Run interpretation software in the cloud? Maybe.

A forced ‘trial’ of Office in the Cloud leaves editor Neil McNaughton preferring the old way of running applications on your computer. Quizzing some data managers, he finds them similarly perplexed by the rush to the cloud. But that is where the seismic world is heading, with the promise of interpretation software running in the cloud alongside its data. Will a fast internet connection ever replace hundreds of gigabytes of local RAM? An ongoing experiment in computer gaming should provide the answer.

Times are hard for the oil and gas industry, but you have probably heard enough about that already. If you haven’t, read the ‘Industry at large’ in this issue. Times have been quite hard for us here at The Data Room, with a computer crash which has meant working on a SharePoint/OneDrive file system in the cloud. Which has at least given me some editorial fodder. But first, let me expand the subject to the cloud in general.

A couple of months ago I quizzed a small sample of data managers in an offhand manner as to why? Why the cloud? Why bother? Our last issue was replete with tales of microservices, Kubernetes and such, and indeed with this issue, yet more cloudy stuff, considerations of cloud object storage and so on. All of which are orthogonal to the business of either geoscience or producing oil and gas. Nobody in their right mind would want to inflict all this IT arcana on themselves without some clear benefits.

My data managers did not have any great ideas as to why the industry is rushing headlong to the cloud. I guess the unstated aim is to reduce or eliminate the cost of an on-premise data center. One of my interlocuters confessed that although the initial cloud decision may be unclear, once your data is in there, there are all sorts of things you can do with it. A post-facto argument that may be hard to sell to management.

On the question of cost, in this issue, you can read our summary of Andy James’ (Bluware) excellent exposition on the niceties of cloud costs and how, for voluminous seismic data, these can easily explode. Old-timers (like me), whose experience goes back to the tape storage and document management outsourcing efforts of the 1980s, recognize the bait and switch. Low costs to take all your documents off-site. Then come the big bucks to access, move and (especially) change providers.

It seems to me that the whole industry is striving to adapt itself to the current technology, terms and conditions of today’s clouds which of course are very likely to change over time. Perhaps when the GAFAs start paying all the taxes they owe!

Anyway, to get back to my own enforced experiment. I have been working with Office365 since 2014 when I wrote my ‘The Cloud. How the IT world is slowing us all down!’ editorial. In the interim, I have been working in the old-fashioned way, running all the Office apps on my local machine and letting OneDrive act at a real-time backup mechanism. This proved quite satisfactory bar a couple of chunks of lost work on dodgy internet connections.

When my workstation went down (power/disk/video card of all of the three?) I figured that as it had been going for over 10 years it had given me a good run for my money. I hoped also that my next machine would last as long and thought that, instead of buying whatever they happened to have in-store at Office Depot (not much these days) I would order a decent box from Dell. Covid and the holidays meant that this meant waiting for a couple of weeks. So, this issue has been prepared on the unlikely combination of an old (but wonderfully designed) Mac Mini Server running Ubuntu Linux and accessing OneDrive/SharePoint via Firefox. Somehow this feels very cloudy – a lightweight endpoint with all the smarts in the cloud. How does it feel? Well, I concluded my 2014 editorial with the following...

If you are not yet in the Office cloud you might like to know that Office 365 brings you two versions of everything. One to run in the browser and another on your desktop. The online version is clunky and idiosyncratic. Keyboard shortcuts? You may as well forget them. Even cutting and pasting from within the same email brings up a dialog along the lines of ‘are you sure you want to do this?’ Click to open a document or change folders, the cloud lets you know that it’s ‘working on it…’ The web-based version appears to have been designed to slow usage down to a crawl. Perhaps that was the point.

Six years later, I don’t have a lot to add to this. The user experience has evolved some. Not necessarily in the right direction. SharePoint doesn’t seem to be able to access the clipboard and instead suggests a steampunk CTRL-C/CTRL-V. Using the mouse is idiosyncratic, to say the least. Selections disappear or take ages to enact. Ages that is, until you try to select text in Word that requires scrolling. Then the cursor skedaddles off to the end of the document before you can stop it. Navigating the file system in either OneDrive or SharePoint is, frankly, grotesque. I usually do a lot of moving and renaming files as I work my way through the masses of raw information that we receive for each issue. Even saving a Word document to a folder of one’s choice is totally obscure. Maybe I need a training for all of this. That would be a first for me in almost 40 years of personal computing! Anyhow, diddling around with the file manager is a prime example of ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ not!

James’ exposition on seismics in the cloud goes beyond cost analysis to explain the rationale of a new seismic data format adapted to the cheaper object storage format. He makes it clear that this is not so that data can stream fast into your local workstation. It is so that data can stream fast from storage to an application in the cloud. I must be a bit slow on the uptake but this was quite an eye-opener for me. What I now see is that OSDU is not just a shift to cloud-based data, but a shift to data and applications running in the cloud. This has been something of a holy grail of IT since long before the cloud was called the cloud. Will it work? Will the cloud ever be able to deliver the performance of today’s seismic workstation from just an HTML5-enabled dumb terminal? I really don’t know. But there is a great experiment going on right now that is worth watching, in computer gaming. As people are rushing out to buy the latest PlayStation or Xbox loaded with RAM and GPUs (or perhaps an even more powerful gaming PC), Google is working on Stadia its cloud-based gaming platform. So, there you have it. If your kids are asking for a Stadia subscription next Christmas instead of a new PlayStation then OSDU will be the place to be.

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