When it comes to utilities, we as consumers find interruptions to electricity, heat, water, and phone service as extremely disruptive and even dangerous. For utility providers, the impact of such outages also is severe when it comes to lost revenue, customer dissatisfaction, and liability risks. In the natural gas industry, downtime incidents can present even more dire consequences.
This became abundantly clear when a compressor station operated by a North America gas pipeline company suffered a catastrophic failure. The result was a fire that cost more than $550,000 in damages and lost natural gas. Because the station was in a rural location, fire and damage fortunately was contained to the compressor and there were no fatalities.
While the pipeline company highly valued safety and reliability, this frightening incident was a lightning rod to take continuous operations to the next level. The pipeline company engaged in a detailed analysis of 15,000 miles of pipeline and facilities across 16 states, which transports over one trillion cubic feet of natural gas per year to customers.
The resulting modernization report recommended significant system upgrades to comply with the Control Room Management (CRM) regulations issued by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). For example, the pipeline company implemented compressor stations with fully redundant systems, such as compressor pumps, turbines, valves, and safety and control systems.
A bigger challenge was creating a continuous availability computer solution to operate the company’s SCADA, historian, HMI, and related control system applications. The pipeline company also wanted the solution to support big data analytics that would proactively predict, detect, and resolve compressor station problems before unplanned outages occurred.
Initially, the pipeline firm planned to deploy six or eight servers to support the full range of applications but discovered this approach had several shortcomings. For example, there were significant space and power constraints and lack of IT support at the compressor stations. If a server failed, automation staff at the headquarters location would need to reconfigure the server’s operating environment, physically deliver it, and perform the install. The unacceptable outcome: two to three days of server downtime and data loss that would generate sub-par analytic results and decrease operational efficiency.
After considering various options, the pipeline company chose a Stratus ftServer, a virtualized continuous availability solution with integrated redundancy. This centralized, easy to manage solution reduced the number of servers and associated service burdens. Automation engineers now remotely run virtualized applications from the primary control centers without requiring trained IT staff at the compressor station to conduct maintenance. Uninterrupted access to real-time analytics also provides the firm with complete operational visibility, eliminating “blind moments” and further improving availability and efficiency.
In fact, since implementing the ftServer three years ago, the pipeline company has run operational systems without any downtime or data loss. According to a lead automation electrical engineer at the company Stratus provides an added benefit: “We can get a lot more flexibility by adding applications in the compressor stations without the need for IT expertise.”
Are you looking to improve the safety and reliability of your operations while reducing costs and increasing efficiency? Stratus offers a compelling solution with virtualization, continuous availability and integrated redundancy.