Data, data everywhere and not a number to crunch’. (July 1996)

PDM outlines some of the basic issues in data management today

Since this is a first edition it is a good place to outline some of the basic issues involved in modern data management and to set the scene for later, more technical discussions. At the highest level, data management revolves around where and how to ,store corporate data. For a large organization this may involve a multi-tiered data store with robotic access to Terabytes of data feeding project data stores on servers accessed by workstation clients. For a small organization this may mean organizing boxes of Exabyte tapes and Excel spreadsheets. For organizations of all sizes, data management is about managing heterogeneous data in a multiplicity of digital forms and including vast amounts of information on paper and even in people’s minds.


As anyone who has worked with E&P data will know, a major time wasting problem is that of incompatible data formats. Data arrives in the E&P department on tapes from the logging or seismic contractor in a bewildering number of "standard" formats, on a variety of physical media and often in a form which even if it is a recognizable format, may need a considerable effort in editing and cleaning up of the data before the real work of interpretation. Once the raw data has been loaded into the workstation, things are by and large all right so long as the interpreter is working alone, with a single application. Now this is emphatically not the way to do things in the modern world of asset based interpretation teams. This new way of working involves experts from different disciplines (and hence using different applications) working together and sharing data. Since few applications use the same data formats this involves a new bout of data reformatting gymnastics each time data is traded between specialists.


Things get even more complicated when the actual nitty-gritty issues of networks and disks are taken into consideration. Every time data is swapped it is in effect duplicated. When you consider that modern seismic data sets already push storage technology and network bandwidth to the limits, the last thing the IT manager needs are multiple copies of the same data. Unfortunately, that is what we have to deal with, a gigabyte in quickly becomes five or 10 gigs as data is traded between applications and multiple backups of interpretations are made. On the subject of backups we touch on another critical issue for data managers. No IT professional needs telling about the necessity to protect a company’s investment in processed data and interpreters’ time. You would think that if one has gone to the trouble of making copies of the data at regular intervals then you would be able at some future date to come back to a particular stage in the interpretation process. Current technology and practices may in fact mean that much of the effort spent in backup and archive is in reality time wasted. The modern slimmed down organization does not encourage the interpreter to spend time on housekeeping and there is a tendency at the end of a job to rush on to the next project. This means that even if an archive has been made at the end of a project, if it is restored after some time has elapsed, perhaps by a different interpreter, it may be in fact useless, containing many trial interpretations only comprehensible to the original interpreter.

Worse still

Worse still, the backup, if made in a workstation specific format, may actually be unusable with the latest version of the software it was made with - which has since been upgraded to a more recent version. Having stated the problem, we are sure that we have left out a lot. We've painted a bleak picture of the way things are, we're sure we've not exaggerated anything. In fact things are likely to get worse as the volumes of data involved in E&P go through the roof. A modern seismic boat acquires data at around 100 megabytes per minute. Tapes are shipped off by helicopter to avoid sinking the boat, and they are all coming your way ...

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