Hunting oil with seismic survey data

WEYBRIDGE, Surrey: As you pull up to Petroleum Geo-Services' 'megacentre', it’s hard not to wonder how many tapes have made the same trip. The datacentre, located in an old office block once known was 'The Heights', is one of three worldwide data processing hubs, called 'megacentres', run by Petroleum Geo-Services (PGS).

WEYBRIDGE, Surrey: As you pull up to Petroleum Geo-Services' 'megacentre', it’s hard not to wonder how many tapes have made the same trip.

The datacentre, located in an old office block once known was 'The Heights', is one of three worldwide data processing hubs, called 'megacentres', run by Petroleum Geo-Services (PGS). The other two are in Houston, Texas in the US and Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia.

The Weybridge megacentre's role in life is to process complicated geological data, taken from the bottom of the ocean by PGS's worldwide fleet of 16 seismic survey vessels, to divine the location of oil beneath the earth's crust.

ZDNet UK datacentre tour

Petroleum Geo-Services' megacentre processes complicated geological data to find oil.

The facility has been under strain recently due to two geographically distinct but equally disruptive world events: the internet shutdown in Egypt knocked out a Cairo processing hub, and brutal storms sweeping across America temporarily took down the Houston megacentre.

"It is 'lunatic fringe' computing," Mike Turff, PGS's global service delivery manager told me. PGS's kit — mostly one rack unit (1U) servers from Dell PowerEdge, with some IBM — runs batch processing jobs at a typical load of around 15W per rack, crunching data scanned from the earth's crust.

PGS needed an efficient datacentre to claw back margin from the electricity-hungry servers, Turff said, so it had design and build datacentre specialists Keysource construct the Weybridge datacentre in 2008. Its most recent annualised power usage effectiveness (PUE) score was 1.148, while its main processing hall ranked at 1.127.

"It's the power density and power cost which begins to become a very large part of your operating costs, and that is why we went for a datacentre like this. We didn't want the cheapest datacentre, we wanted the cheapest total cost of ownership over a 10-year period," Turff said. "It's been remarkably trouble free, but when you design it from scratch, it's a lot easier than datacentres that are very old."

The main processing hall uses a free air-cooling system to cut down on power costs. "We do keep expecting that we're going to have to do something better than air cooling, but at present the Intel and AMD [chip] architectures are still valid for air cooling," Turff told me.

Unlike many datacentres, the megacentre does not have a backup generator. Because of the way PGS operates as a business, it doesn't need to guarantee uptime in the same way as major hosting companies do, Turff told me, so it didn’t want to bear the cost of a dedicated backup generator. "They're batch-processing jobs," he said. Because of this, PGS does not run with an uptime target, but uses utilisation as a metric instead. "The target is 95 percent of our production hardware running at any one time," he said.

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