DRILLING TECHNOLOGY: Network provides secure access to real-time well data worldwide

Online access via personal computers

Nov 1st, 2000
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A secure means of accessing real-time well data from anywhere in the world on a personal computer, in a secure fashion, is now available, claims the developer of the network and process. While the procedure sounds simple, there are a variety of complex problems that had to be overcome before such a system could be offered with confidence in the security requirement.

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Back when digital data acquisition and archiving was in its infancy, Schlumberger saw the advantage of storing and retrieving log data with the click of a mouse, as opposed to filing away spools of paper or film printouts. At the company's Austin Technology Center, the traditional business activities of an oil service company have been married with new economy technology. Austin, Texas is close enough to Schlumberger's base in Houston, but has a number of advantages for a company interested in developing new software and IT-related services. With the success of Michael Dell and his computer company of the same name, the city has become a hotbed of software development and Internet-focused businesses. Schlumberger has taken advantage of this by either hiring or consulting with experts who have located there.

At the same time, extensive field tests of the new products are required to ensure reliability and the practicality of the interface. Houston and the oil fields of South Texas and the Gulf of Mexico are close enough to Austin that developers can work hand-in-hand with the field operators testing their products.

Shane Dufaur, the Schlumberger Communication Systems and Services Product Champion, breaks down the work of the technology center into five broad categories:

  • Real-time oilfield acquisition systems
  • Real-time oilfield data delivery systems
  • Geoscience interpretation systems
  • Smart cards applications and systems
  • Operations/business support systems.

While these are broad areas of technology, the data delivery project has reached a critical milestone. Dufaur said the company has introduced the following suite of products for data delivery:

  • InterACT Remote Witness, a real-time viewing of log data in the customer's office
  • TransACT, a framework to transmit, monitor, and deliver oilfield service data in a distributed network
  • PDSView and Log Data Toolbox, free software applications for viewing, annotating, converting, and manipulating log files
  • Product Delivery Centers, which produce prints, tapes, or CDs via the Data Delivery framework for distribution
  • UCC Manager, simplified network connectivity and security for mobile acquisition systems
  • Schlumberger's new InterACT Web Witness, a secure web-based delivery of real-time and recently acquired project data.

Working together, these tools provide everything needed to monitor, document, and manage a project from anywhere in the world.

The initial problem Schlumberger faced in opening these services to clients and third-party providers is that there was no one standard format for such information. Many companies use their own software to record such data. Others use off-the-shelf products or software provided by a third party. Designing a user-friendly suite of applications to support all of these formats was a major challenge.

SINet

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Many people believe the World Wide Web is just that, worldwide, when in fact, there are broad expanses where Internet access is unheard of. Many of these remote areas are the same places where wells are being drilled - and where the network can span communications difficulties.

Schlumberger says it has been gathering and reporting data from remote locations for decades, and as a result, got an early start on the Internet revolution. The proprietary communications network called SINet(Schlumberger Information Network) covers virtually the entire planet with an "oil-centric" footprint. This backbone is a key component to global data delivery. Without the ability to access the network from the most remote of areas, there would be limited use for these services. Because this is Schlumberger's proprietary network, the company's Network Solutions division maintains and develops it, guaranteeing reliable and secure access.

TransACT

Using the TransACT data delivery system, Schlumberger can accept log data from remote sites over the SINet global network. TransACT accepts, processes, stores, and distributes the data. Using one of the company's regional product delivery centers, data can be distributed in any way a customer prefers - overnight mail, tape, CD, fax - according to a distribution profile.

Certain information on a drilling project will be distributed to one group of individuals in whatever format each prefers, and other information on the same program may be delivered to a completely different group, again in a custom format. All of this is designed to streamline the flow of information, while at the same time ensuring the right people get the right data quickly, and in a format they can use.

Not only does this enable the rapid sharing of information, but also, because TransACT and the product delivery center handle such back-office functions as making prints and sending faxes, technicians and engineers save time. "We remove the sneaker net," Dufaur said, referring to the time consuming act of preparing and physically delivering data to different individuals within a company.

InterACT Web Witness

Possibly the most advanced application of the firm's communication services and systems technology is the ability for individuals all over the world to make collaborative decisions using real-time well service data. InterACT Web Witness will accept data from any source and format, from handwritten scanned drilling reports to digital video files. Regardless of where an operation is located, or where the users and experts happen to be at the time, information is available to make quick collaborative decisions on operations issues. In a time of tight staffing and decreasing experience among technicians in the field, this tool can prove invaluable.

For example, if an engineer on a rig encounters something he or she doesn't quite understand, they can immediately transmit real time downhole data, reports, everything relevant to the problem, anywhere in the world. This allows experts available to advise the engineer on what should be done. Because it is all in real-time, there is a minimum delay in the process.

A client does not have to use Schlumberger for the solution or any other service, to take advantage of the data delivery framework. This is one of the reasons the system is flexible on the front end. Whatever file format a vendor's information is in it can be accepted, stored, and distributed. Because the program is an online project workspace, in most cases those advising on a project will already have a folder with the background and updated project information. Using this, they can easily check up on whatever aspects of the project they feel are relevant by checking their folder. This saves time and ensures thorough research precedes every key decision.

The collaborative workspace created by InterACT Web Witness was one of the most difficult challenges of the project, Dufaur said, but the result is a seamless system for keeping up with multiple projects instantly from anywhere in the world, in real time. The web browser-based design simplifies access and encourages use by clients, regardless of their familiarity with data delivery systems.

Security measures

While it is essential that authorized users have ready access to real-time data, it is just as important that the information doesn't fall into the wrong hands. Security is a key component of the data delivery products and Schlumberger borrowed knowledge gained from e-commerce activities to design a system that protects data. The data is stored by the firm at one of its secure data management centers. Proxy servers provide access to the secure servers, while acting as a layer of insulation between the Internet and the data. These proxy servers are protected from physical damage and also from unauthorized interference via the Internet. They can pass information through the Schlumberger firewalls from the Internet, and distribute information over the secure SINet.

The varying requirements for security have to be met. Depending on preferences, there are a number of options that can increase the security of data. For larger firms, such as major oil companies, there is a dedicated physical link between the company's internal network and SINet, providing privacy and high bandwidth. Another option is to place a data delivery server in the intranet, or an internal network, of a company. The data can be stored there so that no one outside the company can gain access. Regardless of which of these routes is taken, all information is protected. No one who does not have proper access, authorized by a customer, can acquire it.

Log Data Toolbox, PDSView

"This project was an outgrowth of the Schlumberger well-site efficiency and data delivery initiative," said David Schlosser, Section Manager of Acquisition Software Products at the Austin Technology Center. Initially these projects were developed to improve delivered data quality, product handling, and delivery times. This initiative was based on the firm's internal standards. As this initiative grew, the firm realized in many cases that data had to be converted to a client's format before delivery.

As Schlumberger developed ways to convert their data to other formats, a suite of tools emerged. Now the company offers Log Data Tool Box and PDSView, consisting of software applications that can assist in viewing, printing, manipulating, and converting data to and from different formats, allowing clients to consult and act on the data.

Free software

A free copy of the Log Data Tool Box and PDSView was made available from the Schlumberger web site or from a CD distribution. Dufaur said people in the computer industry thought it was crazy when Schlumberger started giving away the software they had spent money and time developing, but he said this software greatly increases the value of the data the company acquired and delivered.

Upgrades of the programs are provided to users electronically or by whatever means requested. As new versions are introduced, part of the beta testing process is to deliver versions to outside clients. This gives Schlumberger feedback on how the new software works in the field. The users provide an assessment of the quality and user friendliness of the new product. For software support, external users have access to the same InTouch help desk services as internal Schlumberger users.

Because the system can accommodate third-party data, Schlumberger can customize it to meet individual needs. No matter what service company a client contracts with, or which vendors chosen, the on-line project workspace remains the same.

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