Open platform enables search for black gold

I had the opportunity last week to hear Andrew Moore from Santos present at the Open Source Industry Australia event in Adelaide on a major open source and private cloud upgrade they have recently undertaken.

Future of open source survey – OSBC March 2012

Andrew’s talk titled “Open Source + Private Cloud = Big Data + Big Benefits” described how and why Santos chose an open platform solution (open source software and Red Hat Linux-based systems) for this initiative. Santos is a leading Australian oil and gas exploration company and the project is gradually replacing work stations used by their 230 geoscientists in Australia and SE Asia, with thin clients running on the open-source TurboVNC platform. Santos operates in an industry with an insatiable appetite for storage and its geoscientists could require multiple terabytes and hundreds of gigabytes of RAM to process data accurately. The thin client solution avoided the need for a costly upgrade to the geoscientists’ individual memory-intensive work stations.

Information now resides in a central repository instead of individual machines and users can share and collaborate using the latest data samples. The project’s TurboVNC “thin client” software runs on standard-issue laptops and connects Santos’ geoscientists to compute-intensive subsurface interpretation systems and centralised databases via a private cloud. A web-based session management system manages bandwidth utilisation and allows multiple users to collaborate on geo-science data models in 3D from any network location.

This application delivery strategy proves the effectiveness of cloud computing in an industry where few companies have realised its potential due to the massive volumes of data involved. Andrew said that pursuing this open source solution was saving the company some $2.5M in capital and operational savings over 5 years. However I was pleased during question time to learn that these cost savings did not drive the decision here. The low initial cost of open source did remove any potential financial barrier to exploring a very different architectural solution, however there were other driving factors.

The prime benefit in fact was that by being freed from vendor lock-in they were able to move to a new centralized private cloud hosted architecture. Also by having access to the core TurboVNC and VirtualGL software developers Santos was able to ensure that the solution delivered significant performance gains in their particular use case.

This aligns well with the findings of the “Future of Open Source” survey undertaken by The 451 Group (et al) released last month, which highlighted changing drivers for open source software adoption in the enterprise. When asked what are the top factors that make open source software attractive, the 740 survey respondents identified freedom from vendor lock-in (60%), lower acquisition and maintenance cost (51%), better quality (43%) and access to source code (42%) as the top answers.

As The 451 Group noted: While we had seen vendor lock-in fade as a factor and cost as paramount two or three years ago, today vendor lock-in has become much more of a factor for customers. We believe this has to do with cloud computing and customers’ desire to maintain flexibility as they figure out how to best leverage cloud resources.

Darren Stanton (left) accepting the RedHat award

I was also was happy to find that Santos is a good open source citizen. Since 2010 they have been a major sponsor of the open source efforts that created the TurboVNC and VirtualGL software that now provides their geoscientists with high-performance 3D graphics for all their geoscience data analysis. In recognition of their innovative work Santos were named global Innovator of the Year at last year’s annual Red Hat Summit in the US. Darren Stanton the head geek from Santos who led the project team was also at the OSIA presentation and fielded technical questions (but generally I let both questions and answers fly my head :) ).

As well as being educational, this OSIA event was conducted in fine Adelaide style …. we started with a glass of wine before the presentation, then finished with a meal and more fine wine.