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Modern Water Control Systems Boost Public Safety, Plant Efficiency

11.23.2016Industrial Automation, ManufacturingBy:  

Water is getting a lot of attention lately. Whether it’s contaminated water in Flint, Michigan or environmental impact from hurricane-damaged wastewater facilities, incidents like these raise serious questions about safety and reliability.

That’s where industrial automation systems, such as supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), historians, and human machine interfaces (HMIs), come in. They’re critical to seeing how your operations are performing. And they yield valuable data that, when combined with analytics, can help improve efficiency and predict maintenance needs before problems arise.

A common issue for water and wastewater facilities is their SCADA and HMI systems are getting old. They’re going down unexpectedly, which leaves operators flying blind. And older systems typically lack critical hooks into analytics.

In a recent InSource Solutions webinar, I laid out a plan for how water and wastewater facilities can modernize their industrial automation infrastructure, eliminate unplanned downtime, simplify management and maintenance, and gain greater insight and control over critical operations. Stratus, which has 35 years of providing continuous availability systems to a variety of industries, recommends that it’s industrial automation clients first virtualize their SCADA/HMI systems.

Unlike traditional implementations that run each industrial automation application on a dedicated physical PC or server, virtualization lets you run multiple applications on a single machine, with each application isolated on its own “virtual” machine. That saves you a lot of money on hardware. It simplifies management. And it lays the foundation for introducing new applications and technologies without needing to overhaul your infrastructure.

When you move to a virtualized platform there are many factors to consider, including proper sizing and configuration. But one of the most important considerations is how to protect your virtualized systems from unplanned downtime. Equally important is ensuring you have a solution that simplifies management and maintenance, and which does not re-introduce new complexities to prevent outages.

So what are your options? Using a standard server with hot or cold standby, the best you can expect is to get back into production within several hours. Most organizations we talk to can tolerate no more than 10 minutes of downtime. Alternatively, you could opt for clustering or get high availability from a virtualization vendor. But these approaches are complex and costly, and could still take up to 30 minutes to recover. And with any of these choices you can still expect some data loss.

We recommend putting your virtualized applications on a continuous availability system like Stratus ftServers. Here’s why: ftServers prevent unplanned downtime and avoid data loss entirely. They’re designed with fully integrated redundancy, so even if something does fail, the system and your virtualized applications keep running. The best part is ftServers  run standard off-the-shelf virtualization layers and operating systems, so they look and act like a commodity server. Best of all, they only require a single operating system and application license per virtual machine, so you save money and eliminate complex availability configurations. And with Stratus support and service, you don’t need IT expertise to hot swap components or diagnose problems.

Virtualizing your SCADA and HMI systems offers a whole host of benefits that will make your life easier. But the key is to virtualize on an infrastructure that’s simple to manage and always on.  That way you can spend more time using data from SCADA and HMI systems to make your water and wastewater treatment facilities safer and more efficient.

Stratus Go-to-Market Campaign for Partners accelerates opportunity development in booming Industrial Automation market

11.9.2016Industrial AutomationBy:  

Stratus has served the Industrial Automation (IA) space for 35 years, and we continue to see greater uptake for our solutions combined with those of our global partners. Rising demand in this market is due to aging operational technology (OT) infrastructures and industrial companies seeking to modernize and consolidate automation environments, with 3 main objectives:

  • Increasing plant efficiencies
  • Delivering better return on assets
  • Eliminating unplanned downtime of critical applications like SCADA/HMI, Historian and MES

Think about this: Already, the total global installed base of OT systems reaching end-of-life adds up to $65 billion in potential sales, and the total installed base of automation systems 20-plus years old comes to $53 billion 1. By 2020, the total IA market is expected to reach USD $202 billion,2 driven largely by the move to smart manufacturing strategies using the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and big data.

By working with Stratus, partners are well positioned to tap into this booming market. To help our partners succeed, we’re launching an integrated digital marketing and awareness campaign across the globe. Within our campaign, each activity provides ways for partners to combine the power of the Stratus brand with their own industry expertise and messaging. Campaign activities include industry specific content, infographics and blogs, email campaigns, pitches to top industry publications, social media promotion, and webinars. The campaign also offers paid media leveraging various content types distributed through social platforms and leading country specific and industry centric publications.

Plus, we’ll equip our partners with our Best Practices Kit for Modernizing Automation —a key tool to educate, empower, and engage buyers to take action—including contributions from Craig Resnick, Vice President, Consulting, ARC Advisory Group, Jason Buffington, Principal Analyst, Enterprise Strategy Group and LNS Research.

In addition to the huge market growth opportunity for IA, the timing is right for partners to align with Stratus because smart manufacturing relies on 24/7 operations, demanding continuous availability of critical plant applications. Plus, the annual cost of downtime has increased by 60% to $260,0003 since 2014. IA also requires a risk-free virtualization strategy to enable the required application consolidation,

along with a way to future-proof OT modernization investments that will provide the required return on assets.

Stratus delivers on all counts in the IA market. Stratus fault-tolerant servers have a proven track record of preventing downtime, mitigating the risks of virtualization, and providing 6+ years average server life span. More importantly, Stratus provides peace of mind to IA customers by providing services with total assurance, meaning customers can rely on Stratus equipment and people without having to add or allocate ongoing internal resources to manage and service systems.

Fundamentally, Stratus understands that partners are critical to helping customers understand the issues, choose the right Stratus solutions to replace aging control systems, and prepare for the advent of the IIoT. That’s why we’re launching this global, partner-centric go-to-market campaign to jointly pursue IA modernization opportunities in a big way.

We have a long history of selling through partners and supporting partner marketing and sales efforts. Today the opportunities for joint success in the IA space are greater than ever. So don’t wait to grow your business faster and deliver better results for your customer base. Talk to Stratus about how—together—we can bring customers the most comprehensive and advanced solutions for modernizing automation.

 


ARC Advisory Group

http://www.marketsandmarkets.com/Market-Reports/factory-industrial-automation-sme-smb-market-541.html

Aberdeen Group

Justification for Modernizing Automation

10.19.2016Industrial AutomationBy:  

ARC estimates that $65 billion worth of process automation systems are nearing the end of their useful life. These estimates are even larger if one includes those installed systems that don’t meet the requirements for cybersecurity protection, or leveraging technologies, such as IIoT, cloud computing, advanced process control, mobile devices, social networks, advanced search engines, and big data analytics to create the information-driven enterprise. Automation end users are primarily concerned with preserving their installed plant assets. Unfortunately, control systems and automation equipment are run much longer than IT and other non-manufacturing related assets. At the same time, manufacturers have an enormous challenge with cost justifications.

Arguments for modernizing automation range in severity from being purely business decisions to critical issues that affect plant and worker safety. An older system can hinder the adoption of available new technologies that provide real economic advantages, such as IIoT, cloud, software-as-a service, virtualization, analytics, IT/OT convergence, mobile devices, advanced process control, etc. When it comes to providing maintenance the older systems can be burdened with a high volume of custom code and custom point–to-point integration that make long term support cost prohibitive. Older systems can have opportunity cost implications for the manufacturing plant as well. This is the cost of a business opportunity that was missed because the system was not advanced, flexible, or functional enough to take advantage of a swiftly emerging or fleeting opportunity. Having old or outdated systems installed can result in direct losses if the manufacturer lacks the visibility into plant operations that enables abnormal situation prevention and avoidance of supply chain disruptions. However, the case for modernizing automation is most urgent when the old system reaches the point where an impending plant shutdown or incident is a real possibility, causing unplanned downtime.

Modernizing automation projects are most likely to get approved if they can demonstrate direct support for any of the following four business drivers: plant efficiency, maintenance cost reduction, modifications and expansion, and safety and security. Decision makers care about these business objectives because of their significant impact on the plant’s profitability. Modernizing automation most often involve running operations where downtime translates directly into losses. Good modernization strategies leverage tools and rely on solid project management to reduce downtime and minimize risk.

When a manufacturer decides to take a proactive stance regarding its aging control system, the project can quickly become overwhelming. When the installed base is audited it is easy to discover varying degrees of maturity as well as multiple generations of products and operating systems, all running on a single process. Systems evolve over time with modifications, upgrades, expansions, etc. that may not be well documented by the users. Standards and regulations also evolve over time and the multi-generation installed base may not be uniformly synchronized to meet today’s and tomorrows’ regulatory requirements.

The evaluation process needs to start with the desired end state in mind. Nobody is better qualified to discuss the future role of the manufacturing plant that is evaluating modernizing automation than the plant management and operators. Not all parts of a legacy control system need to be replaced, and the real challenge is flexibility in solutions that allow the manufacturer to preserve the assets worth keeping. Over time, manufacturers have embedded intellectual knowledge into these systems through control configurations, integration with information management, historical data collection, and other applications to ensure that their automation systems performed the fundamental control job that it was purchased to do.

There will be multiple evaluation criteria to consider for modernizing automation. Often the evaluation criterion is not clear and requires tradeoffs. Some examples of these evaluation criteria include hardware, as sometimes it makes sense to keep the existing I/O modules because of the investment associated with the existing wiring. For expansions it may make sense to use newer technologies that reduce wiring requirements, such as wireless and/or fieldbus protocols. For software, the benefits of migration to new software range from active support of cybersecurity, providing the user with better visualization and diagnostic capabilities, seamless integration with business intelligence, production management, analytic software and database utilities, and enhanced communication interface functionalities ranging from open standards, such as OPC-UA, IIoT, SaaS, and Cloud.

For modernizing graphics and HMI devices, if operators are familiar with certain graphics they are likely to view any modifications, such as adherence to ISA-101 standards, as a degradation of their system. This would be a case for graphic preservation or recreation on a different platform. On the other hand it may make sense to redesign the graphics in a scalable fashion to reflect changes in the plant and process, as well as to work with the wireless smart mobile devices that will also be utilized, such as smart phones and tablets. It is important to involve the operators in this process to ensure ownership.

In conclusion, manufacturers should view modernizing automation in the same context as the selection process for a new system. The ideal system should enable focus on business objectives, continuous improvement, and operational excellence. Manufacturers today seek systems that have evolved to provide a single environment, spanning all realms of control disciplines from process to discrete automation and motion control, while also interacting with operations management applications. Information must be provided in the right context, to the right person, at the right time, from any point in the system, and this can only occur by modernizing automation.

Key Take-aways from Wonderware Live 2016

10.6.2016IIoT, Industrial AutomationBy:  

This week Stratus participated at the Wonderware Live 2016 conference in Orlando, Florida. While the conference was eventually impacted by the hurricane Matthew, it started off on a high note with a quick succession of keynote presentations featuring a dizzying set of new announcements and improvements to Wonderware’s rich software portfolio.

Wonderware’s strategic narrative was centered around three areas:

  1. Industry solutions – the introduction of a more templated and integrated approach to reduce time to value
  2. IIoT – the expansion of capabilities by leveraging its market, ecosystem and customer presence to cover new ‘connected points’
  3. New consumption models – the provision of both subscription and/or cloud based delivery models

For all areas, there was ample emphasis on the value derived by its partner ecosystem – including the likes of Stratus. If you allow me to digress – Stratus increasingly teams with Wonderware distributors on large multi-site implementations including systems integration partners so we know this strategy works well for Wonderware.

With regards to IIoT, Wonderware and its competitors are seeing a slow yet steady uptake of IIoT projects. Both Wonderware and distributors mentioned an increasing trickle of albeit small budgets being set aside to implement basic IIoT initiatives but that the more sophisticated deployments would take time to come to fruition. However, they are starting small to align with business value which supports Wonderware’s viewpoint: neither connectivity nor hype will drive IIoT uptake but common business sense and a willingness to embrace disruption in support of innovation will. Meanwhile, Wonderware continues to build out IIoT integration features (e.g. MQTT, OPC UA and SNMP enablement) into its software set, allowing customers to ‘ease in’ and become incrementally IIoT ready.

On the topic of Cloud (and its Microsoft partnership), EVP Ravi Gopinath stated that 150 customers per month are registering for Wonderware online, while also mentioning that IA customer momentum was moving towards a gradual adoption of private and hybrid architectures (referred to as “Cloud also”). In addition, Wonderware executives discussed the increasing demand for flexible consumption models, such as pay by the drip (i.e. metered cloud). Most of the cloud based architecture presentations were couched with the statement “Cloud – for when you are ready”; suggesting that with only a few IA customers expected be fully cloud-based in the foreseeable future, IA cloud adoption is still progressing slower versus other industries.

The most significant announcement was reserved for Wonderware’s multi-site MOMs customer segment with Prometheus, a horizontal and vertical automation collaboration tool across (virtually) any PLC and (virtually) any HMI. While ambitious to say the least, it’s a laudable objective given the wide-spread IA system heterogeneity in any large multi-site environment. The second announcement was the evolution of what was the Wonderware System Platform, now named InTouch Omni. Targeted at the most demanding and distributed HMI/SCADA customers with large applications, this software platform converges the IT/OT function and provides access to all the information across a company and supply chain by simply clicking on a device on the map and drilling down into its details.

Overall the presentations were geared towards illustrating Wonderware’s vision, its key product portfolios and related offer updates. Perhaps in the future we can come to expect customer and partner proof points giving the audience more insights into deployment successes and lessons learned.

Stratus’ success with Wonderware customers has increased considerably over the past years, so stay tuned for more exciting wins, as well as reference architecture content and best practices, on the soon to be launched Stratus Wonderware customer and partner page.

A Modernized ICS holds the key to reducing unplanned downtime

9.30.2016Fault Tolerance, Industrial AutomationBy:  

Unplanned downtime has long been the nemesis of industrial operations. In recent years, we’ve seen tolerance for unplanned downtime get even lower. In fact, a recent survey by Stratus and the ARC Group reports that almost 40% of respondents said they could handle no more than 10 minutes of downtime per incident.

More than 20% said they could not tolerate downtime at all.

One reason is that industrial control systems (ICSs) produce data that’s become increasingly valuable to the business. A modern ICS can collect data down to the millisecond. When combined with analytics, this data enables initiatives like real-time automation and predictive maintenance, as well as accelerates adoption of Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), Industry 4.0, and smart factories. Simply put, the more you automate and reduce human errors through real-time system intelligence, the more you improve operational efficiency and drive higher profitability.

Recently, when I led an IndustryWeek webinar, I asked attendees what concerned them most about unplanned downtime. Not surprisingly, 54% identified potential revenue loss, 15% referenced loss of visibility resulting in a safety violation, and 13% highlighted the additional cost to run things manually.

Industry statistics support these concerns. According to ARC’s research, unplanned downtime results in 2-5% production loss in the petro-chemical industry. It costs natural gas companies about $10,000 per hour if a compression station goes down. Across the board, unplanned downtime in process industries costs ten times more than planned maintenance.

Modernizing ICS can lower these impacts and improve operating efficiency. So why don’t more organizations modernize? Many are concerned about complexity. They have numerous applications running on different machines that vary widely in age and configuration. The thought of upgrading such a jumble of systems can be a major inhibitor.

That’s why we see virtualization as the prime way forward for modernizing the ICS. Instead of needing lots of hardware, virtualization can often reduce everything to a single physical machine running multiple applications assigned to individual virtual machines. This makes it much easier to manage various elements of industrial automation, as well as add or upgrade applications.

Virtualization also takes the pain out of modernizing ICS because you can migrate systems gradually. A virtualized system can easily reside alongside your existing systems. Then you just move one application at a time from the traditional environment to the virtualized one.

Now, the infrastructure you choose for your virtualized ICS environment is critical. I asked the IndustryWeek webinar attendees what they considered the most important decision factor. Nearly 40% of respondents identified lifetime value because this is a system that could be in operation for at least seven to ten years. Another 26% of attendees referenced operational simplicity. Automation engineers don’t want to spend their valuable time on system administration; they want to focus on running the plant. And they want an infrastructure that helps minimize, if not eliminate, unplanned downtime.

Stratus fault-tolerant servers address every one of these points and more. So if you’re looking to modernize your ICS, Stratus can provide you with some compelling options.

The path to modern ICS starts with virtualization

9.23.2016Industrial Automation, VirtualizationBy:  

I talk to a lot of people in the industrial automation world, and almost without exception they share the same challenge. They need to prevent unplanned downtime while preparing for the future, which includes evolving to the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), Industry 4.0, and smart factories.

This perspective was only reinforced when I asked attendees at a recent IndustryWeek webinar what concerned them most about unplanned downtime. In my online poll, the top three concerns were: potential revenue loss (54%), loss of visibility resulting in a safety violation (15%), and additional cost to run things manually (13%).

During the webinar, I laid out a strategy for addressing this challenge. My recommendation: modernize your industrial control systems (ICSs). The first step is virtualization, which consolidates multiple physical machines onto a single hardware system.

Virtualization eliminates the need to run individual control and automation applications on their own physical systems, each of which represents a potential single point of failure. Instead, your applications run on virtual machines (VMs) that share common computing resources across the underlying infrastructure. Each VM is securely partitioned to ensure data integrity, but you’ve eliminated all those points of failure. You also now have just one physical system to manage and support rather than many.

By now, you’ve probably recognized a new potential single point of failure. What happens if that one physical machine with all your virtualized control and automation applications goes down? It would be catastrophic, of course.

So the second most critical step is to protect your virtualized systems.

Here are four options:

  1. No protection. Yes, some people opt to take their chances because historically they’ve never had a system failure. This approach avoids any capital expense, but if recovery is required, it would take many hours if not days and be very expensive in terms of lost revenue and productivity.
  2. Hardware failover cluster. This is a common high-availability approach in IT that can reduce recovery time to minutes or hours. But clustering requires multiple physical systems, which defeats the purpose of virtualization by adding both cost and complexity.
  3. High-availability virtualization software. The approach is essentially the same as hardware clustering, but uses virtualization software to enable failover. You still need multiple systems. And while failover can be virtually instantaneous, it requires an application restart, which can take minutes to hours.
  4. Fault-tolerant server. This is an integrated system with built-in redundancy to prevent system failure. There is no need to fail over to another machine. It’s simply one physical machine that’s always on. Even if a component fails, the server, VMs and applications all keep running.

Plus, fault-tolerant servers are ready for the future of industrial automation today. That’s important because as you upgrade your ICS and move toward IIoT, you need a solution with enough horsepower to process massive amounts of data collected from across your operation. At Stratus, we’re seeing our customers achieve early wins in IIoT with things like predictive maintenance analytics to drastically reduce unplanned downtime. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

If you’re looking for the path of least resistance to prevent unplanned downtime and set a course for the future of industrial automation, then start by modernizing your ICS on fault-tolerant Stratus servers.

3 Approaches to Bridging the IT/OT Divide

9.16.2016IIoT, Industrial AutomationBy:  

As companies across the energy value chain look for ways to become more efficient and agile, the Industrial “Internet of Things” (IIoT) offers attractive opportunities. Harnessing sensor data, machine-to-machine (M2M) communication and Big Data analytics enables oil and gas companies to take automation and efficiency to new heights, while creating the foundation for new business models.

But to realize the potential of IIoT, companies must first bridge a yawning gap: the technological and cultural divide that often separates their information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) organizations.

Why the divide? In most industrial organizations, including oil and gas producers, IT and OT traditionally have different priorities. For OT, ensuring the uptime of production automation systems is paramount. Reducing risk is the top priority, which is one reason why automation systems are often in service for years, if not decades—change equals risk. For IT, innovation is the top priority, often leading to continual change and upgrading. This difference in priorities helps explain why OT often insists on keeping automation systems completely isolated from IT.

The IIoT changes the status quo, creating a new imperative to share data from machine sensors and automation systems managed by OT—including SCADA (Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition) systems—with enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems and analytics platforms managed by IT. How can oil and gas companies bridge the gap between these two worlds, while ensuring that the competing priorities of OT and IT are met?

Approach 1

One approach employed by some energy companies is to effectively merge the two, integrating OT within the IT group. On the surface, this seems like the most straightforward approach, essentially forcing OT and IT to work in coordination. In practice, however, the cultural differences can remain. For example, IT may try to impose its standards-based approach on an OT team used to systems specialized for particular production tasks. Unless IT has a clear understanding of the requirements of these automation systems, the result can be a lack of coordination that decreases system stability. For this approach to work, OT must have a voice in the combined organization.

Approach 2

Another approach is to create a technology team free from these traditional distinctions, responsible for all OT and IT functions. This approach is feasible in an entirely new organization or for a large company spinning off a new satellite organization. But for most large, complex oil and gas producers with established technology groups and lots of legacy infrastructure, it may not be a workable alternative.

Approach 3

The third approach is one we’re seeing more and more in forward-looking organizations, where there is a new breed of “industrial technologists” who have a combined IT/OT perspective. They understand the need for stable, highly available automation systems, but they also understand the enterprise system integration and analytics required to make the IIoT a reality. With a foot in both worlds, these industrial technologists play a key role in ensuring that the priorities of both OT and IT are met.

The benefits of the IIoT are too attractive not to take advantage of them. Bringing OT and IT together in a way that effectively manages risk is the key to unlocking the tremendous potential of the intelligent, automated energy enterprise.

Putting Fault-Tolerant HMI/SCADA to the Test: Three Industrial Examples

9.1.2016Fault Tolerance, Industrial AutomationBy:  

More and more, we’re seeing operations organizations virtualizing critical industrial automation (IA) applications such as Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) and human machine interface (HMI) historians. And whether virtualizing these systems or not, many companies choose to run their applications on fault-tolerant systems. Here are three examples of why:

Water and wastewater treatment facility

A municipal water and wastewater treatment facility struggled with declining income due to a shrinking tax base. On top of that, the EPA was tightening regulations, such as regular testing of field wells and other water sources and assurance of no data loss. Another big concern was control room “blindness” due to unplanned downtime of its SCADA systems.

By virtualizing and running their SCADA systems on always-on Stratus ftServers, the facility eliminated unplanned downtime. The facility also was able to demonstrate to regulatory auditors that continuous data availability was ensured. Plus, virtualizing reduced software licensing costs and the self-healing features of ftServers saved on staffing otherwise needed for system monitoring and support. As a result, the municipality ensures high water quality and satisfies EPA regulations all on a tight budget.

 

Paper and packaging manufacturer

This scenario involves a manufacturing plant specializing in kraft-style paper and packaging. The company was running manufacturing execution system (MES) and sales order processing (SOP) applications on 20-year-old legacy systems. Their biggest concern was unplanned downtime, which cost the business $33,000 per hour.

The company replaced its legacy systems with Stratus always-on ftServers running state-of-the-art MES and SOP applications. Unplanned downtime is now a thing of the past. The Stratus systems are easy to operate and support, so the plant no longer needs IT staff on call. And, continuous operations without any line stoppages helped the company increase profitability.

 

Natural gas transmission company

A major natural gas transmission company operates about 80 compression stations along thousands of miles of pipeline. Most of their stations are in remote locations with limited space and power. Their existing SCADA/HMI infrastructure simply wasn’t built for those difficult conditions, and servers started to fail, causing downtime of two or three days each time.

So the company virtualized and now runs multiple IA applications on a single Stratus ftServer. This eliminated the downtime problem. It also reduced the number of servers at each compression station from eight to one, which decreased their IT expenditures significantly at the remote sites. Plus, the company eliminated data loss. This is critical to their predictive analytics systems, which tell them when equipment requires maintenance to avoid catastrophic failures.

This is a small sampling of how virtualization and fault tolerance benefit both SCADA/HMI and analytics. In fact, data availability of analytics is becoming one of the most important requirements in today’s modern operations environments—a trend that we’re seeing across all segments in the IA space.

 

NEXT STEP: Read more about how Stratus is ensuring fault-tolerance for Industrial Automation

Columbia Pipeline Group Reaches 99.5 Percent Availability

8.23.2016Fault Tolerance, Industrial AutomationBy:  

It’s often difficult to fully understand the impact of modernizing an automation system and how an investment in fault-tolerant platforms from Stratus, along with updated Programmable Automation Controllers (PACs) can deliver rapid results. For Columbia Pipeline Group (recently purchased by TransCanada) the answer is approximately $2.3 million in 2014 alone, even with a partial pipeline upgrade. Using the Stratus ftServer platform, which delivers high availability in excess of five nines (99.999%), Columbia has achieved an overall system-wide availability level of over 99.5%. Through having a virtualized platform with continuous availability, not only do the SCADA applications experience no unplanned downtime due to system failures, but no data loss means that asset management systems and IIoT predictive analytics applications can effectively control access and provide accurate data to maximize maintenance effectiveness.

Watch Video
Hear Columbia Pipeline’s Steve Adams talk about his experience of using Stratus ftServer.

How Oil and Gas Pipeline Operations Eliminate “Blind Moments”

7.19.2016Industrial Automation, Oil and GasBy:  

As energy demands in the U.S. rise, oil and gas companies feel pressure from all angles. They not only have to push for higher production, they’re under scrutiny from regulators overseeing compliance and the public concerned about safety and environmental impacts. So oil and gas companies are doubling down and taking a fresh look at systems controlling every aspect of the business—from gathering and processing through transmission and distribution.

We’ve all seen how failures in oil and gas distribution system can be catastrophic. An aging gas line gives way and explodes, leading to lost lives, destroyed property, and a ruined company reputation. To avoid such disasters, gas companies may employ field staff to monitor distribution pipelines and gate stations and respond if a control system fails. But with hundreds of pressure-monitoring points, that approach gets costly.

Transmission lines can face similar problems. In one case, a catastrophic failure at a compressor station caused a fire that cost a U.S. company more than $500,000 in damages and lost product. With stations along thousands of miles of remote pipeline, many oil and gas companies believe that reliable control systems are the only practical way to prevent such incidents. But if their SCADA, historian, or HMI systems go down, they are still at risk.

Gathering and treatment operations also have challenges. Stratus worked with a company that was losing hundreds of thousands of dollars per month because it couldn’t accurately monitor data from the extraction point through distribution, causing an imbalance in the company’s accounting. The problem was inaccurate manual collection of gas well data and aging SCADA systems. The desire was for real-time accuracy with no single point of failure, including in the SCADA system itself.

Some companies try to resolve these issues by throwing more servers at the problem. But the number of servers needed to cover the range of applications in each location becomes extremely costly. And even with a complex clustering solution, which adds even more cost, downtime may still persist.

At Stratus, we’ve partnered with oil and gas companies for more than a decade to solve problems like these. Our approach is to eliminate “blind moments”—that’s any time an operator can’t control or see what’s going on with key components at pressure monitoring and compressor stations, as well as other control points along the pipeline. Blind moments are caused by downtime in SCADA, historian, HMI, and other critical systems. Stratus makes these blind spots go away simply and efficiently with a virtualized, always-on computing system.

Columbia Pipeline Group (CPG) is a great example of how Stratus always-on technology enables operators to keep the company’s compressor stations online 24×7. CPG relies on Stratus to ensure no data loss for CPG’s corporate analytics application that supports prognostics and predictive maintenance. This takes away the worry and dramatically reduces risk of a catastrophe. You can watch a short video here to learn more about our role at CPG and how Stratus always-on solutions can protect and add value to your oil and gas operations.

Learn More About the Costs of Downtime:

[PDF] The True Costs of Critical Application Downtime
[Infographic] Application Availability & Downtime Cost Comparison: Best-in-Class, Average, & Laggard

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