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Communications and networking: trends affecting the energy communications market

Oilfield Technology,

The Cloud isn’t going to blow away

The IT perimeter is stretched. Applications are spread and distributed, no longer contained within the physical boundaries of the data center with cloud-based, software as a service (SaaS) applications becoming routinely adopted. On-site systems are going away in favour of a hosted solution that can provide all needed data in a central location. Cloud computing is heralded because of its easy implementation and reduced costs, but it needs to do more moving forward.

For instance, higher levels of speed will be required to provide as close to a terrestrial experience as possible. Waiting for data is not only annoying, it severely hampers productivity. Systems will need deeper integration with cloud-based providers in conjunction with application optimisation solutions. The cloud can’t merely provide space to host applications, it must intertwine with those applications to provide optimised performance.

To add to that, agility expectations will only increase. The cloud is highly agile and robust with bandwidth instantaneously made available when required in the most diverse locations. This is resetting expectations for both users and businesses for the ease of access to enterprise applications and the mobility this allows.

The cloud facilitates worldwide access but it hasn’t been easy to capitalise on in some cases. For the harsh and remote energy environments where agility and mobility have historically not been sensibly possible, the move to an on-demand deployment model in conjunction with optimisation will be an essential enabler to deliver as close to a terrestrial. Cloud-like experience as is practical. Leveraging the existing and new low latency transports will further address this aspect.

The Branch is becoming the hub

As information technology continues to spread with greater numbers of connected devices, it increasingly relies on a distributed infrastructure for support. The branch is no longer the end of a spoke, but a hub in its own right. With this, system resilience becomes critical.

Increasing reliance on technology at remote sites, such as oil platforms requires greatly improved site reliability and the capability to harvest from all available networks and systems present at the site. The capability to introduce additional options without a considerable cost or physical and logistical impact is paramount. This results in unattended “self-healing” capability and the utmost possible reliability at the remote location. It’s the arrival of smart networks rather than just a dumb pipe.

It’s all about the application

The concept of network availability and uptime will transition from a technical metric around an annualised up-time, to the behaviour of the application and ultimately the user experience. Greater levels of application awareness and monitoring create the technical capability to provide application performance metrics. This also allows for application optimisation and active provisioning of resources such as bandwidth as required. The ability to then track to a user level allows the same functions to be more granular and effective, with differentiation between classes of user or devices and a finer level of bandwidth/quality of experience management and security.

5G is knocking on the door

With an expected launch in 2020, the next evolution of mobility is being defined. 4G and LTE technology continues to expand even as its successor waits in the wings. This gradual evolution will provide increased speed and coverage while also improving network congestion, energy efficiency, cost, reliability and connection quality to a world full of devices. Despite its promise, don’t be surprised if it takes until the year 2025 5G for the platform to be truly entrenched.

The internet of things has broken through the door

While it took a while to get going, the concept of connecting everything to the internet has taken hold. The internet of things (IoT) has evolved to the internet of everything (IoE). We’ve gone from a smartphone to smart cars, washing machines, swimming pools, eyewear and much more. Think about how many connected devices are in your home and multiply that by the billions of planet inhabitants. A conservative estimate forecasts 50 billion connections by 2020. For IT specialists it means you may start to receive more requests for troubleshooting applications or devices than maintaining the network. In fact this has probably already happened. How often do you encounter a software problem rather than hardware? Does your day consist of fixing a network connection or explaining the merits of various applications and how they connect? This is coupled with the challenge of harnessing and analysing all the data that is becoming available. In the energy industry it might be seismic data, drilling operations information or pipeline sensing perhaps.

Security is paramount

Rarely a day goes by without news of a recent security breach or hacker attack. With the prevalence of the internet comes the additional focus on protecting data. This is complicated by the growing implementation of cloud-based applications. It’s not enough to just monitor your system, preventing and defending from breaches is essential. Energy firms are particularly at risk with vast networks and multiple entry points worldwide. The stakes are high not only in terms of production capability but employee safety. Security risks can come from inside a company just as easily as from the outside. The challenge is to balance security with business efficiency in an attempt to meet IT goals without heavily impacting user productivity.

A simple firewall and password protection is not enough; resources need to be provided for proactively protecting valuable data. Due to the rapid evolution of cyber-crime, it is anticipated that cyber security will become an a-la-carte service provided by dedicated, expert companies (similar to what governments and militaries employ).

Adapted from an article written by Phillip Parker at Harris CapRock 

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