Open architecture: how IBM, RedHat, and Schlumberger could lead digital innovation in oil and gas

IBM, RedHat, and Schlumberger have announced plans to collaborate on a cloud-based communication platform that builds on and unifies many separate networks that have already popped up in the oil and gas sector. JP Casey speaks to IBM global managing director of energy, natural resources, and manufacturing Manish Chawla about whether such a collaborative approach could be the future of the sector.

The energy industry is more digitised than ever, with technologies such as artificial intelligence and cloud storage commonplace among some of the world’s largest power companies. Oil and gas firms in particular are not exempt from this rapid shift and, as such, many traditional offshore companies are working with technology firms to benefit from their expertise, leading to waves of new, cross-sector collaborations.

One such development centres around the OpenShift Containerized Platform (OCP), a cloud storage network developed by technology companies IBM and RedHat. The OCP puts all actors on the same information communication and storage system, encouraging collaboration between companies, and has been picked up on by Schlumberger. The oilfield services provider will use the OCP to develop its own exploration and production services, and enable consumers to connect more directly with these processes.

The platform will build on the work of other, similar projects, such as the Schlumberger DELFI platform, an “open, secure, scalable, and fully managed” cloud network of its own, and its ODSU open source data platform, which aims to bring yet more decision-makers into the fold. We speak to IBM global managing director of energy, natural resources, and manufacturing Manish Chawla about these interconnected platforms, and how such collaboration could set a new precedent for the oil and gas industry.

JP Casey: What is the OCPand how will it help the energy industry?

Manish Chawla: Today, many energy companies have to use an assortment of disparate applications and data sources across all of their operations. These platforms do not necessarily operate on the same infrastructure environment, which makes it challenging for workflows and data to be easily shared or accessed centrally. In addition, some operators, who span multiple countries, face regulations around data sovereignty and residency challenges that mean many suffer from disconnected, siloed operations.

IBM Red Hat OpenShift [features] a hybrid multi-cloud architecture [and] is a game changer for the industry that will help operators to meet these challenges. It will allow enterprises to accelerate and streamline application development, delivery, and deployment in both the on-premises and hybrid, multi-cloud environments.

In other words, companies can incorporate data from multiple cloud environments into the same ecosystem, making it easy for them to access, analyse, and generate insights from the data. This allows a consistent “edge to enterprise” platform to deliver digital innovation across all aspects of the oil and gas value chain.

With Schlumberger, IBM successfully completed a proof of concept for a key application from the DELFI portfolio, demonstrating the business and technology benefits of Red Hat OpenShift. Now we have kicked off a robust roadmap to migrate the full DELFI Platform, shifting each module onto the OpenShift container platform and then made available in key countries with data residency requirements.

Do you think collaborative processes such as these will become the new norm in the energy industry?

The embrace of next-generation digital technologies will be critical for unlocking the potential of today’s energy industry. Through better data collection, management, and analysis, the industry can find more opportunities to improve efficiency, safety, and environmental performance, among other objectives.

As with any project of this scale, you always face challenges to overcome but we have a strong collaboration with Schlumberger and agile development processes to solve these issues, using our domain and technology experience. Partnership between the energy industry and leaders in other fields is paramount to the industry’s success, particularly when it comes to digital. Delivering on this digital vision requires partnership with the world’s leading technology companies.

IBM, for example, has a long history in the energy industry built over many decades. Our experts have helped energy companies reinvent their businesses for resilience and sustainability. 

Our agreement with Schlumberger is another major step forward for the industry. Schlumberger has established DELFI as the industry-leading environment for energy professionals to access workflows and APIs to work together. Now, by using OpenShift, Schlumberger will enable applications in DELFI to deploy across any technology infrastructure, from traditional data centres to multiple clouds, including private, public, and the edge – all while addressing data residency regulations.

With Schlumberger, the joint initiative will provide global access to Schlumberger's leading exploration and production cloud-based environment and cognitive applications by leveraging IBM's hybrid cloud platform, built on the RedHat OCP.

Collaborative development will initially focus on two key areas. Firstly, private, hybrid, or multi-cloud deployment of Schlumberger’s DELFI cognitive exploration & production environment enabled by Red Hat OpenShift to significantly expand access for customers. Secondly, delivering the first hybrid cloud implementation of the OSDU data platform.

Would you say that there has been an increased focus on digitisation in the energy sector in recent years?

Digitisation is a “must” for the industry. But the industry has had a difficult time unlocking the full value of digitisation. For example, while energy companies have been building data platforms and using digital tools for years, the sector is still slowly working towards adopting advanced technologies such as the hybrid cloud to their full potential.

Many operational processes in the energy sector, such as finding and analysing a seismic image and deciding where to drill a well, require collaboration between peers from multiple departments or organisations. They are typically all using different applications and if you have to copy data from one application or database to another, you can have distortions or errors that result in lost time.

The combination of DELFI and OSDU enables this collaboration. Open hybrid cloud unleashes this digital innovation to be available to all companies around the world, regardless of their IT infrastructure choices or constraints.

One of the energy industry’s main targets is to contribute positively towards the energy transition. The industry has recognised that it can drive the transition forward in two ways: by broadening its own investments in energy production, while making its existing energy operations more efficient and lessening their impact on the environment.

Digital transformation will be critical for enabling these efficiencies and environmental improvements, as greater access to data will help operators more quickly identify opportunities to improve and deliver on these goals. We have built and are expanding our suite of offerings and assets to help the companies with energy transition and net-zero initiatives.

Main image: IBM global managing director of energy, natural resources, and manufacturing Manish Chawla. Credit: IBM