Virtual servers maintain uptime, save on Capex

As the connected enterprise takes hold in the manufacturing world, it is also moving into the oil and gas industry. Virtualization ensures uptime remains constant in the event of a crash.
By Eric R. Eissler November 30, 2015

The connected enterprise enables integration of the digital oilfield into regular operations and handling big data. In this case large amounts of data used with purpose, not just stashed away in some box collecting dust.

Amplifying this further is the motto "work smart, not hard," which transcends to today’s industrial tasks. From the manipulation of the plethora of ones and zeros of big data, the smart production process has emerged. The mantra of smart production can be divided into four points:

  1. Respond faster to process or market changes
  2. Optimize asset performance (a must for the oil and gas industry)
  3. Assess and re-evaluate supply chains for weak points
  4. Use predictive analytics to prevent downtime.

The oil and gas industry is moving in this direction, and because the introduction of the digital oilfield, big data, and building information models (BIM) are driving this change. Furthermore, the merging of information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) are opening a world of data and analytics previously unseen (See Figure 1).

Figure 1: This slide from the recent Rockwell Automation Fair in Chicago shows the importance of IT and OT information systems converging. Image Courtesy: CFE Media

Virtualization of servers

Virtual machines are becoming common place among servers, because of almost worry free back up, ease of storage, and scalability.

A virtual machine is the software implementation of a computer. Many virtual machines can be created to run with set parameters, software, applications, etc., and placed on one physical computer, which is known as a host. This can be done because, depending on the operation, only 10 to 15% of a computer’s resources are being used because of enhancements in processing power. Through virtualization, many "computers" can be placed on a physical computer, saving space and also creating a stable operating environment.

Luis Gamboa, global oil and gas market development manager at Rockwell Automation, said, "Virtualization allows assets to be decoupled from physical restraints, and in conjunction with cloud-based storage, virtual systems have vast scalability, which improves the bottom line when a system needs to grow."

Unique usage

Using a virtual machine can resolve challenges such as increasing uptime, reduced deployment, and application divestment. Overall, this leads to increased productivity and saves money.

Virtual machines also serve a special purpose when it comes to maintenance. Unlike instruments or machinery, servers and computers tend to be overlooked when it comes to a regular maintenance schedule. Usually, servers are purchased, set up, and forgotten until they break down and wreak havoc for the systems they run.

Virtual machines, meanwhile, can continue running during repairs with special software and appropriate connections if a breakdown occurs. This prevents interruptions to mission-critical systems and allows regular maintenance on physical servers. This saves system administrators from having to ask the finance department to spend additional capital on equipment.

One control room, all asset access

The final benefit to using virtual machines is that a company’s assets can be managed from one location and one control room; proximity to an asset is no longer an issue (See Figure 2).

Figure 2: A visualization of the connected Enterprise from the Rockwell Automation Fair held in Chicago this past November. Image Courtesy: CFE Media

"System cutover can be done with no downtime, the systems are scalable, more virtual machines can be added with minimum impact on costs, and all control and monitoring can be centralized," Gamboa said.

– Eric R. Eissler is the editor-in-chief of Oil & Gas Engineering. He can be reached at eeissler@cfemedia.com