Cloud Insights from Brad Anderson, Corporate Vice President, Windows Server & System Center
In this post I’m going to look at how enterprises in the Oil & Gas industry are successfully operating Hybrid Clouds.
As a quick refresher on this series, my goal with each of these posts has been to take a close look at the definition of a Hybrid Cloud, explain our perspective on why a Hybrid environment is so valuable, and a provide a piece-by-piece look at the solutions and tools that constitute a Hybrid Cloud. With all of these ideas in mind, this series has already covered how to plan, build, deploy, operate, and save money with a Hybrid Cloud.
With this background covered, now this series is looking at how a Hybrid Cloud can positively impact (e.g. efficiency, cost savings, etc.) specific industries. Last week covered retail, and next week I’ll cover finance/banking.
One thing that all our conversations with Oil & Gas companies seem to have in common is that when we meet with them 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. The “as a service” approach to using cloud-based resources permeates the industry and IT teams at energy companies are always looking for ways to make everything more self-service accessible, more efficient, more standardized, and ultimately more compliant. This is, after all, an extremely competitive industry where even small improvements can have an enormous financial impact.
This focus on compliance is intense throughout the industry, and it is equally prevalent in the evaluation of any new technology before it is adopted, as well as during the decision making processes about how that technology will be used.
One recent example of this process took place with a large Oil & Gas Services Provider based in Texas that supports oilfields and equipment with over 50,000 employees spread across the globe. This organization had outsourced most of their datacenter services and had infrastructure spread across a series of owned and leased regional facilities.
The key complaint from the IT team was this: “The outsourcing has only solved the ‘who does the work’ problem, but it has failed to make deploying anything happen more efficiently or faster.” After some initial discussions, we found that they were experiencing deployment times for a single server of 6-8 weeks, even though the environment was already heavily virtualized on VMware. We also saw that each datacenter location had its own processes and unique steps for making server requests or other basic functions.
These were areas where we could obviously help.
We proposed a solution based on Microsoft System Center and Windows Server that would leverage the strengths of their on-prem resources, and virtualize the most common and time-consuming workloads. In a two week timeframe, our teams worked with the organization to build the notification, approval, and provisioning process, and templates were created for deploying virtual machines to Hyper-V using System Center.
The result was the ability to provision Virtual Machines in 1-2 hours and keep better records of provisioning steps, approvals, and configuration data – all of which is vital in such a heavily regulated industry. Building on the success of the initial project, this solution was expanded and deployed to eight datacenters and now handles all provisioning requests.
The success of this system has shown the value of scenarios that draw upon even more Hybrid Cloud functions. This organization has already started a project to enable Database as a Service functionality, as well as Infrastructure as a Service with Windows Azure that allows their users to request VM’s and databases hosted either on-premises or in Windows Azure. This service-based approach has been enthusiastically received because it gives the IT department (and the entire company) better control over their infrastructure and faster results – whereas outsourcing had previously solved only the labor requirements.
A Hybrid environment is not only a viable solution for a large, geographically dispersed organization. In highly regulated industry like Oil & Gas, the size of the organization doesn’t matter – all the same procedures and processes still need to be followed.
For smaller operations in this industry, it’s important to recognize that automated solutions for deployment are not just for giant organizations operating at extreme scale. For example, don’t confuse having a template image for server deployment with having a process for server deployment. A template gets us a deployed server, but that does not solve the process-related requirements of ownership, cost accounting, compliance state, disaster recovery options, backup system, or expected lifecycle – just to name a few.
Another common occurrence in this industry – and which can cause a variety of issues for IT teams – is the regularity of mergers, divestitures, and acquisitions.
Recently another large oil company based in (you guessed it) Texas was considering the divestiture of a number of its business units, but the IT team was having a lot of trouble partitioning these groups that had previously always been a part of the centralized IT systems and placing them into unique datacenters of their own. The IT team wanted to create a service that would enable them to easily and reliably move the hosting and ownership of technology and they also needed a way to test this process and support the business unit throughout the transition process.
The need for this kind of agility and flexibility is right in the wheelhouse of a Hybrid Cloud.
To support the needs of this IT team, we started with Windows Azure Infrastructure as a Service offerings. By using the Windows Azure Subscription (which each business unit already had) with VPN connectivity, we were able to go inside each subscription to create a self-contained copy of the critical business services with connectivity back to the central IT systems. Now, whenever a divesture or reorganization is necessary, the VPN connection can simply be terminated, and this allows the business unit to function with their systems, but it does not include shared access to the central IT of the original company.
This kind of service-based approach also gave this newly divested company the flexibility to create a similar VPN connection from Windows Azure to their new central IT systems and either migrate services to their own systems, continue to use Windows Azure, or a combination of both.
By using Hybrid Cloud solutions from Microsoft, both of the companies I’ve referenced above have benefitted from incredible flexibility, efficiency, and additional operational possibilities that had not been previously available – and enabled these companies to do this while maintaining the regulatory requirements of this industry.
Another great example of the Hybrid Cloud supporting the growth of an energy company comes from Qatar-based ORYX GTL.
We began working with ORYX in 2006 when they moved to Hyper-V, and they have since developed an extensive private cloud based on Windows Server and System Center. To protect their assets they have since added on Hybrid Cloud storage with Azure and StorSimple.
The move to a Hybrid model was driven by five business challenges that ORYX wanted to address proactively – and several of these will be familiar to energy companies all over the world:
With their Hybrid environment, ORYX GTL has seen their agility increase, overhead costs drop, and the high performance promises of a Hybrid Cloud have been benefiting the entire organization. Best of all, by leveraging our Microsoft Cloud OS strategy, ORYX was able to maximize their ROI by utilizing the EA agreement and the support contract which was already in place.
When ORYX GTL’s case study is complete, I’ll be sure to post a copy.
A Hybrid Cloud allows for a remarkably proficient process to take place: By first defining a process you can then use a service based approach to streamline the application of that process and increase the speed at which it can run. Then, once you have that service in place, you have the flexibility to move resources as needed to account for both business requirements and scale for demand. And, at every step, you are compliant and agile.
Next week, the industry focus continues with Finance/Banking!
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