Clouds on the horizon. Am I a Nimby? API gets drubbing from Commission

Neil McNaughton unpicks some of the hype over the ‘cloud’ to conclude that it is great news for skunk-workers. He observes the arrival of the shale gas prospectors in a quiet corner of southern France. And reports on the fustigating of the API by the Deepwater Horizon National Commission.

I seem to be writing a lot about cloud computing lately as in this month’s lead from Chevron, Shell’s keynote at the Microsoft Global Energy Forum (page 6) and a few more cloudy announcements on page 8. As an editor it behooves me to follow the crowd as it were, to get excited along with the rest of the industry, and to track the ‘disruptive’ new technology. But what is strange is that the announcements from Amalto, Ariba and Modulo come from companies who have been providing what seem to be the same hosted services since before the ‘cloud’ was invented. So what is the cloud? What’s the buzz?

If you define the cloud as off-site IT, then arguably, Norway’s Diskos, the UK’s CDA and various commercial data hosting environments in the US are ‘in the cloud’ and have been since the 1990s. Even if you extend the definition to include ‘application service provision,’ most of these examples of prior art pass muster in that they have some sort of back end serving up the data. Many other companies offered hosted applications before the cloud came along. Many of them went belly-up in the 2000 dot com boom. A search for ‘application service provision’ on brings back 46 references from 2000-on with offerings from Landmark, Paradigm, Petris, Schlumberger and others. Hosting is so commonplace that hosters use third party hosts themselves—a thriving business for generic data center providers such as CyrusOne, acquired last year for a cool $525 million.

So if hosting has been going on for a decade, what does the ‘cloud’ actually bring to the table? The answer is an API on your desktop. Amazon’s Web Services, Google’s App Engine and Microsoft’s Azure offer the same potential for hosting as the previous ‘ASP’ based offerings with this important difference. The new cloud offers the skunk worker—sorry I should have said your in-house developer—the opportunity to build their own hosted application and deploy them ‘at greatly reduced cost’ on cloud-based hardware. You may argue, I would, that there is more to an application than a compile, and that the economics of running it on hosted hardware may prove illusory when the true cost of ownership is evaluated (cf. Bill McKenzie’s ‘chump change’ in this month’s lead). But that is not really where I want to go right now. My main point here is that behind each of the new ‘clouds’ is a heavy-hitting company that wants your business. They are going after it by offering your programmers seductively easy development environments that are locked-in to their hosting services. A perfect storm indeed.


A while back I reported on our acquisition of a holiday home in the south of France. This editorial bifurcated in the direction of ‘air geothermal’ home heating and thermodynamics—setting a challenge1 that as yet has not been solved. I would encourage those of you with some recollection of high school physics to read this and respond. Heck I may even give a prize for someone who can explain this conundrum in a way I can understand.

Anyhow we spend as much time as we can down in our new residence, hidden away in an area of great natural beauty. A pretty village on a river that cuts its way through the limestone plateau of the Larzac. In one of those ‘what I will do when I retire’ fantasies, I even imagined taking Texan geologists around on tours of the limestones and dolomites, while sampling the local fare—sausages and ‘aligot’—a healthy blend of cheese and potatoes.

I was shaken from such reverie last year when I spotted that several exploration permits had been awarded in the south of France—from Provence around to the Cevennes and even up to the area where our holiday home is located. This, as you can imagine, put me on the spot. I have written copiously over the last couple of years on the subject of shale gas exploration. Most all of it in a positive light as indeed the technology, as presented at gatherings of the AAPG and SPE, is quite remarkable and the results, if you believe the promoters, are rather amazing. Shale gas has transformed the gas supply equation in the US. Sure there were some environmental concerns—but things were going fine until the gassy geological provinces extended north into the ‘Nimby2’ country of the north east.

But now I am confronted with the same problem as the northeastern Nimbies. Did I really want shale gas exploration on my beautiful doorstep? Such musings were cut short by events and in particular, by an environmental activist called José Bové, (a very rough equivalent to Al Gore) who has taken up shale gas as a ‘cause célèbre.’ I can assure you that the Journal de Millau and Monsieur Bové paint shale gas exploration in a very different light to the SPE. The outcome to date is that the French government has declared a moratorium on shale gas exploration in France. My soul searching is likewise suspended.


I have been reading the excellent book “Deep Water3” from the National Commission on the Deepwater Horizon. I am sure that you are aware of its main conclusions. But there is also an interesting section (page 225 on) covering the evolving role of the American Petroleum Institute. The API has traditionally been tasked with establishing standards and best practices for operations. The Commission notes however that ‘It is clear that the API’s ability to serve as a standard-setter for drilling safety is compromised by its role as the industry’s principal lobbyist and public policy advocate,’ and later ‘API-proposed safety standards have increasingly failed to reflect “best industry practices” and instead express the “lowest common denominator.” API shortfalls have ‘undermined the entire federal regulatory system.’ Moreover, ‘Inadequacies in the resulting federal standards are evident in the decisions that led to the Macondo well blow out.’ Strong stuff indeed!


2 Not in my back yard.

3 ISBN 9780160873713—

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