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Red Hat Innovation Award Winner

Company: Santos Limited

Innovation Award Category: Optimized Systems

Industry: Oil and gas exploration and production, Geosciences

Geography: Australia and Asia

Solution: Red Hat Enterprise Linux

BACKGROUND

An Australian energy pioneer since 1954, Santos is one of Australia's and Asia’s leading gas producers. With approximately 5,000 staff across its offices and field operations in Australia and Asia, the company is headquartered in Adelaide, South Australia, and has offices in Brisbane, Perth, Jakarta, Port Moresby, Hanoi, New Delhi, Dhaka and Bishkek. Santos is the leading supplier of natural gas to the domestic Australian market and 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 with growth through a transformational suite of liquefied natural gas projects, led by the GLNG project in Gladstone, Queensland and exploration and development in Asia.

BUSINESS CHALLENGE

Before "seeing the light" and migrating to the Red Hat platform, Santos IT infrastructure was based on proprietary systems and distributed between data servers, application servers and application workstations at several national sites. The company had reached a point where they were facing four serious issues.

First, the Santos Unix environment had become very complex to manage. UNIX systems and users stretched across six national and international sites with discrete islands of storage, backup and database infrastructure needing nightly synchronisation to ensure everyone had the latest set of data - or at least yesterday's set of data. UNIX applications compiled for three separate architectures were being run locally on a mix of 32bit and 64bit workstations and remotely using three different breeds of proprietary thin and fat client software. Therefore, it was a daily challenge for systems administration.

Second, the company was faced with a data explosion. The nature of its industry – Geoscience – means that the company’s IT department must handle very large seismic data sets, often acquired by the business at short notice. Data transfers were simply overloading their desktop network connections and created a bottleneck to data interpretation at the workstation. Santos was looking for a faster highway for its data to reach its users.

Third, was escalating costs. Like many organisations, Santos was feeling the burden of licensing and maintenance costs associated with its proprietary platform. Cost pressure is driven by the need to reduce operating cost for its legacy reserves to fund development and growth.

Fourth, was support and reliability. In the process of deploying new data interpretation software, the distributed nature of the infrastructure led to multiple points of failure and administrative overhead.

Beyond these specific issues, there was also the perpetual reality in which Santos – as the oil and gas exploration and production industry – operates. The company’s geoscientists and engineers, who find and produce oil and gas, will push the limits of technology every time, all the time. Therefore, the company was tasked with delivering something that wasn't apparently available, but to come up with something that would be massively successful in terms of improved performance and reduced cost.

SOLUTION

Due to a change in vendor (and a quadrupling of licence fees), Santos initially sought a direct replacement for its main proprietary thin client system in order to avoid the license outlay and the cost of replacing low-end 32bit workstations. After much investigation, Santos turned to Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 and Open Source thin client software. Choosing Red Hat was not a difficult choice, as Red Hat was always going to be the underlying system from both a development and production environment perspective.

Red Hat has been the platform of choice for the oil and gas industry for some time due to Red Hat being the preferred development platform for major geoscience software vendors. It's also widely known that Red Hat supports hardware more successfully than other flavors of Linux, which made for an easy migration in the early days.

Santos has been burnt in the past by hanging its hat on proprietary solutions only to have them rendered uneconomical through being acquired by a bigger fish. So for Santos, the move to Open Source - and to Red Hat - also provided a security blanket, as they could be assured that no one could walk in and take its solution away as Open Source is owned by the world.

Red Hat was a refreshing change because it offered a faster, more economical and more stable platform, but it also offered many other operational benefits that quickly became apparent. It provided a simpler architecture for a solution in which the company’s data was more manageable and delivered a number of performance and reliability benefits to its users. Introducing Red Hat really provided Santos with a win-win situation.

After looking at several proprietary thin client offerings, Santos found that none of the offerings satisfied all of their 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 ever, Santos became a major sponsor of Open Source development and over a six month period, they worked with the developers to get the TurboVNC solution to rock-solid enterprise standards.

Santos wrote an in-house web portal that provides users with a connection and collaboration interface. This allows users to stay logged on to their Red Hat 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 inch monitors when they're at their desk).

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

Proprietary back-end infrastructure in the company’s interstate offices was decommissioned as it was found that national users were happier using the new Open Source thin client solution over the WAN than using their local hardware. What started life as a simple replacement of its thin client system had snowballed to the point where all access to Red Hat and associated geoscience applications (such as Paradigm software to visualise and interpret the seismic data) now happens remotely via TurboVNC sessions running in Santos' Adelaide server room.

The result is a faster data path for all users due to the processing power living in the same room as the NFS storage. Data management has been massively simplified because all Australian users now use the same set of servers, applications, disks and databases with no need to synchronise data between national sites. One high performance thin client solution providing one standard 64bit environment with more 3D rendering power than their users have ever seen – which is administrative utopia.

BENEFITS

Santos recognised several benefits including the following:

  • Real time national and international collaboration
  • Automated load-balancing of user sessions
  • A solution that simplifies administration, boosts performance, lowers costs, adds functionality, improves security and even saves power, all in one Open Source step - a huge success all round
  • Immediate savings in terms of capital costs saved - $1.8 Million
  • Knock on admin reduction - costs per annum - $767,000
  • Highly valued geoscientists doing things far more efficiently, making them more productive - and hopefully finding more oil and gas more quickly
  • Environmental power reduction of over 300,000KWh per year, reduced office cooling requirement and reduced carbon footprint through workstation removal
  • Reliability/stability - more application features delivered consistently
  • Security - valuable corporate data never leaves the server room - just the graphics

To add to all this, a new, high performance computing 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.

Red Hat has provided Santos with a more scalable, better architectural platform and business solution delivered on standard laptops, which can grow with the business without a commensurate operating cost increase. There have also been a number of session management and collaboration benefits, whereby end users can jump on any web-enabled PC anywhere with a reasonable network and reconnect to same session they were on before they left their desk. There's no more logging in and out, and it offers better performance and more functionality. In fact, the same session can be accessed by multiple users from multiple locations concurrently for interstate and intercontinental collaboration. And, at the end of the day, all their users care about is that it works better, runs faster and is reliable.

Santos has had very positive experiences with areas of the Red Hat business. First, when buying and then building its servers, their admins worked closely with Red Hat's support services to ensure they got the build right to start off with. This was especially important because it was their first experience running Red Hat on IBM x86 servers. In addition, Santos has a number of RHCEs and RHCTs gaining valuable experience and expect to see more Red Hat certifications at Santos as they move forward.

In the end, what Santos has been able to achieve is nothing short of totally innovative use of technology and out-of-the-box thinking. It has enabled the company to bring together talent from various corners of the world and suddenly, the company is seeing spectacular results and new potential where they could not imagine previously. That's the power of collaboration, and its value goes far beyond Santos’ IT infrastructure, the entire company, and the industry.