6th SMi Communications in Oil & Gas Conference 2013
Written by David Ellison on April 8th, 2013
Paul Warwick is an Account Director at ISN and was one of ISN’s representatives at this annual conference organised by SMi for technical and commercial professionals interested in the IT and comms challenges experienced by the oil industry wordwide.
DE: So, Paul, as a first time delegate, what were your thoughts about the SMi Data Communications for Oil & Gas you attended on 21st March?
Paul Warwick: I thought it was really useful, because it was a really interesting mix of operators and suppliers, including IT people, management, geologists and so forth. A great mix of people and, although the theme was telecommunications, there was a very broad range of different presenters about different topics.
DE: Did any particular presentations stand out for you?
PW: Yes, the Tullow one was really good. Ian Theophilus from Tullow, simply said, “Well these are the problems that we have with our vendors at the moment, and this is where we want to get to. Can you help us get there?” It was very honest, and that was extremely useful for all of us at ISN to hear so directly what we need to do in order to work better with oil and gas companies.
DE: So what sort of things is Ian looking for from suppliers?
PW: He just wants suppliers to work together more closely. He wants a better level of communication. Now that Tullow has a strategy, he wants better online supplier Internet strategy, and he was asked some very pertinent questions from the floor, including from my ISN colleagues to find out how suppliers to the oil & gas industry can add value to what they are doing. So it was very, very good.
DE: Which other speakers did you find interesting?
PW: The Statoil guys basically went through how telecommunications works for the Norwegian continental shelf. I didn’t realise that there was that much fibre optic available in the Norwegian continental shelf. What is more is that all of the Norwegian oil & gas companies share the same resources. They just section off a part for themselves. So they collaborate really closely together with all the other Norwegian companies.
DE: Are there any particular comms issues that Statoil mentioned?
PW: No, they have bandwidth to die for, they have fibre optic everywhere, so gigabit type speed is common. ISN can’t offer much to help Statoil in Norway, we’re more interested in the other 35 countries that they work in, where our expertise at delivering data and voice links in remote areas comes to the fore.
DE: What was your highlight over the two days from a technical point of view and from a business point of view?
PW: From the business point of view was definitely the chance to make new contacts within the industry as well as a chance to spend time with people from our existing clients and other suppliers. African Petroleum, Tullow, Statoil, Afren, Enquest, Arqiva and Hermes were all represented.
DE: There are usually some innovative ideas presented at the conference. Did you have any take aways from the technology side?
PW: To be honest with you there weren’t many deeply technical presentations; although there were plenty of experts there (not least from ISN!) with years of experience who were able to discuss theory and practice of any comms technology used in the oil industry. One presenter talked about VSAT to the polar regions; the Russians are about to launch a satellite that is going to go round the world, orbiting via the two poles, rather than via the equator, so that was really interesting. Obviously with the Arctic being a big focus for Norwegians for example, that struck a chord with many people.
Citrix Partner Accelerator 2013 – Highlights
Written by Akmal Shah on March 8th, 2013
Citrix 16 years later is still exciting
Citrix held their annual briefing for partners in London yesterday. Quite a few of ISN’s staff attended in order to pick up the latest on their roadmap for mobile working and cloud strategies.
The thing that struck me immediately was, that having adopted Citrix in the late nineties with Winframe, that Citrix continue to be exciting and focused on their goals. Application delivery to users anywhere has evolved from modem connections to 4G, home broadband, wireless hot spots, mobile broadband to even offline working.
The range of devices has grown exponentially and Citrix are still positioned to allow any user any app any where any time any device. Pretty awesome in my opinion.
It is fair when Citrix say we have been doing this a long time. They have! Work from any device, with the multitude oF client software has been possible ever since Winframe. The striking thing is how quickly Citrix are able to present solutions that allow them to move to mobile and cloud computing. But in reality it shouldn’t be striking, they have done this better than anyone for the last 15 years.
XenMobile will allow even more seamless access for the user but with security and controls wrapped round it. BYOD can be accommodated safely by corporates, and securely too, with differentiation between life and work established on these devices. IT no longer need to fear user controlled technology, but can secure, manage and integrate any device into the enterprise.
I spoke with Lakeside Software, who had a stand at the show; they are providing some good discovery tools and sizing for free. This should help us in green field sites where we have little prior knowledge of the company apps and usage. Monitoring can be added at a cost to keep tabs on the ICA channel and maybe replace the cumbersome EdgeSight. (Edgesight is being redeveloped for Project Excalibur).
SMSPasscode multiform authentication looks good and is also cheaper than RSA SecurID. It also doesn’t allow user to input all credentials in one go. The multiform happens on second page. What I like about it is that no one has to carry an extra gizmo; it all works off the phone which people carry everywhere anyway. They also have a solution for locations were an SMS signal is not possible.
Atlantis showed how a memory-based solution was 25 percent of the cost of filer and networking, simplifying everything with more performance because everything runs from RAM.
Our old friends Trend Micro had a stand at the event too. Their anti malware suite is second to none for physical as well as Hyper-V, Xen and VMware virtual deployments.
Best of all was being able to talk to the Citrix guys and get the inside track on what is happening with EdgeSight and the forthcoming projects Avalon and Excalibur, which should build upon XenDesktop, Provisioning Server and take mobile working to a new level.
Lastly, I thought I won a prize at the final keynote! Numbers were right, but the colour of ticket didn’t match. Still, a great day. If anyone wants to chat about current or future Citrix technology, please give us a call or comment below.
England 38 New Zealand 21
Written by David Ellison on December 3rd, 2012
Our annual hospitality event on Saturday was even more successful than anyone expected, with England’s stunning victory over the All Blacks.
We were joined by guests from Afren, African Petroleum, Aminex, Summit, Hansteen and Leni for a gourmet lunch followed by the QBE International between England and New Zealand.
After the disappointments of the previous two matches in the series and after seeing headlines in the press along the lines of “England Roadkill” most of us were hoping for an entertaining game and not too great a points difference. However we were treated to a game that Clive Woodward described later as the perfect game of rugby and England’s first win over the ABs since 2003!
ISN’s own two Kiwis, Dave Greenwood and Paul Warwick, were the most sporting of losers, although it may take them a while to get over the shock of the All Blacks’ first defeat by England in 9 years.
Immediately after the men’s match the England women followed suit and won convincingly by 32-23, maintaining their unbeaten run at Twickenham. Paul is shown here celebrating with England wing Fran Matthews.
New NetScaler 10 boosts user Citrix experience
Written by Martin Kucharcik on November 12th, 2012
Citrix claim their new NetScaler 10 speeds up delivery of user applications and data by five times under XenApp and XenDesktop. It will replace the old Citrix Access Gateway (CAG), which will not be supported by Citrix from next year. NetScaler 10 can be deployed either as a physical or as a virtual appliance and, in effect, combines many technologies: high-speed load balancing and content switching; application acceleration; data compression; content caching; multi-layer web cache redirection; SSL acceleration; network optimisation; application flow visibility at the transaction level; and application performance monitoring.
NetScaler 10 can be deployed in a pair which ensures very high application and database uptime and no single point of failure. Its new layer 4-7 load balancing intelligence, together with Global Server Load Balancing (GSLB) technology, efficiently and intelligently distributes user traffic across multiple data centres, even worldwide. To accelerate users’ Citrix experience, NetScaler is using proprietary compression and web caching technologies which significantly decrease response times for all kinds of applications and also reduces network bandwidth requirements. What is more, it provides application and database server health checks that monitor the ability of the server infrastructure so that requests are only directed to healthy application and database resources capable of completing the user’s request.
NetScaler 10 has got many optional advanced features; two which are worth mentioning are Application Firewall and AppFlow. The NetScaler’s Application Firewall protects end users from application-layer attacks and is compliant with information security regulations, such as PCI-DSS. AppFlow allows real-time, end-to-end visibility of application flows so performance data can be made available to IT groups responsible for application SLAs, security, network availability and server performance.
NetScaler not only provides a unified web interface for Xenapp and Xendeskop but dramatically improves the end user ICA experience; provides traffic load balancing and SSL VPN connectivity.As an integral part of Citrix Cloud Gateway solution it provides connectivity to 3rd party SaaS/PaaS clouds. As a part of Citrix MDX it provides connectivity for mobile devices to private/public enterprise clouds and many more advanced features.
Smashing Windows – Server 2012 breaks new ground and holds potential for oil and gas
Written by Akmal Shah on October 2nd, 2012
Following the much anticipated arrival of Microsoft Windows Server 2012 – the most significant server OS release since Windows 2000 – we’ve taken a look at the technology to give some insight into what’s caught our attention.
Importantly, Windows Server 2012 includes the third generation hypervisor, Hyper-V as Microsoft attempts to win back market share in the virtualisation arena against their big rival VMware. It’s also worth noting that the OS is available only in a 64-bit version so the latest host hardware is a must.
The most striking change on previous versions of the OS is Metro – the graphical command interface first launched with the beta of Windows 8. Much criticised Metro appears to be less contentious however in Server 2012 as the interface defaults to being command line driven so control over the environment is not watered down which was one of our fears with a graphical-only view. This change from a GUI-first philosophy to a GUI-optional mind set was sensible from Microsoft and we’ve found some welcomed benefits as a result. When you first install the OS, you’re asked to choose between a core and a full installation. Core is the preferred option and once installed the GUI can simply be activated and deactivated as needed without a full reinstall. The result is that you can use the GUI to take care of all of the mundane configuration tasks, but when the machine is ready for production, you can switch the GUI off and deploy using more traditional granular methods.
PowerShell continues as the preferred management interface and whilst administrator adoption of the platform remains slower than Microsoft would like a number of improvements means the ability to do a lot more with PowerShell than in earlier incarnations.
Talk ahead of the launch was that there would be some big improvements in Hyper-V. In our opinion it’s long been the poor relation of VMware but Server 2012 makes some substantial advancements. In particular, scalability has increased massively and now Server 2012 Hyper-V boasts big leaps on the previous version – at the top end 64 nodes are capable of hosting up to four thousand virtual machines, exceeding that of VMware vSphere 5. Likewise an increase in Virtual CPUs also means that Hyper-V can handle the most rigorous of environments, overcoming former weaknesses running intensive workloads and apps and a reason ISN felt oil and gas companies would encounter problems with the platform. Whilst we’re not sure we agree with some commentators who are suggesting Server 2012 Hyper-V now surpasses VMware vSphere it’s certainly worth a look for anyone looking to venture into virtualisation for the first time or possibly virtualise a second site.
Microsoft has also improved on its Live Migration and Live Storage Migration capabilities. Live Migration refers to the ability to move running VMs between Hyper-V hosts, whereas Live Storage Migration refers to the ability to move VHD files and other storage artefacts between Hyper-V hosts, with no downtime. Whilst not new technology, as both features were in Server 2008, Server 2012 Hyper-V supports not only multiple concurrent Live Migrations but also multiple concurrent Live Storage Migrations. That support essentially brings Windows Server Hyper-V on par with vSphere 5 VMotion.
Microsoft has also introduced some clever innovation on the wider storage front. Storage Spaces is designed to fill the gap between DAS and SAN, by providing storage virtualisation based on commodity SATA and SAS disks, in inexpensive configurations. You can take a collection of disks in a Just a Bunch of Disks (JBOD) array and configure them with Storage Spaces to create virtual disks with spanning, mirroring, or parity; and create volumes from them.
Perhaps most importantly however is that the disk I/O performance of Storage Spaces is not far off native speeds. Storages Spaces provides such a cost effective means for adding and managing capacity and high availability that it’s potentially a perfect fit for growing oilcompanies who have perhaps already invested in DAS storage capacity across their server environment and seek an affordable means to introduce more resilience and functionality to better utilise the investment.
Networking is one of those IT infrastructure underpinnings that doesn’t always get a lot of attention but is vital for implementing higher value capabilities, such as file sharing, application serving, virtualisation, and the cloud. Server 2012 has several important new networking features and enhancements. In particular we like the built-in NIC teaming. NIC teaming allows multiple network adapters to work together as a unit so that they can provide protection against failure, as well as improved network performance. NIC teaming is already built into vSphere and whilst earlier versions of Windows Server had limited support for NIC teaming, this was restricted to specialised network adapters from specific vendors. Again this puts Microsoft back on a level playing field with VMware.
The network feature we really like however is DirectAccess. This essentially allows a VPN-like secure tunnel from any endpoint back to the corporate network without the overhead and performance hit of a true VPN. There is also no management agent on the client. When the technology is configured correctly, it just works—users have seamless connectivity to file shares, on-premise equipment and other resources just as if they were on the corporate campus. This technology had previously been difficult to set up, but in Windows Server 2012, it very much just works. Whilst we’re yet to test this in a live oil and gas environment we believe it will have valuable yet economical remote working benefits for our oil industry customers.
Finally, and very unlike Microsoft, the licensing model also now contains fewer editions. Server 2012 basically has three varieties. Essentials is designed for small business environments. Standard, which has only two virtual-instance licenses, is for low-density or non-virtualised environments, and Datacenter which is by far the most expensive but has unlimited virtual instances. Your decision about which edition to purchase depends on your plans for virtualisation.
This post was always intended to be a snapshot of some of what we’ve liked most from Server 2012. There are countless other innovations which have not made it into this article but help reinforce for us that Server 2012 is the most important release of Windows Server since W2K. In our opinion Server 2012 has come a long way since 2008 and looks set to transform that way we are able to manage Windows infrastructure.
For more information on Windows Server 2012 or talk further with us about the technology email email@example.com or call +44 20 7313 8300.
Hitting the ground running in Kurdistan
Written by David Greenwood on July 16th, 2012
The early, reconnaissance stages of a project are critical. Not only must you understand your client’s requirements but you must also learn everything you can about the location you will be working in.
Early in 2012 an ISN infrastructure project consultant travelled to Erbil in the Kurdistan region of Iraq to scope a project for Afren plc. Afren required a sustainable and reliable ICT infrastructure that was flexible and adaptable enough to support them from start-up through to production and beyond. All of this needed to be delivered in a region with frequent grid power failures and inconsistent mobile phone coverage.
Our project team spent time at the location gathering information about local suppliers and the existing infrastructure and deepening their understanding of the base level requirements for the project start-up. The project needed to guarantee data security, provide integrated telephony services and access to corporate information systems.
With a fast turnaround required, it is vital to build a team of contractors and locals who can get the ICT working as quickly and effectively as possible. Decisions are made as to which expertise and equipment can be sourced locally and which will be imported into the site.
By the end of this first stage (April 2012), we had established internet and telephone connectivity for three operating locations on the ground in Kurdistan including field operations, local offices and staff quarters. We also had VHF radio system operating throughout the field locations.
From nothing to up and running
As a part of transition Phase 1 of the project we will bring new sites into the network and improve system resilience, for example by providing alternative network routing. We are overseeing the fitting out of an office building, starting from an empty shell and turning it into a fully-equipped regional headquarters complete with data centre, video conferencing and CCTV. Eventually VHF radio communications will link the field sites and regional HQ some 80 km away.
The next stages of the project will see us rolling out point to point microwave and continuing to improve internet connectivity between the sites on the ground and corporate headquarters. By the end of 2012, the ICT will be fully integrated with the rest of the global IT infrastructure providing the full suite of services and we will continue to provide Afren with the support and infrastructure they need to maximise their investment in Kurdistan.
Working in Kurdistan
Every project we work on is different and each location brings its own challenges. We aim to provide exactly the right ICT infrastructure and support our clients need – exactly when they need it. We combine tried and tested project methodologies, a deep understanding of our clients’ needs, collaborative approaches, experts on the ground and world class support and project management. To that we can now add “experience of making things work in the Kurdistan region of Iraq.”
The long range forecast is for cloud but what’s holding back adoption?
Written by David Greenwood on June 25th, 2012
There’s no doubting the world of opportunity the cloud presents. For start-up ventures and established businesses alike, using cloud based services does away with heavy upfront expenditure in IT systems and personnel. The elastic nature of the cloud means it scales easily too. But, and rightfully so, the biggest issue stopping mass adoption of the cloud is security. In a recent report by hosting.com 75 percent of responders cited cloud security as one of their top three concerns for cloud adoption.
The oil industry has long been the target of well organised, malicious attacks intent on stealing sensitive information. Since early last year, attacks such as Night Dragon have put oil companies on high alert. Likewise in more recent times the Stuxnet and Flame cyber weapons, whilst not aimed specifically at the oil industry, have revealed the potential to take over control of critical infrastructure and systems including manufacturing facilities, perhaps even rigs or pipelines.
Keeping ahead of these threats is hard – something quickly amplified when the equipment where the data resides is not owned and secured by you or the location of the equipment is unknown. Add to this security issues experienced by major cloud players like Cloudflare – the popular security and content delivery network service – whose systems were infiltrated by hacktivists resulting in the leak of sensitive customer data and one could be forgiven for questioning why you should be looking at cloud services at all, or feel paralysed by the fear of the unknown that they inspire.
So how can oil companies leverage the best of the cloud whilst maintaining peace of mind surrounding security? Firstly, it’s important to realise that mainstream cloud service providers (CSPs) are not security specialists and for that reason careful consideration surrounding supplier choice is imperative. Whilst CSPs are all looking at augmenting their security position to help on-board customers faster, this is not their core area of expertise so caution is advisable when trying to satisfy industry specific needs with conventional players.
Fundamentally, whatever you’re looking to put into the cloud needs to be considered from a sensitivity point of view – if you were subject to a failure or attack, how valuable is the data that would be exposed? Equally, the type of cloud service you’re looking at must be evaluated. In our opinion public clouds do not offer anywhere near the levels of security E& P companies (of whatever size) require, therefore ‘private cloud’ or virtual private cloud solutions may be a more sensible option as the security ‘wrap’ around your services can be built for purpose, although again we believe knowledge of the unique requirements of the E & P sector is critical to making sure the ‘wrap’ is right.
Ultimately, what you put in the cloud is dictated by the applications. At this moment, whilst we would be cautious in advocating full scale cloud-sourcing or cloud for business critical or latency sensitive applications, there are resource intensive applications or even mission important applications which can comfortably be delivered in a cloud-based arrangement. Email, backup and recovery, productivity and collaboration tools are all good candidates for movement to the cloud. Indeed, that’s what we did in a recent project for Desire Petroleum, whom we built a private cloud service for delivered from our datacentre, encompassing important collaboration tools like email, as well as integrated storage and disaster recovery.
In our mind, security should not be an inhibitor to cloud adoption. Done properly and selectively the fears surrounding cloud can be significantly mitigated to at least be on a par with maintaining your own systems. It also means E & P companies can become accustomed to working with services of this kind – something essential to the future because as connectivity and performance issues are relegated to the past new applications for the cloud will be commonplace in the oil and gas industry and critical to on-going innovation.
If you want to explore how cloud services might benefit your company but have been put off by security fears, talk to us now and we’ll share our knowledge and experience to show you the opportunities and what you can achieve.
NetApp announce new FAS2220 addition to mid-range product suite
Written by Paul Reed on June 5th, 2012
New NetApp FAS2220
On the 5th June, NetApp announced an addition to their mid-enterprise product suite – the FAS2220. This filer effectively replaces the extremely popular FAS2020 that was marked as end-of-life last year. It seems perfect for small to medium businesses that require a versatile storage device for expanding data sets and virtualisation needs. Pricing is said to be “aggressive”.
An interesting new feature that is available for this new FAS2220 filer and its big brother, the existing FAS2240, is the concept of “Flash Pools”. NetApp have now brought the huge performance boost of Solid State Drives to their entry level filers. SSDs can be added to the controller itself, or additional shelves, to improve read and write times. By mixing SAS, or even SATA, disks with SSD, the filer will provide significantly more IOPS without having to add lots more spindles. Best of all, the administrator doesn’t need to configure anything, it is all managed intelligently by Data ONTAP (though I expect there will be ways of tweaking it).
OnCommand System Manager 2.1 has also been released which will ease the management of SnapMirror and SnapVault and also introduces other automated tasks to make administration simpler.
Companies using NetApp as their storage platform should have a serious look at the new models. Give me a call on +44 20 7313 9900 if you’d like to explore options for optimising your storage architecture.
Premier Oil trial remote access to geoscience applications
Written by Paul Reed on May 16th, 2012
Premier Oil have a number of geologists working on various North Sea projects who are currently dispersed between their London, Aberdeen and Stavanger offices. While their roles and responsibilities are different, frequent collaboration is required on seismic interpretation projects, using tools such as Kingdom. Historically this has posed major challenges for the IS teams at each site; deploying applications, managing data and collaborating their analysis and results. Consequently, when the Group IS Manager discussed the concept of “Remote Access to 3D applications” with ISN Solutions, it captured his interest.
In April 2012, ISN engineers deployed a Proof of Concept installation of Citrix XenDesktop for Pro Graphics. It is an extension of the widely adopted Virtual Desktop Infrastructure solution, but instead harnesses the compute power of a physical, high spec, graphics card to power 3D applications. An existing Dell T-series workstation in Aberdeen was repurposed as a XenDesktop Pro Graphics host and a Windows 2008 server was built up as a XenDesktop Controller. Once fully configured, geologists in London and Stavanger were able to browse to a website hosted by the XenDesktop Controller and launch a remote desktop session to the XenDesktop Pro Graphics host. Because the XenDesktop host had a powerful nVidia Quadro graphics card, the geologists were able to work using dual monitors at a 1920×1200 HD resolution.
Initial feedback has been positive. One geologist in Stavanger, whose only option prior to this PoC was to use VNC to a desktop in Aberdeen, is very happy with the improvement in performance when using Kingdom. Other applications and usage scenarios will be tested throughout the rest of the PoC which will run until the end of May.
Careers at ISN – Current job vacancies
Written by David Ellison on May 10th, 2012
We have new projects starting soon and need to expand our team. If you are passionate about working in IT and are interested in new opportunities at our growing company, please check out our list of current vacancies.
Strictly no agencies.