Huawei and Aveva meet up in video land

Editor Neil McNaughton ponders a reported ‘next big thing’ in data – managing streaming video - to conclude that it is all about communications. This leads to a discussion of standards where there is lot more than meets the eye...

In researching the current issue I was intrigued by a serendipitous meeting of the ways as two large service providers both suggested that the ultimate goal in ‘big data’ was the ability to manage video. In the left hand corner we have Aveva/OSIsoft presenting video as the next leap forward in data management (see ‘The real reason Aveva bought OSIsoft’ in this issue). In the right hand corner, Huawei, whose ‘digital oilfield’ solution is building out from its expertise in video surveillance, aided and abetted by German artificial intelligence solutions provider G2K Group, likewise covered in this issue (see our report from the 2021 Huawei Global Oil & Gas Summit). Digging a bit deeper into these two offerings, you see how much the digital transformation is about communications. For OSIsoft, this means harnessing the ‘communications’ bus of SCADA and process control. For Huawei, it’s about telecoms, 4G, 5G and the surveillance society.

There is a lot packed into these two announcements and into ‘communications’ in the broadest sense. Both aim to provide the end user with ‘situational awareness’, the first step in the digital oilfield process. They say you can’t manage what you can’t measure, but management is even harder if you are not even aware of what to measure. One of the big trends of the digital oilfield movement of the 2000s was getting remote stuff, like isolated well pads and district offices, connected to the central control room. Since then vendors have been falling over themselves to provide such connectivity. Often a robust communications architecture comes at a price, in the form of a degree of exclusiveness. The vendor providing the comms may offer much better comms to users of its own kit, as deployed either in the field or in the control room or perhaps at both ends. Oftentimes their clients have, for one reason or another, expressed concern over such closed single vendor solutions and called for openness in the way of an ‘open standard’. So that everybody can ‘communicate’.

Many years ago, sitting in on a data managers’ meet there was a suggestion that the hosting organization might get involved in creating a new standard for something or other. A very experienced geophysicist who looked as though he might get coopted into the initiative expressed concern, saying that it made him feel ‘weak at the knees’. At the time I found this funny, but I did not appreciate quite how much truth there was in this reaction. After all standards are like apple pie, motherhood and all that, no? Well, with 25 years of tracking the standards I can assure you that the standards movement is not, in general apple pie.

I have been prepping for some time a piece on process control standards. Unfortunately as I ‘prep’ the world continues to turn and those with stronger knees than my interlocuter of yore continue to pump out new standards or rehash old ones in new clothes. The latest in this space is an announcement from the new ‘Universal Automation Organization’. UA promises ‘a common automation software layer’ and ‘vendor-agnostic … software that can run with almost any hardware.’ UA sounds great* but this (nearly) 2022, and the process/automation world is already awash with ‘standards’. Why do we need another one?

To understand this, we need to dig into ‘What is a standard?’ as the PPDM folks might say. Some standards, indeed like PPDM’s eponymous data model are the fruit of industry cooperation. Folks from oils get together, set up an org and contribute. This model has the merit of vendor independence. The downside is that commitment and resources may be limited and progress may be very slow. This impacts take-up as the user community can’t wait forever. As an example of this I would cite CFIHOS, the oil and gas industry’s construction data handover project. This work grinds slowly on with the recent release of V1.5. But when we attended an in-depth presentation of a new build LNG megaproject, managed by a CFIHOS-supporting major, there was no mention of the new toolset. Data handover was devolved to the contracting organizations, the EPC, equipment suppliers and so on.

The other kind of standard genesis comes with a push from a vendor. This may mean submitting some code, perhaps a ‘reference implementation’ (a Word document?) to an International Standards Body such as ISO. Cross ISO’s hand with silver and the new standard acquires a quasi-religious status in the eyes of some. The next step is to rebrand vendor specific kit as conformant. One suspects that UA, proposed by Schneider Electric, owner, via Aveva of OSIsoft, falls into this category.

Of course the elephant in the room when it comes to communications is the internet. Here again, folks like to believe that adherence to one level or other of the IP stack makes for a standard. We have heard a lot about MQTT as getting ‘traction’ in oilfield communications, at least in North America. The question here is who is providing the ‘open’ MQTT resources. Microsoft does a great job providing MQTT comms in its Azure IoT hub. Microsoft is doing a great job too in blurring the boundary with open source in general with hard-to-resist facilities like Ubuntu on Windows. Amazon likewise offers ‘open’ solutions that are there to seduce! See our report on Amazon’s new TwinMaker and ‘Earth’ also in this issue.

To summarize, well it’s complicated. There is not really a clean split between commercial/vendor based proprietary architectures and standards-based open systems. The simple notion that commercial is bad and standards are good is naïve. A good example of the blurred boundaries is the ExxonMobil backed open source drilling software (see ‘Soft launch of the Open Source Drilling Community’ in this issue) initiative which builds atop a ‘proprietary’ programming infrastructure from MathWorks. And why not? Why re-invent the scientific and engineering wheel?

But I forgot, we left Huawei and OSIsoft standing off against each other over the management of video technology. This more an indication of how vendors are tied to their legacy technology and strengths. Video and telephony for Huawei and process control historization for OSIsoft. I suspect that the ability to ‘manage’ video data may not be seen as a ‘great leap forward’ for folks in oil and gas. If it does become mission critical, well, talk to Netflix!

* Not to be confused with OPC UA the unified architecture of the OPC Foundation.

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