at the earth station).

The Xwarp solution uses data caching, reducing the overall data communication which needs to be made; compression and acceleration, leveraging existing Citrix technology. The end result delivers performance to the user which would be impossible over a normal satellite link.

It also makes sure that the space segment is used as thoroughly as possible, with data flowing continuously at the full bandwidth available.

The company has built a 'proof of concept' for the system in the offices of satellite infrastructure company Arqiva, sending data over real satellite segment, and showing how the system compares to a more usual satellite communications set-up.

Remote geoscience systems

ISN is keen to help oil companies to enable their geophysicists and geologists to work on subsurface models remotely, so the company can keep all of its data in one central location, and the g+g staff can access data from other offices; work at home or even in airport lounges.

ISN has developed a system which can send the subsurface images as a compressed video file, which is higher resolution than YouTube, but only requires 2 Mbps data connection for some.

A 1Mbps connection is sufficient for light use such as peer review while a 4Mbps connection would be best suited to High Definition resolutions and multiple monitors.

It provides a similar resolution to BBC iPlayer, which UK readers will be familiar with.

The Image Configuration tool gives the G&G user control over how smooth and how crisp the video appears in low bandwidth/high latency environments

All the graphics processing is done in the central computer centre, where you have a powerful graphics card assigned to each user, costing between £500 and £6000 each. The client computers don't need a particularly powerful graphics card because they are just playing video.

From an IT managed point of view, by keeping data in one centralised location, you avoid a lot of security and administration headaches, with users having no need to copy data onto their own laptops or USB sticks.

'People often copy seismic data onto their laptops when they travel which presents a huge risk for IT security,' says Paul Reed, solutions architect with ISN Solutions.

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» ISN Solutions

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