4-page Case Study
Posted: 6/12/2013
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Fielding Systems Service Provider Holds the Line on Costs and Expands Its Business with the Cloud

When your job requires miles of driving over back roads to check on oil wells too numerous to count, getting an alert on your mobile phone directing you to specific outages or hotspots is technology at its best. Fielding Systems, which provides field operations software to the oil and gas industry, chose to run all of its manual and remote field data collection and data analysis services on Windows Azure. By moving to Windows Azure, Fielding Systems can refocus and expand its business at a lower cost, while retaining all of the unique features of the original applications.

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* A field crew might have to drive 50 miles to visit 40 wells in one day. If we can send them a SQL Reporting report that tells them what to look for, that’s transformative. *

Shawn Cutter
CEO
Fielding Systems

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Situation

As an IT professional who grew up in his family’s oil production business, Shawn Cutter recognized an opportunity for using technology to improve field operations through improved data collection and efficient reporting. Many of the companies he consulted for relied on client-side databases and manual reports that had to be recompiled on a weekly basis. With his background in computer science, Cutter knew that better utilization of server technologies and a well-designed solution could be a game-changer in his industry. To realize this vision, he founded Fielding Systems, which supports customers in both the midstream and upstream oil and gas energy sectors across the US. The company launched its FieldVisor product in 2009.

“We offer manual as well as unattended data collection and reporting capabilities that rival the software systems of the global oil and gas producers," says Cutter. "FieldVisor uses Bing maps to display the entire operation. Customers can drill down to specific fields, wells, or pumps to access reports about their field operations. ”

For FieldVisor, data is collected by field crews on site. Field operators who don't have a background in technology or reporting can use FieldVisor to immediately identify problems or opportunities in their operations, minus the sophisticated data cleansing, data manipulation, and report automation that FieldVisor provides.

Fielding Systems also launched ScadaVisor in 2009. The application automates data collection by polling remote devices equipped with sensors, at intervals configured by the customer.

dashboard screenshot
Dashboards open with a Bing map of the entire field operation
Data is polled from flow computers and sensors on wells. Because it’s polling data from devices, data collection is intensive and rich. The application can produce very detailed reports showing daily or hourly flows, or ones that show trends for the same pump or field that span a year. Alarm notification, another ScadaVisor feature, provides instant notification whenever pump output changes.

For both applications, data is pushed to the cloud, stored in customer databases, and then delivered to reports that are either viewed on demand or on a schedule. Reporting is the cornerstone of both products. “Our services are about both measurement and analysis”, explains Cutter. “What you measure can be reflected in a report in a way that lets our customers instantly recognize problems and opportunities in their operation.”

A great solution in search of a new home

Initially, Fielding Systems hosted the first generation of services in an in-house data center using on-premises servers to host the applications. As business grew, however, the cost and complexity of managing the data center felt like a distraction from the core business that Cutter originally envisioned.

“We designed our applications to be software as a service, so going to the cloud was never a question. For us, the migration decision was primarily about getting away from managing our own data center so that we could refocus on our business."

Fielding Systems briefly considered other cloud services, but they chose to implement the Windows Azure platform, including services like SQL Database and SQL Reporting. The existing applications could be adapted to Windows Azure without loss of capability. Preserving the existing investment in SQL Server and the Windows platform made sense both technically and financially.

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* At Fielding Systems, everything we do is hosted on Windows Azure—SQL Database, SQL Reporting, Compute Instances, Service Bus, AppFabric—almost anything Windows Azure offers we use somewhere in our product offering. *

Shawn Cutter
CEO
Fielding Systems

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Solution

From the start, Fielding Systems envisioned FieldVisor and ScadaVisor as multi-tenant service applications that would be maintained and managed from a central hosting environment. Each customer signs in using a private logon that connects to a single-tenant database. The logon is matched with application settings that determine which oil fields, wells, devices, personnel, and reports appear in the dashboard. Customers choose how often to poll devices, and which reports to receive.

Reports have always been essential to both applications, so having SQL Reporting as part of the Windows Azure platform was a key requirement. “Reports are foundational to both of our applications,” says Cutter. “We have summary reports, exception reports, even a master report that covers the entire operation.” The company maintains a single inventory of reports as part of its application suite. To avoid deep customization, the development team uses report parameters to add customer-specific information from the connection string. The reports then run dynamically, returning data for each customer.

Not all of the functionality needed for the solution was readily available on the platform. However, the development team was able to substitute custom modules to make up for the missing pieces. For instance, the team created its own report scheduler that delivers a fully executed and rendered report via email. Explains Cutter, “Most of our customers know exactly which reports they want and when they need to see it. Getting a scheduled report is convenient and eliminates time spent waiting for a report to render in a browser.”

Although the new versions of FieldVisor and ScadaVisor took advantage of much of the existing codebase, the development phase was not without its challenges.

The six-month migration to Windows Azure forced the entire team to think about optimization, especially at the database level. Shortcuts taken in the original application suite, such as a missing index or a poorly written SQL query, had to be addressed in the migration process. Shortcuts that might have gone unnoticed in an on-premises server application mattered more in the cloud because it affected performance and the user experience. As Cutter notes, “Scalability is entirely dependent on architecture and design”.

“We understood that we were developing at the bleeding edge of technology and adding components almost in lockstep with the Azure production release. Looking back, many of the changes that were required to get the application running on Azure has made our solution a much more resilient and scalable application.”

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* With SQL Reporting, we provide information that lets a business be proactive. Suppose a well is under producing. If you can compare week over week, or month over month, it’s not going to be possible for problems like this to slip through the cracks. *

Shawn Cutter
CEO
Fielding Systems

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Benefits

Moving to Windows Azure helped Fielding Systems walk away from escalating costs and administrative overhead. The advantages of migrating to Windows Azure have been well worth the effort.

Achieves Cost-Effective Scalability

Cost control was the primary driver behind Windows Azure adoption. Notes Cutter, “What we spend on Azure hosting, our biggest competitor spends on network administration alone, not to mention the capital expense of the servers and equipment.”

Cloud hosting allows for tighter coupling between customer demand and the hardware required to support that load. The company can scale up or reduce capacity as-needed, knowing that the hardware investment snaps to the arc of the business cycle.

The implications of pay-as-you-go are forward-reaching, resulting in a pricing model based on usage. Customers pay only for the number of fields, wells, or devices for which data collection, storage, and reporting activity are provided. Fielding Systems can offer this pricing model because it is able to control those same costs on the back end.

Maintains Critical Application Functions

For Fielding Systems, maintaining application functionality was a necessity. Centralized reports and automated workflows help make the solution what it is, and none of those features could be left behind. Having a single inventory of reports is part of a larger strategy that lets the company grow its customer base with few disruptions and minimal costs.

Builds on Experience

Having an equal footing in both technology and the oil and gas industry has allowed the company to draw from both foundations. Knowing how to use specific features to best advantage—such as which rendering formats work best on smaller devices, or how to optimize queries for fast performance—is almost as important as knowing what a report should contain and how information should be visualized. The ability to refine and iterate over the reports is simplified on Windows Azure because everything is stored in one central location.

Reduces Downtime by 50 Percent

The company wanted to offload hosting, but not at the expense of reliability. Since the migration, reliability has actually improved, cutting downtime by half in the first year.

Boosts Availability Worldwide

Having data centers around the world has opened up new ways to strengthen the business. The company is currently building out support for disaster recovery scenarios that include failover to other data centers in Europe and Asia.

Looking ahead, Shawn Cutter is excited about upside potential of an international customer base. “While we are focused on the US market at this time, we get calls from companies located throughout the world. Windows Azure will give us the ability to tap those markets as the company grows and expands into other regions. Geo-replication and global scalability allows Fielding Systems to offer a platform that inherently supports something that a hosted system can’t natively support. By building a platform on Azure, we get this capability without further investment. “

Windows Azure

With Windows Azure, you can quickly build, deploy, and manage applications across a global network of Microsoft-managed data centers. You can build applications using any operating system, language, or tool.

For more information, please visit www.windowsazure.com.

For more information about Microsoft products and services, call the Microsoft Sales Information Center at (800) 426-9400. In Canada, call the Microsoft Canada Information Centre at (877) 568-2495. Customers in the United States and Canada who are deaf or hard-of-hearing can reach Microsoft text telephone (TTY/TDD) services at (800) 892-5234. Outside the 50 United States and Canada, please contact your local Microsoft subsidiary. To access information using the World Wide Web, go to:

www.microsoft.com

For more information about Fielding Systems products and services, call (877) 987-4823 or visit the website at: http://www.fieldingsystems.com/default.aspx

This case study is for informational purposes only. MICROSOFT MAKES NO WARRANTIES, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, IN THIS SUMMARY.
Solution Overview



Organization Size: 10 employees

Organization Profile

Fielding Systems provides innovative, cloud-based software solutions for midstream and upstream companies in the oil and gas industry. Based in Tampa, Florida, the company has 10 employees.


Business Situation

At Fielding Systems, business was booming, but so were the demands of running an in-house data center. Hosting the service applications internally was both costly and time-consuming.


Solution

The company migrated the product suite to Windows Azure. This helped the company focus on its core business while laying the groundwork for further expansion into new markets.


Benefits

  • Achieves cost-effective scalability
  • Maintains application critical functions
  • Builds on experience
  • Reduces downtime by 50 percent
  • Boosts availability worldwide


Software and Services
  • Microsoft Azure
  • Microsoft Azure SQL Reporting
  • Microsoft Azure SQL Database

Vertical Industries
Life Sciences, Chemicals; Oil & Gas, Mining

Country/Region
United States

Business Need
Business Intelligence and Reporting

IT Issue
  • Cloud Services
  • High Availability

Languages
English

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