Ray Boucher of Prism technologies, speaking at the POSC Focus/E&P Knowledge Work conference held in Oslo last month, described the fruits of the LightSIP project as "the first pure implementation of the Petrotechnical Software Corporation's (POSC) Epicentre Data Model". The Data Access and Exchange (DAE) layer was developed in the Elf-led LightSIP project and is intended to solve the problems of software interoperability and maintenance.
The idea is to offer software developers a "middleware" layer that allows them to query a database without knowing too much about how the data is actually stored. The DAE middleware is a pretty clever piece of kit. It relies on modern database design to allow it to peek into a sort of "table of contents" within the database - the metadata - and adapt the incoming query from the application to the actual syntax required by the database. To the calling application it offers - or "exposes" - in the jargon, a consistent set of data objects which are supposed to reflect a generic way of accessing E&P data types. For more information on this technology, and the key role that it plays in POSC's philosophy see the article inside this issue "POSC DAE dissected".
The technology allows one vendor to access data in another vendor's database, in other words it will provide interoperability. Additionally, the DAE middleware is designed to be a constant in a changing world, so that a database can be upgraded without all the applications having to be re-written, thus solving the problem of maintenance. Defending the "pure implementation" claim, Boucher described existing commercial implementations of Epicentre as "using a POSC wrapper around a proprietary database". Regular readers of PDM will remember our criticism of vendors claims for POSC compliance because of this.
PDM featured the LightSIP project in the January 1997 edition where IBM - the project manager - described LightSIP as being "the first truly POSCian data management solution". At the time the project was envisaged by its sponsors Elf, Shell and Statoil, as being a scaled down version of the full POSC DAE specification - hence the "light" tag. Keith Steel, Prism's CEO will have none of this claiming that the product that they are developing is a full, commercial strength implementation of the specification. At that time, Philippe Chalon, Methods and Standards department manager at Elf Aquitaine stated "Elf considers that the availability of a POSC DAEF component is on the critical path of POSC take-up. We will be recommending our E&P applications providers to adopt the LightSIP product when it becomes available, as POSC standards are central to our technical target architecture." The DAE is also variously known as DA, DAE, DAEF and LightSIP - for combinations of Data Access and Exchange Facility and Software Integration Platform. It is a C Application Programmers Interface (API) with functions and data structures defined in POSC header files. Delivered as a library its behavior is defined in POSCs Data Access and Exchange specification. The software checks your Epicentre data store and is available as a freeware version that produces summary info (no detail) and the commercial offering that reports data quality problems in detail (and suggests fixes if applicable).
The product is entering a "formal" beta testing phase right away with a full commercial release scheduled for March 1998. The final product will include native compiler versions, a projection meta-data loader and other enhancements. The following platforms will be supported AIX 4.1.4 / Oracle 7.1.4, HPUX 10.20 / Oracle 7.3.2 and Solaris 2.5 / Oracle 7.3.2. Future priorities are NT and IRIX. Sponsoring oil companies have given Prism an assured further two years financing for the project. Prism are to work with CAP Gemini to provide training in the DAE, in building applications using POSC specifications and in data migration.
Adding a layer between applications and their data is not without potentially serious downside. Performance is the critical issue and Prism will have to demonstrate minimal performance hit from going through the DAE. Another field requiring attention is the stability of Epicentre. What needs to happen for all this to work? Well for this technology to invade the desktop, major vendors such GeoQuest and Landmark will have to buy Prism's DAE and implement it between their applications and databases. This may seem a tall order for a software house that has just revamped its product line around a proprietary database and is offering its own API up to all comers. However, the technology is being tested at GeoQuest, Landmark and, of course IBM.
IBM to implement DAE
The potential implications of this technology are great and both IBM and Prism will be marketing the LightSIP deliverables as a stand-alone product for application vendors. In addition, LightSIP will be available for the Project Data Store platform in the next major release and is being integrated into the PetroBank master Data Store environment. In the PDS environment, LightSIP will sit under a layer of Business Data Objects, which will be the preferred means by which applications will address the database. For the Mater Data Store (PetroBank), data management utilities and applications will be able to access the database either via LightSIP or via direct SQL access. Because IBM holds the ex-Tigress data model in trust for third parties such as PGS with the Tigress application suite, the addition of a DAE layer would seem a natural route. This might enable IBM to steal the POSCian high ground and open up the PDS to access by the other main vendors. The move from "poles" of interoperability within individual vendor frameworks to true data sharing is far from neutral for vendors, there will be winners and losers, with a migration from the "all things to all men" vendor to the famed "best of breed" "plug in". If it comes off one sure fire winner will be Prism Technologies.
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