Drilling for Oil with DCE
An Interview with Tom Provost of Schlumberger

The key services that Schlumberger provides, the acquisition, analysis and display of data, all in a secure manner, enable our oil field customers to find and produce hydrocarbons in a cost-effective and environmentally safe manner.

-Tom Provost
Manager, Communications Systems & Services

By Michael Gross
DCE Technology Manager
The Open Group

What is the business of Schlumberger, and what are your corporate distributed computing needs?

Schlumberger is an international technical company selling products and services that improve the productivity of our customers. We are involved in everything from the opening or closing of an oil field to the manufacture of electric and gas meters. Some of our oil field customers are Shell, Texaco, Exxon and Occidental. Our customers are located all over the world, for instance, in the jungles, on the Alaskan North Slope, offshore in the North Sea, and in the Gulf of Mexico. We collect and analyze data, and provide a graphical display of that data. The key services that Schlumberger provides, the acquisition, analysis and display of data, all in a secure manner, enable our oil field customers to find and produce hydrocarbons in a cost-effective and environmentally safe manner.

How does DCE help you to tackle the distributed computing challenges that you face?

We have customers that are on many different platforms, from multiple vendors, running on different hardware, using different operating systems. It's important to our customers to know that their data is secure with Schlumberger. To connect all these machines together and transmit data securely, we need the Distributed Computing Environment (DCE) from OSF.

With DCE, we provide authorization controls so that only authorized people have access to the data. DCE also provides encryption so that the data can't be read when it's transmitted on public networks. The DCE software gives us security with the ability to run on different platforms. It gives us an infrastructure and a framework on which to build all of our applications. We know we can use DCE to securely move our customers' data, store it on a disk, analyze it, and thentransmit it.

How does DCE meet your security needs?

DCE is a logical choice for us, looking at the problem we had to solve - communicating between different hardware and systems that were distributed all over the world. We needed security that was accepted in the industry, could be audited, provide encryption and authentication and was available on the various platforms we use. DCE allowed us to address our security needs without limiting our choice of platforms. Three years ago, Windows NT wasn't available. Now that DCE is available on NT, we use it as a mainstream development platform, and we didn't have to change our software architecture to make the move.

In 1993, my current project began with the idea of securely transmitting data to and from the well site. We needed a product that could handle multiple platforms and provide us with a level of security that would allow us to control access to data and provide the capability of data encryption. DCE, at the time, was the only product that could satisfy these needs. Now it's an essential part of the core architecture of our system. When we look at other technologies that could meet our needs, DCE is still the best product that can satisfy all of our criteria, so it continues to be of key importance to our software architecture and the products that we're delivering today.

I understand that you have a DCE-based application that follows the "Federal Express" model. Can you elaborate on it?

DataLink, our current product, is a client/server product that we modeled after Federal Express. Once someone in the field has sent data into our processing center it's guaranteed to be delivered. DataLink is built on top of DCE to give us the distributive network and security we demand. We let the engineer in the field connect to the network using a satellite hook-up, a phone line, a cellular phone, or another media he can access. Then, we take the data that we're acquiring in real time from an instrument or a tool in an oil well and transmit it over the network. Once the engineer sends his package of data, he can disconnect from the network. We can then guarantee the delivery of that data using the reliability and robustness of DataLink and DCE.

How does the Web technology fit into your plans for the future?

We're going to use the World Wide Web technology to deliver products and services. The user interfaces for our newest products are also Web-driven. We can use the public networks of the Web for the transmission of information and with DCE, it becomes as secure as a private network.

It's easy for us to deliver information to our customers through a Web interface. Most people who have a computer have a Web browser. We want to have a fully DCE secure Web server and Web browser combination. Then we have a virtual private network that you can run over public networks.

How have you put DCE to the test in the field?

Implementing our transmission products in the field is a unique situation because of the diverse locales of our customers. We have units that are

in remote locations like the deserts of the Middle East, the jungles of South America and forests of Alaska. Usually there's not a good phone service in these places. You don't have a coax cable like you do for your TV at home. So, we've adopted and invested in satellite technology that allows us to provide online connection to these locations. We've also been using cellular phones, and now we're looking at Inmarsat satellites as well as very small aperture satellites. DCE has been proven to work in all these environments.

Our software that's written on top of DCE is protected from the fact that we are running over several different physical media. It really responds the same, if you're on an Ethernet in your local building or if you're across the world on a satellite line coming in from the middle of a jungle. Our software acts the same no matter what the location or transmission media is being used.

So, it sounds like DCE will continue to play a role in Schlumberger's success.

It is paramount to Schlumberger that we not only protect the information that we acquire for our clients, but that we transmit it efficiently, securely and without any loss of data. Over the last three years as we've built, developed and fielded DataLink, DCE has given us that confidence to have the security, the built-in reliability, and the robustness we're looking for in an infrastructure. We're confident that we can build our products on top of that and it will give us all the features that we need, now and in the future.