IBM – from Mercury to Magstar (September 1998)

PDM traces IBM’s history in E&P ITand speculates on the reasons behind the departure.

With nearly two decades of involvement in E&P data modeling and management, the departure of IBM from E&P is fairly earth-shaking and worthy of some speculative comment. One can hardly criticize IBM for trying. First in the field of data modeling with the Mercury project – a forerunner of the current data models such as POSC’s Epicentre. Later, when the Norwegian oil industry required a ‘POSC compliant’ distributed data bank for their seismics, IBM was there and PetroBank was born. The Tigress data store, the focus of a major European integrated application platform was looking for a home (and had some impressive clients), IBM was there too. Along came the Internet, and IBM developed and deployed one of the first E&P specific e-forums, PetroConnect. This was intended to provide both a platform for an exchange of views, and for data sales and trades. It also just happened to fit nicely with IBM’s new-found role as an e-commerce based company.


First in the field with PetroBank, designed for the Norwegian Diskos National Data Repository, the future for the Master Data Store looked good a couple of years back. But take-up for data stores has been way below forecast because of uncertainties as to how data should be stored and managed in this complex and rapidly evolving area. In particular in-house deployment of data banks is extremely low, while national data repositories have seen stiff competition from other offerings such as CGG/PECC’s PetroVision and the Finder/xxDB archival systems from GeoQuest. For the project datastore, the central database was an attractive idea – but competed against de-facto standards such as OpenWorks and GeoFrame. Another fly in the ointment was that the marketing of the MDS as ‘POSC compliant’ served to underline the fact that the ex-Tigress PDS model was not so politically correct to POSC aficionados.


Oil industry conservatism may have been the reason for the low take-up of the PetroConnect e-commerce platform, leading to its demise in 1997. This must have been the straw that broke the camel’s back for IBM whose current focus, and even the newly re-structured business units, make great play of the Internet and e-commerce. The oil industry’s failure to take-up and run-with this offering must have convinced some that it was a lost cause. Low oil prices, stagnant growth and an old-fashioned look and feel have combined to make our industry a pretty poor shot for the revamped IBM. On the other hand, a consolation is that E&P will at least remain a substantial market for IBM’s tape products.

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