Virtual consolidation – adapting in real time

Dec. 1, 2003
The war cry of companies governed by Moore's Law is "Less is More." This indeed is a well-lit path down which consumers of high technology information systems encounter surprisingly improved capabilities and ever-declining costs.

The war cry of companies governed by Moore's Law is "Less is More." This indeed is a well-lit path down which consumers of high technology information systems encounter surprisingly improved capabilities and ever-declining costs. But these improved capabilities are principally incremental versions of the same theme, with rare significant changes in platform.

This path, though, will eventually dead end if it doesn't bring about fundamental change in – rather than a mere acceleration of – the way we work. In information systems, as in sport cars, piecemeal assembly of components cannot create an optimized experience. High-performance systems are not accidents, but rather are the intentional balanced combination of optimized systems, joined with care and focused to fit the purpose.

The energy industry, majors and independents alike, require fundamental work process change to accommodate an exceptionally challenging technical demographic, an increasingly distributed work process, a step-function explosion of new data, and expectations of ever more competitive financial performance from investors. While existing systems are fast and affordable, they fall short in the scalability and real-time flexibility that will be the fundamentals of the next generation of information systems.

The business presents a new challenge: seamlessly and efficiently accommodate a highly decentralized workforce while retaining the cost benefits of a centralized company. These contrasting themes must be married to support advanced reservoir management and field optimization along with outsource-heavy data management, computing, and analysis. Both exploration and production will benefit from this wedding, simplifying and streamlining data management and access, interlocking the experience of regionally disparate workers, saturating investment and operational decisions with both data and knowledge, and delivering breakthroughs in cost containment and financial performance. Even more importantly, this new way of doing business will take fullest advantage of today's workforce juggernaut – the experience-rich, independent consultant.

Virtual consolidation – the next generation information system

Unlike many of today's systems, which ask businesses to adapt to the technology, virtual consolidation will adapt to the needs of business at a rate that the market dictates. These systems must face and convincingly conquer the inviolable reality that the rate of real change in technology is measured in years, while the rate of change of business can be as short as mere months. Businesses locked into technologies perfect for today, but not adaptable for tomorrow, will find those very technologies transformed into severe encumbrances to growth and performance seemingly overnight.

Businesses held by the sharp talons of inflexible systems will have but two choices:

  • Wait for business needs to return to the capabilities of their information systems
  • Replace their systems with something new and more appropriate.

While neither choice offers near-term relief, only the second offers a path forward – and at that, only if the choice is flexibility, scalability, and adaptability. Otherwise, the new system risks coming on line just in time to vie for "most obsolete" against the very one it just replaced.

Virtual consolidation is a simple concept. Data, storage, applications, computational servers, graphical servers, people, processes, and services are distributed according to distribution of the business. As assets mature, are acquired, are sold, or are re-invigorated, or as the finances of the business change through reduction in operating costs, incentives from governments, increase in low-cost capital, or increase in commodity pricing, the information systems that support them adapt in real time.

All of this exists, adapts, responds, and performs, yet the view to the enterprise looks like it's contained in a single instance. This means that any user sees a single file system (make no copies, make no versions), can access all computational servers with high-speed data access, connect to real-time high performance visualization, participate in realistic collaboration, and be provided instant service regardless of location or desktop device. And system administrators can manage the enterprise from anywhere.

Concepts do not solve business problems; solutions do. A few insightful companies servicing a cross-section of global industries have sowed the seeds of virtual consolidation over the past several years. The catalyst to harvesting their bounty will be equally insightful consuming companies with clear visions of their own uncertain futures.

It is this uncertainty that requires this revolution. It is this uncertainty that must be tamed. It is this uncertainty that can become an ally rather than a foe.

But, as in that sports car, the right components assembled in just the right way will allow an ace driver to navigate unexpected sharp turns at full velocity, maintain the center of the lane with no extra cost, and remain ahead of their competitors. Likewise, your next information system must adapt to both the unexpected and planned tactical turns. The virtual company is the vehicle, and virtual consolidation is the engine.

Bill Bartling
Silicon Graphics

Bill Bartling is director of energy and science solutions for SGI and is responsible for the company's strategy and position in these industries. For information, contact the author at Tel: 650 933-5225; email: [email protected].

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