Oil IT Journal Interview—Ali Ferling, Paul Nguyen, Microsoft

Ali Ferling, MD Oil and Gas and Paul Nguyen, Oil & Gas CTO speak of their aim to make oil and gas a Microsoft ‘stronghold’—through a partner ‘ecosystem’ and an upstream ‘reference architecture.’

Ali Ferling—My mission is to take what Microsoft has done in oil and gas in the US to the rest of the world, driving standardization and innovation and make oil and gas a Microsoft stronghold. We are working with our alliance partners—systems integrators like Accenture, Wipro and Infosys, and software vendors like Schlumberger and Halliburton. We also have a significant downstream involvement. There are over 400 partner companies in our overall oil and gas ‘ecosystem.’ Oil and gas is one of Microsoft’s fastest growing industries with activity in 70 countries and globally, around 700 Microsoft people spend a big part of their time on the vertical. Microsoft is not into acquisitions in this space. We prefer to work with partners like Schlumberger’s Merak which includes more proven Microsoft components—MOSS 2007, Communication Server, SQL Server.

Sure but with a reported 20,000 license count for Petrel this is not much of a market for Microsoft!

AF—OK but Schlumberger’s Petrel runs on Vista and soon on Windows 7—showing the power of the OS and integration of the desktop with high performance computing (HPC). It is driving mindshare more than revenue.

In the past we have criticized Microsoft’s claims to ‘HPC dominance.’ What exactly do you mean by HPC here?

AF—You are right that we are not in the seismic processing space, intentionally. But we are in cluster-based reservoir simulation—where we are addressing scalability. In this space our offering is comparable to our competitors’. Our sweet spot is in HPC collaboration and connectivity tools.

What of the E&P reference architecture?

AF—We joined Energistics with the clear objective of supporting the upstream standards, namely ProdML and WitsML. But Energistics is not our first standards body. We started collaborating with Mimosa during a Statoil Integrated Operations project. This covered condition-based maintenance in refining and petrochemicals. We developed the Microsoft Manufacturing Toolkit to provide guidance on maintenance scenarios leveraging our technology.

Paul Nguyen—All this rolls into what is now our reference architecture approach. We have been working with our Microsoft Utility teams around a performance-oriented infrastructure—rolling-in economics, cost effectiveness and a holistic live user experience. This architecture also aligns with our ‘three screens and a cloud’ vision, where software is seamlessly delivered across PCs, phones and TVs, all connected by cloud-based services. We are also bringing network optimization experience from manufacturing to oil and gas with our ‘sensor to server’ offering. This enables our partners to plug in to the architecture and build solutions around it. We are very much into interoperable data—hence our joining Energistics. We will be working with partners to tune our oil and gas reference architecture—which will be published.

AF—The plan is to offer the application platform —the ‘plumbing,’ and let partners build applications such as Petrel as line of business solutions. We take key industry specs and add value by building them into an ‘out of the box’ integration framework for our partners. This lets our partners focus on their business—not on technology integration.

It is easier to diagram the standards landscape than to integrate with it! In the SERA position paper you mention ‘taxonomies’ but this kind of work has been attempted before in the upstream and proven rather intractable.

PN—Sure, but you should also check out what has been achieved with the Microsoft Manufacturing Toolkit. This architecture has evolved and now can ‘plug and play’ with other industry standards. It is a service model that leverages other industries’ expertise from our ISVs partner ecosystems to deliver modules to plug into the ‘plumbing’ which supports not just the information exchange, but also the business rules enforcement and context awareness for interactions between systems. The Manufacturing Toolkit was released in May 2009. It provides guidance documentation and working code samples for people who want to connect systems that utilize MIMOSA and OPC/OPC-USA organization specifications using Microsoft technology. This is a freely available published spec—not a commercial offering.

AF—We need more oil and gas specific protocols and these are under development. We will publish what we come up with. You will be hearing more from us! Our ‘3 screens plus cloud’ paradigm will for instance allow equipment manufacturers to monitor their equipment remotely.

But the big rotating machinery folks do this already…

AF—Yes but this will democratize the approach—make it available to all.

So the future is the cloud?

AF—These architectures support our offering which can be in the cloud, such as our Azure platform, or the traditional way on-site, on Windows Server, or a blend of both. The oil and gas industry is ready to move to the next level of optimization—where the whole industry value chain will be optimized, not just its components. This is our vision. And the key to this will be our software plus services strategy,

PN—We have some great examples from key technology providers. The early work on the Digital Oilfield focused on custom service-oriented solutions to larger customers. With partners like The Information Store (iStore) we have delivered on-premises solutions to our larger clients (majors). This left out the mid size independents to a large degree. But at the PDC* in Los Angeles this month iStore announced that they will be offering an online Digital Oil Field solution—all hosted on Windows Azure. This will provide a subscription-based solution for asset management in the cloud. We have also been working with a major customer on scenarios that keep all of its data inside the firewall—but still offer hosted applications to users around the world. This leads to a solution with data inside the firewall and applications in the Azure cloud.

AF—If you are interested to explore this Online subject further read the case study** and video*** iStore´s Petrotrek Online solution.

See also this month’s lead on Petrotrek Online.

* Professional Development Conference.
** links/0912_3
*** links/0912_4

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