Cloud Computing for the Oil and Gas Industry | Automation.com

Cloud Computing for the Oil and Gas Industry

August 022012
Cloud Computing for the Oil and Gas Industry

By Darryl Vipond, Vipond Controls

August 2012

In the oil and gas industry, it's especially important to stay ahead of the curve in terms of technology. The market is particularly sensitive to cost efficiency in production, so it's critical to produce energy with a minimum investment and a maximum return.

In addition to cost-effective solutions, the oil and gas industry requires real-time information in order to maintain constant control over production facilities (Figure 1). It’s critical that companies are able to monitor conditions in real time in order to protect their workers and make the necessary adjustments to maintain the maximum safe output. This has led to a demand for real-time, web-based Human Machine Interfaces (HMIs) and Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) solutions that take advantage of the latest technologies.

 

Figure 1: Remote production facilities like this oil well must be monitored and controlled remotely to achieve most efficient operation.

As a company based in Alberta, Canada and focused on the oil and gas industries, we understand the need for real-time data to manage oil and gas operations effectively in terms of both cost and time. Oil and gas operators must have access to a highly portable and economical SCADA system.

To address this need, we’ve developed a cloud-based SCADA solution that relies on InduSoft’s Web Studio software. Critically for our customers—our solution eliminates the expense, time and manpower required to purchase, install and maintain local SCADA hardware and software at each site.

Previous Internet-based SCADA Solutions Lacking
Like any new technology implementation, developing a cloud-based SCADA application presented some obstacles that we needed to overcome. We needed to create a solution that enabled users to access real-time data over the Internet, and to offer this solution at a competitive price.

One of the greatest challenges in developing a cloud-based SCADA application is the state of the Internet itself. Internet protocol and web browsers aren’t designed for real-time data and control. Customers using older Internet-based SCADA systems often have to hit the submit button then wait an inordinate amount of time for an update, or press refresh buttons multiple times to show new data. These slow response times can be very frustrating for remote operators, and can also cause mistakes in data entry and even in control of the remote site. 

We were confident, however, that our twenty years’ experience working with customers in the industry and with Internet technologies would enable us to develop a cloud-based SCADA application that would address these issues.

After years of research and development, we’re now offering our iSCADA cloud-based solution that offers remote HMI functionality with fast response times and high availability, all at a very attractive price. The market has responded favorably to ISCADA, and we’ve deployed multiple applications.

Creating a Cloud-based SCADA application
We started by looking for a web-based SCADA package that could deliver full HMI functionality for remote users. Flexibility and scalability were major concerns, as many of our customers start off with small projects that grow along with their operations. We also needed very quick remote response, such that the remote HMI experience closely approximated local operator interface.

Another important factor in selecting a SCADA package was the ease with which it could be programmed. It had to support easy template design and object-oriented programming techniques. We needed SCADA software that contained a library of simple objects and templates specifically for the oil and gas industry, along with the capability to generate more complex objects.

While looking at available SCADA development software, we understood that remote viewer functionality would be critical to the success of iSCADA, so we needed a user-friendly remote viewer that customers could use to access data via the Internet.

Other challenges included finding software with good data trending, alarms and events. Moreover, we had to have the ability to customize everything easily. We found that many web-based SCADA development software packages made customization tedious, but in order to deliver a different user experience for each customer, we needed software that provided effortless customization.

Perhaps the key factor for our new product was the elimination of SCADA hardware and software at the customer site. Traditional solutions require installation and maintenance of a PC and SCADA software at the site. We needed to instead provide a solution that eliminated this requirement by hosting the SCADA software in the cloud.

SCADA as a Service
After researching the market for some time, we found that InduSoft Web Studio met the challenging criteria for our iSCADA product. InduSoft’s Web Studio was specifically designed to deliver Internet-based SCADA with full functionality, making it a good fit for our needs.

The price, flexibility and programming power of the package made it extremely attractive as a tool for the development of our web-based SCADA project. In addition, its remote viewer feature offered the look and feel of a fully visualized remote HMI solution that our customers demanded.  

We have been able to develop a Software as a Service (SaaS) SCADA solution that creates a unique experience for each client. With iSCADA, each customer has their own virtual machine running within Vipond’s server cloud (Figure 2).  All data is kept safe and independent of other machines running in the cloud.

 
Figure 2: As shown in this diagram, multiple clients can simultaneously and safely access only their own data from our Highly Available Cloud Computing data center.

Our solution uses hypervisors, virtual hardware that allows multiple operating systems  to run at the same time on a host computer. The hypervisors offer high availability and are very portable. In the event of a server failure, the virtual machine can be restarted on another hypervisor. This provides exceptional redundancy without the costs associated with installing and maintaining a traditional redundant backup system. Our innovative use of hypervisors allows us to offer a high availability solution at a reasonable price.

All the SCADA software runs within the virtual machine, and users are offered a high degree of personal customization. This service extends to system configuration and maintenance. The ability to connect directly to onsite controllers enables Vipond’s technicians to make changes to controllers, add buildup routines or troubleshoot process problems without the expense of a site visit. Of course, our customers have the same functionality, and can also remotely view and control their sites.

The control systems used at many or our customers’ sites are very easy to change because InduSoft Web Studio’s SCADA development package provides fast customization capabilities. Customers can make hardware changes onsite, and then have the developer quickly integrate the changes into the existing system. The customer then sees these changes instantly via the browser-based remote viewer.

A typical installation consists of one or more controllers and/or remote terminal units (RTUs) at a remote production site such as an oil well. Each of these local devices is connected to the cloud-based iSCADA via radio, cellular or satellite connections. No SCADA hardware or software is required at the site as the iSCADA solution provides this functionality remotely.

Optimized for the Oil and Gas Industry
iSCADA provides a much-needed portable, remote SCADA system for oil and gas companies. This SaaS solution connects to oil and gas RTUs, pump-off controllers and facility programmable logic controllers (PLCs) easily and efficiently, thanks to the native drivers included in InduSoft Web Studio. In addition, the system monitors oil wells and displays information from the DynaCard RFID chips installed at the pump-off controllers.

iSCADA provides oil and gas well production gathering, as well as a system for distributing daily production reports via email. Customers can easily enter meter setup information, such as gas composition and orifice plate sizes, or directly import FieldView production accounting reports or production volume reports. The solution delivers real-time trending and data exporting features, as well as email notifications of alarms and events.

Thanks to InduSoft Web Studio’s patented database connectivity, iSCADA can gather the production values from monitored wells and automatically import that data into the production accounting system.  The remote viewing capabilities (Figure 3) mean iSCADA produces near real-time data by maintaining a fully visualized, interactive HMI accessible from almost anywhere in the world.


Figure 3: SCADA data on a PC in an office environment. iSCADA solution allows remote access to multiple sites from any web browser or thin client. This access is secure and highly available.

The easy scalability and customization of the InduSoft Web Studio software development package, especially when creating objects and libraries, significantly cut our development time. Now we can provide our customers a solid cloud-based SCADA solution much faster, and at lower cost.

A key feature of iSCADA is the very fast response rates, closely approximating local operator interface. Our unique and proprietary technologies coupled with InduSoft Web Studio’s inherent high performance enable us to deliver a remote HMI experience in near real-time. This remote viewing can be delivered through any web browser, a PC set up as a thin client, or a smart phone, such as the iPhone and certain Android phones. 

Customers turning to cloud computing for SCADA applications can achieve dramatic savings over a traditional SCADA system, thanks to managed services and the corresponding minimal investment required for integration, development, hardware and software.  More importantly—we’ve been able to help our customers to significantly reduce costs and improve operations without sacrificing functionality—all while greatly improving the remote control and monitoring operator experience.

About the author
Darryl Vipond is the president of Vipond Controls Ltd.  He has 22 years experience in industrial automation, largely in the oil and gas industry. He has completed many SCADA, HMI, DCS and PLC projects related to gas plants, compressor stations, pipelines and well sites.  He holds a bachelor’s of science in electrical engineering.

Table 1, Advantages of Cloud-Based SCADA

1.    Eliminates the need to purchase, install and maintain local SCADA hardware and software at each site
2.    Provides remote access through any web browser on thin client PC
3.    Highly available solution, much more so than a local SCADA installation
4.    Can provide faster remote response times
5.    Greatly speeds time-to-market
6.    Highly scalable
 

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