Nuevo finds no faults in NAS

Oil company taps NAS system to boost productivity.

Nuevo finds no faults in NAS
Oil company taps NAS system to boost productivity
By Kevin Komiega, Assistant News Editor

When the largest independent oil and gas producer in California needed a new way to store and analyze its seismic data, it moved to a network-attached storage (NAS) system to fill its needs.

Until recently, the geologists and geophysicists at Nuevo Energy Co., had outsourced all the company's seismic interpretation hardware. When they realized the increasing strategic importance of the scientific data they were collecting and the role it played in their work, the need for the company to own its own hardware became clear.

"Given the varied nature and location of our assets and data requirements, we came to the conclusion that the response time and reliability that we provide to our technical staff is key to our business," said Jeremy Zimmerman, Senior Geophysicist for Nuevo."We decided that only by performing the scientific information technology function in-house could we prevent bottlenecks in the exploration process."

Nuevo, which produces about 54,000 barrels of oil per day, is based in Houston, Texas, with two offices in California. The company analyzes both well and seismic data.

Quick access to data is key, according to Zimmerman."Seismic data provides special data storage and access challenges," Zimmerman said. "The majority of the data used by our Houston office is stored in seismic surveys that range from 20 to 30 gigabytes in size. Geophysicists frequently have to work with multiple data sets, so they read and reread data off of the discs on a regular basis."

Another challenge is that Nuevo's people often work in teams to analyze data, so the teams need to have access to large varied data sets in one location," Zimmerman said. These factors meant that local storage could only be a small part of Nuevo's solution.

Nuevo evaluated several different storage technologies and technology providers, weighing pros and cons. "We first looked at one of the high-end enterprise storage system providers," explained Zimmerman. "Their solution was well regarded for dependability as a server for business applications, but they had little experience with handling seismic data, and their solution came at a higher cost than our budget allowed." Then, Nuevo examined server-attached storage systems that simply hang RAID disks from a workstation."The problem with this approach is that performance is slow and disk space is limited. The I/O capacity is limited to a single port on the server, so the more storage space that you add, the slower performance becomes," Zimmerman said.

Sun Ultra 60 workstations with 500M Bytes to 2G Bytes of memory were chosen as the principal hardware platform for the desktop. For storage needs, however, Nuevo chose an NS2000 from Auspex Systems, Inc., Sunnyvale, Calif. "We ended up selecting the NS2000 because of the strong track record that this machine has achieved in delivering high performance and reliability to the oil and gas industry at a reasonable cost," Zimmerman explained.

The key to the high I/O performance of the NS2000 is a dedicated processor architecture that is optimized for the purpose of moving file data from disk to network and vice versa. The I/O node is the fundamental building block of the Auspex architecture. Each node contains a dual-Intel processor motherboard that has different and logically separate processing functions. The network processor handles network protocols and manages associated caches. The file and storage processor is dedicated to managing the file systems and associated storage hardware.

For Nuevo, another important advantage of the Auspex NS2000 is that it can serve up data to both Unix and Windows NT machines. "This feature eliminated the need to provide a separate Windows NT-based storage system for the production accounting applications used by our engineers," Zimmerman said. "It will become even more important in the future as we begin to migrate some of our geophysical applications to the NT world."

The NS2000 data server consolidates UNIX and Windows NT on the same platform using NeTservices, a Windows NT Server compatible implementation of networking and administrative services developed by Auspex. It concurrently delivers native file services to thousands of UNIX and Windows clients, while being fully integrated into both environments from a user access and administrative standpoint. NeTservices is fully compatible with Microsoft's Common Internet File System (CIFS) file sharing protocol and NT Server 4.0 directory, data security and remote administration services, so no additional software is required on any Windows clients.

Downtime hasn't been an issue since the NAS solution was implemented. "The combination of faster performance and zero downtime has significantly increased the productivity of our users, although it's impossible to measure by how much," Zimmerman said.

In the final analysis, NAS' ability to offer always-there, always-accessible data has punched up Nuevo's employees' productivity while erasing worries about lost data. "The new data servers have eliminated the need for our professionals to even think about whether their data will be there when they need it once it is loaded onto the server," said Zimmerman.

By spurring improvements in productivity, NAS enables Nuevo to evaluate more properties more quickly and efficiently than ever before. Combine productivity gains with less stress, said Zimmerman, and the marriage of Nuevo and NAS has been a win-win. "The key is that by taking away any concerns about having access to their data, everyone can focus 100% of their attention on what they do best: Look for oil and gas."

Let us know what you think about the story, email Kevin Komiega, assistant news editor


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This was first published in May 2001

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