Academic thesis investigates Flash client for WITSML data

Robert Gordon University student William Sellick works with Flash and JBoss on drilling data viewer.

William Sellick, a student at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen has completed a dissertation on ‘a software viewer for WITSML real-time data.’ The project, which was sponsored by Independent Data Services (IDS), evaluated the viability of selected technologies for future development by IDS with a prototype web-based system for the collection and display of real-time data.

Technologies under investigation included Adobe’s ‘Flex’ rich internet application language, and RedHat’s open source ‘JBoss’ application server. These were used to develop a test application accessing the real-time data elements in the Energistics’ WITSML drilling data standard. The paper provides a good general introduction to programming the WITSML API and the SOAP web services infrastructure but the main topic of Sellick’s investigation is the use of ‘rich internet applications’ (RIA). RIA in this context means ‘Web 2.0’ style live data tables and graphing tools running in a web browser.

Although Sellick mentions the DHTML standard for RIA, the study focused on the use of Adobe’s Flash animation. Flex 2 is a Java-based API for Flash that runs in the Eclipse integrated development environment (Java was used throughout the project). The Flex builder uses Macromedia Flex Markup Language (MMFXML) which is read by Flash ‘ActionScripts’ to generate executable code at run time. JBOSS and JAXB (Java Architecture for XML Binding) was used to process WITSML documents.

The pilot resulted in 2D and 3D representation of drilling parameters updated in real time via WITSML’s publish/subscribe mechanism. Tabbed controls act as data selectors and a ‘knowledge bubble’ provides contextual information in tabular form. An XML configuration file contains business logic and allows updates and new features to be added as required.

Graph rendering in Flex automatically updates when new data is added to its data source. Once the user has subscribed to a specific topic the system automatically connects all the components required for the stream and waits for new data to arrive.

Sellick investigated system response times and scalability by publishing ten topics of data on the server and allowing a set of clients to subscribe to a singular topic. While the addition of multiple topics did not stress the server, the number of clients did – with the system becoming unstable with over a thousand connections.

Sellick reported a ‘steep learning curve’ for use of the JBoss server although this did allow all the requirements to be successfully implemented, providing an extendable system for future development. Adobe Flex was deemed to be a powerful tool for the development of rich internet applications albeit limited with the requirement for a Flash browser plug-in. WITSML development also proved challenging but once the infrastructure was created the system performed as advertised. Feedback from IDS deemed the prototype interface ‘rough and ready,’ but that interaction was good and that the user interface showed the kind of RIA features that IDS was looking for. IDS plans to use the real-time data extraction and handling components in its DataNet reporting application and is looking further at 3D visualization. Sellick received the Francis Morrison award for the best individual software project and the SAIC Prize for academic achievement. Read the full text of Sellick’s paper on

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