Red Hat Enterprise Linux Fuels Over $2 million in Cost Savings for Santos

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May 18, 2011

With Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Santos has achieved faster performance, greater reliability, and stability, while reducing administration with immediate and long-term cost savings of more than $2.5 million.

Customer: Santos

For Santos, the move to open source—and to Red Hat— provides us with a solid anchor. We can be assured that no one can breeze in and blow our solution away. Introducing Red Hat has really provided us with a win-win situation.” - Andy Moore, IS Manager for Subsurface, Santos Limited

Industry: Oil and Gas
Geography: APAC
Country: Australia


Business Challenge:

To find a cost-effective solution that would enable greater system performance and simplified administration, improve data management, and overcome issues with reliability and support, all while avoiding additional third-party costs.

Software:

Red Hat® Enterprise Linux® 5.6, TurboVNC and VirtualGL, Paradigm

Hardware:

12 x IBM 3650 M3 with NVIDIA Quadro Plex attached

Benefits:

Achieved faster performance, greater reliability, and stability; reduced administration with immediate and long-term cost savings of more than $2.5 million; gained environmental power reduction of more than 300,000 KWh per year; reduced carbon footprint; improved security; increased productivity and collaboration among high-value geoscientists in highly dispersed

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Background:

An Australian energy pioneer since 1954, Santos is one of the country’s leading oil and gas producers, supplying customers across Australia and Asia. With approximately 5,000 staff across its offices and field operations, Santos is headquartered in Adelaide, South Australia, with exploration offices in Brisbane, Perth, Jakarta, Port Moresby, Hanoi, New Delhi, Dhaka, and Bishkek. The largest supplier of natural gas to the domestic Australian market, the company reported sales revenue of $2.2 billion in 2010. Santos’ business strategy is to safely deliver a sound base business through strong oil and gas production in Australia and Indonesia and to achieve growth through a transformational suite of liquefied natural gas projects, led by the GLNG project in Gladstone, Queensland, and through oil and gas exploration and development in Asia.

Business Challenge:

Santos’ IT infrastructure was based on proprietary systems and distributed between data servers, application servers, and application workstations at several national sites. However, the company reached its breaking point when it began juggling four very serious issues.

First, over time, Santos’ environment became very complex to manage. Systems and users stretched across six national and international sites with discrete islands of storage, backup, and database infrastructure that needed nightly synchronisation to ensure everyone had the latest set of data—or at least yesterday’s set of data. Applications compiled for three separate architectures were being run locally on a mix of 32-bit and 64-bit workstations and remotely using three different breeds of proprietary thin and fat client software. It was a daily challenge for systems administration and quickly became a “simplify or die” scenario.

Second, Santos was faced with a data explosion. The nature of the geoscience business means that Santos’ IS department must handle very large seismic data sets that can be acquired at short notice. However, data transfers were overloading desktop network connections and had created a bottleneck to data interpretation at the workstation. Put simply, the company needed a faster highway for data to reach users.

Third, and not unlike many Australian organisations, Santos was feeling the burden of licensing and maintenance costs associated with its proprietary thin client software. Cost pressure was being driven by the need to reduce operating costs for legacy reserves in order to add funding for additional development and growth.

Finally, Santos was suffering from support and reliability problems. In the process of deploying new data interpretation software, the distributed nature of the infrastructure led to multiple points of failure and administrative overheads.

“Application performance, data management, system administration, licence costs, support, and reliability were all areas where we needed to make improvements, but beyond these specific issues, there was also the perpetual reality in which we—as the oil and gas exploration and production industry—operate. Our geoscientists and engineers, who find and produce our oil and gas, will push the limits of technology every time, all the time. It always has been and always will be the case,” said Andy Moore, IS Manager for Subsurface, Santos Limited.

Santos was tasked with finding a solution that would provide improved performance and reduced cost, and in the midst of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC), the organisation needed to do so without spending additional money.

Solution:

According to Moore, choosing Red Hat was not a difficult choice.

“For what we needed, Red Hat Enterprise Linux was always going to be the underlying system for us, both from a development and production environment perspective,” he said.

“Red Hat has been the platform of choice for the oil and gas industry for some time because it’s the preferred development platform for major geoscience software vendors. Then there’s the support argument. It’s widely known that Red Hat supports hardware more successfully than other flavours of Linux, which made for an easy migration in the early days.”

After looking at several proprietary thin client offerings, Santos found that none of them satisfied all of its technical requirements for the delivery of high-performance, hardware-accelerated 3D graphics across LAN & WAN connections. The company turned to the open source community for an answer and found it in the TurboVNC and VirtualGL open source projects. For the first time, Santos became a major sponsor of open source development and over a six-month period, members of its IS team worked with the developers to get the TurboVNC solution to rock-solid enterprise standards.

Santos wrote an in-house web portal to provide users with a connection and collaboration interface, allowing users to stay logged-in to their Red Hat Enterprise Linux desktops and reconnect to the same session from just about anywhere (meeting rooms, home, international and interstate regional offices, etc.) using their standard-issue laptop (with dual 24" monitors when users are at their desk).

Following the new open source thin client replacement going into production, it became clear that the solution was out-performing Santos’ traditional 64-bit desktop workstations. As word spread, geoscientists started running their Red Hat Enterprise Linux-based desktop via TurboVNC exclusively and soon requested that their workstations be removed to give them more space. As more users came online, additional Red Hat servers were added to the TurboVNC/VirtualGL farm to handle the load.

Proprietary infrastructure housed in Santos’ interstate offices was decommissioned as it became clear that all national users were happier using the new open source thin client solution over the WAN, rather than using their local hardware. What started out as a simple replacement of Santos’ thin client system had snowballed to the point where all access to Red Hat and associated geoscience applications (such as Paradigm, an industry leading supplier of exploration and development software to the oil and gas industry, used for visualising and interpreting seismic data) now happens remotely via TurboVNC sessions running in Santos’ Adelaide server room.

When buying and building its server farm, Santos’ system administrators worked closely with Red Hat’s support services to ensure the platform was built right the first time. This was especially important because it was the organisation’s first experience working with IBM x86 servers running Red Hat. Santos also has a number of Red Hat Certified Engineers (RHCE®s) and Red Hat Certified Technicians (RHCTs) as part of the team, which it plans to extend in the future.

Benefits:

The innovative solution was a refreshing change for Santos because it immediately delivered a faster, cheaper, and more stable platform, but it also offered many other operational benefits that quickly became apparent.

“Necessity is the mother of invention. Miraculously, we managed to come up with that very solution that would simplify administration, boost performance, lower costs, add functionality, improve security, and even save power, all in one open source step—a huge success all round,” said Moore.

“Introducing Red Hat has really provided us with a win-win situation.”

The result of Santos’ migration to the new open source thin client was a much faster data path for all users due to the processing power living in the same room as the NFS storage. Data management was also massively simplified because all Australian users could use the same set of servers, applications, disks, and databases, with no need to synchronise data between national sites.

“It came down to one high-performance thin client solution providing one standard 64-bit environment delivered through standard laptops with more 3D rendering power than our users had ever seen,” said Moore.

Other impressive benefits include immediate savings of over $2.5 million derived from removed thin client licence costs, reduced capital costs, and administration reduction. In addition, Santos’ highly valued geoscientists are able to perform their jobs far more efficiently, making them more productive and potentially raising massively the company’s bottom line through increased oil and gas reserves.

Added perks also included reduction of over 300,000 KWh in environmental power per year, reduced office cooling requirements, and a reduced carbon footprint through workstation removal.

“With Red Hat Enterprise Linux, we are able to achieve greater reliability and stability with more application features delivered consistently, along with improved security with valuable corporate data never leaving the server room. Additionally, the solution offers better performance and more functionality and removes the hassle of logging in and out, which also means that the same session can be accessed by multiple users from multiple locations concurrently for interstate and intercontinental collaboration,” said Moore.

In addition to these significant benefits, a new high-performance computing (HPC) cluster was commissioned using the old thin client Blade servers and Torque open source clustering tools, delivering a step-change in seismic data processing and reservoir simulation capabilities, all running on Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

Santos believes its success largely came from the fact that it was prepared to look beyond Microsoft and the traditional software vendors within the industry, and had the vision to work with the open Source community, which it believes has the potential to deliver extraordinary value to an organisation.

“The reality is that Red Hat Enterprise Linux and open source software are extremely well-supported, and with the backing of a 24-hour global community of technical experts, support is far better and more secure than any other single vendor could realistically offer,” said Moore.

“What Red Hat and open source have enabled us to achieve is nothing short of totally innovative use of technology and out-of-the-box thinking. We’ve been able to bring together talent from various corners of the world. Suddenly we are seeing spectacular results and new potential we could not imagine previously. That’s the power of collaboration, and its value goes far beyond our IT infrastructure, our company, and our industry,” said Moore.

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