Open Source + OPC: Streamlined, real-time data communications for oil & gas

The oil and gas industry is facing tough times. In mid-September, London-based Moody’s Investor Service issued a report that details today’s challenging market, highlighted by the fact that global crude oil prices have fallen by more than 50 percent since mid-2014. Oil and gas companies are looking for opportunities to optimize operations where they can, and one way is through Open Platform Communications (OPC), a standard framework that enables real-time communication of data between automation and business systems of industrial companies, including oil and gas.

OPC delivers what’s been sorely missing in data communications for industrial companies: multi-vendor, plug-and-play components that can be easily integrated with enterprise-wide automation and business systems. Its goal is to remove the barriers between legacy, proprietary factory floor devices, systems and other manufacturing software that consume data culled from the field—data such as pipeline pressures and temperatures, information from vessels transporting the crude oil, even data coming from offshore oil rigs.

Without OPC, oil and gas companies have to create interfaces so each proprietary system or device in-house can access that data—and it’s typically done via batch-oriented polling systems that only operate once a day. Developing those interfaces, and keeping them updated whenever a factory-floor device or system is updated, takes time, and money. It also typically means oil and gas companies have to make critical business decisions on day-old (or even older) data. Neither of these scenarios is ideal given the economic pressures the oil and gas industry is currently facing.

Originally based on Microsoft OLE COM (Component Object Model) and DCOM (Distributed Component Object Model) technologies, the standard framework is maintained, supported and promoted by the OPC Foundation and defines a standard set of objects, interfaces and methods to be used in process control and manufacturing automation applications to facilitate interoperability. At present hundreds of OPC Data Access servers and clients are available. The OPC Foundation consists of users, vendors and industry consortia.

Plenty of companies in the oil and gas industry are using OPC (with a few online searches, you’ll see that British Petroleum, Conoco Phillips, Exxon, Shell, Halliburton, Marathon Oil and many others are using OPC). There are a number of proprietary drivers to access OPC data already available to companies.

An option to proprietary drivers is an open source solution, and we at Red Hat believe that’s an ideal route for oil and gas companies. Red Hat Fuse is an open source enterprise service bus (ESB) built on Linux that’s lightweight and flexible and enables rapid integration across the extended enterprise—on premise or in the cloud. It easily allows connectivity to an OPC server, and in real time can consume the data. Red Hat Fuse can connect up to an OPC server, and put the data, in real-time, on a message bus (Active MQ (also Fuse)), thus making it consumable by interested systems or individuals.

For the record, Red Hat Fuse doesn’t just optimize industrial device communications. It also provides a mechanism for real-time data delivery and helps solve a variety of other business and IT problems.

Download a trial of Red Hat Fuse. And let us know about your experiences with it—and your company’s OPC strategy—in the comments section below.


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