By Tim Everitt
There are hundreds of oil platforms in the Middle East, but with deposits scattered across deserts, seas and mountains, they tend to be fairly isloated. Telecoms have a vital role to play in overcoming this problem, and as Tim Everitt from telecom company DMS writes, it’s not just a mtter of letting people call home.
Introduction|~||~||~|Whether in the middle of the Algerian desert or offshore Gulf of Mexico, oilfield exploration engineers need to be connected to the outside world. With no plug-in option, specially tailored voice and data satellite services have to be designed.DMS is one of the companies dealing with this sticky, black conundrum, providing Internet services via satellite for remote locations, often with inhospitable environments. By setting up global satellite licence agreements with Intelsat, Eutelsat and others, the company can maintain a dedicated space segment so that voice and data traffic can be reliably transmitted to and from the remote location.Although based in Aberdeen, Scotland, DMS recently had an opportunity to show off its skills in Algeria whilst working on a project for Sonatrach. The state-owned oil company wanted a fully managed e-mail, Internet and voice network, built literally from the ground up across three remote sites in the desert. Each site needed dedicated bandwidth for network service. “DMS has proven ability in delivering the complete turnkey project – which involves hardware, cabling, Internet backbone, satellite space segment – and the engineering experience on the ground in Algeria,” said Mr Boudjoghra of Sonatrach. “Once commissioned and installed, DMS is able to remotely manage and monitor the service from its customer support centre in Aberdeen, which gives us peace of mind and, more importantly, allows for efficient trouble-shooting and reporting.”||**||Dynmically shared bandwidth|~||~||~|To handle the dedicated bandwidth for each site, DMS designed a meshed TDMA VSAT satellite network using routing-intelligent Nortel-Dasa SKYWAN kit. All the sites in Algeria communicate over SKYWAN back to the main hub at DMS’ headquarters in Aberdeen as and when they need public voice or Internet access.There is one obvious flaw in the plan, though. Suppose a site in the Algerian desert was trying to communicate with an office in Algiers: it wouldn’t make sense to send the signal via Northern Europe, would it?Luckily, DMS spotted this issue early on, and designed the kit to minimize problems. The system has built-in intelligence to not route the traffic back to Aberdeen if it has a “local” destination, i.e. site to site within Algeria. This avoids a “double hop” satellite loop that seriously impairs the quality of voice transmission, not to mention huge satellite delays. Another key feature is that the satellite bandwidth is dynamically shared, in other words if one site is busy but the other two are quiet, then that one site will gain all the available bandwidth. But if all the sites are busy then each is guaranteed a certain quantity of bandwidth.In Aberdeen, DMS’ network engineers configured, tested and commissioned the servers (Cobalt Linux mail and NT file/print). Once installed in Algeria these systems can be fully monitored and managed remotely by DMS staff via a web-enabled management station in Aberdeen.Security is a prime concern for Sonatrach and to establish network security for all three sites, DMS installed Sonicwall firewall technology. The firewall allows Network Address Translation (NAT) to be implemented, hiding internal Sonatrach IP addresses behind one single IP address presented to the public Internet. The firewall should also protect against spamming and hacking form the outside, as well as against staff abuse from inside.With full management control of this firewall from Aberdeen, DMS can quickly and effectively complete changes, maintaining maximum up-to-date security at all times.||**||Security: the Vantage system|~||~||~|Security is not the only concern for offshore oil workers, though – safety is obviously a major issue as well. The North Sea oil and gas sector is introducing a tracking system for personnel working offshore as part of a drive to enhance safety both in the North Sea and around the world.The Vantage system, which uses a Smart Card to keep track of offshore workers, is being administered by OPITO (Offshore Petroleum Industry Training Organisation) the UK’s national training organisation for the oil and gas industry.The Vantage system will provide the industry with details of how long an employee spends offshore, their safety-related training and competence at work on a single card. The information can be read at any location connected to the system and equipped with a card reader."The seeds of Vantage were sown around two years ago and the system has been developed as part of the wider Step Change in Safety initiative rolled out at the 1997 Offshore Europe oil show in Aberdeen,” said Ian McPherson, sales and marketing Director for DMS, one of the companies behind Vantage. “The majority of operating companies have signed up to the initiative and the aim is to have the offshore workforce covered by mid 2001.“The OPITO contract is an exciting one for us and proves that our secure systems which provide Internet access are becoming more and more attractive to the oil and gas industry as we expand our services.“Our experience with the Partnering Network and all it offers was obviously attractive to this particular project as the information links are already in place between the major players in the North Sea.“Vantage is the way forward in ensuring safety standards remain high in the industry and we are pleased that we are playing such a vital role in its implementation.”DMS has been awarded the contract to host and provide industry-wide access to the Vantage system which sees an offshore industry passport – Smart Card – issued to every UK offshore worker. DMS will provide secure tele-housing from Aberdeen for the system, as well as implementing a point-of-presence solution for data hosting requirements.This will give two Sun servers dedicated bandwidth onto the Internet as well as connecting to DMS’ Partnering Network through a tailored firewall infrastructure.The Partnering network is a secure managed data network service which allows transfer of and access to information between the majority of companies operating in the North Sea from both remote offshore sites and onshore locations.The Smart Card has been developed jointly by Oracle and CIS. The Vantage system will be administered by OPITO on behalf of the industry whilst the system hosting and connectivity are provided by DMS.||**||