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Shell Oil targets hybrid cloud as fix for energy-saving, agile IT

Oil company pilots big data analytics in the public cloud

April 4, 2012 09:14 AM ET

Computerworld - DALLAS -- Two years ago, Shell Oil's IT subsidiary found itself in a somewhat ironic situation. It was facing staggering energy costs.

Among its three main worldwide data centers and 400 regional data centers, the company saw its energy use grow by 3.6 megawatts over a nine-month period.

With local, state and international regulations, power and data center capacity aren't easy to come by, said Kayoor Gajarawala, general manager of hosting, storage and enterprise service delivery for Shell Information Technology.

"We think cloud can help with that," he told attendees at the SNW conference here. (Computerworld is a sponsor of the conference.)

In addition to its goal of reducing energy costs, the company, which has 150,000 employees in 90 countries, also needed to be more agile in deploying IT services and planning for user demand. To reach those goals, Shell in 2010 began to build a cloud infrastructure using Amazon's Virtual Private Cloud (Amazon VPC).

Using Amazon VPC, Shell was able to provision a private, isolated section of the Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud where it could launch resources in a virtual network.

Part of the challenge that Shell was, and still is, facing has to do with new seismic sensors that it recently created with Hewlett-Packard. The super-sensitive sensors allow the company to find oil in wells formerly thought to have run dry or in places where previous exploration indicated there was no oil.

The new sensors create massive amounts of geological data.

"The first test we did of these seismic sensors in the field, we generated a data set with a one-petabyte file size," Gajarawala said. "And we'd like to deploy these seismic sensors to approximately 10,000 wells."

The company has 46 petabytes of data on disk subsystems.

In the next 10 years, Shell's IT shop has to figure out how to drive costs down, effectively manage the giant files and make it profitable for the company to deploy its new sensors.

In 2011, Shell's first big rollout of its cloud service was aimed at application developers. The company used software testing as a service for its preproduction systems, as well as its development and test environment. The payback was immediate.

"Two hundred and 300 project teams could be up and running in a day versus weeks before," Gajarawala said.

When Amazon experienced a major cloud outage in April 2011, the incident didn't affect Shell because its service was spread across multiple geographic zones. But the outage created image problems for cloud computing among Shell officials.

"That caused a lot of people to question why we were going to cloud computing," he said. "After that slight dip in credibility... things started to move back up again."

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