Increased complexity requires simplified management

Placing intelligence at the network's edge. A simple idea and one that's increasingly vital for the business efficiency of all companies involved in the exploration and production of natural resources. The result, however, is an increasingly complex communications landscape with multiple suppliers delivering multiple services across multiple sites. Roger Mandeville, Project Manager at Datasat Communications discusses how an organisation can ensure the quality of service it needs while minimising the management overhead involved.

Tuesday 13th May 14

There's little doubt that the days of simple SCADA-based monitoring and basic voice and data access at remote sites are a long way behind us. The rate of advances in mine automation are astounding. A team thousands of miles away can now study real time video footage to determine exactly where to drill. Event or alert-based CCTV networks are commonplace to improve both asset and people protection. 

Technology suppliers have, for years, talked about the need to extend the corporate network into the remote site. We are quickly reaching just that situation. In the Oil and Gas sector, the 'Digital Oil Field' may not yet quite be a reality but the capability to deliver rich, real time data for improved operational efficiencies and decision-making is with us today.

Yet that doesn't mean we've solved the last mile connectivity challenge on which the remote communications industry has been built. Almost the opposite. We've developed new technologies to meet our needs. WiFi, WiMax, microwave, cellular have all joined our old faithful, satellite. Satellite itself has been given a shot in the arm with increased throughput and bandwidth at a reducing cost.  Even fibre is getting in on the act. All to support a growing number of intelligent end-point devices at the network edge.

Although satellite is regarded as a shrinking market with the increasing installation of fibre, it is still a hugely viable option for providing reliable communications and it is often used as a back up for fibre and other connectivity options for remote sites. It can also offer bandwidth sharing across multiple site locations and provide a single point connection for Internet, voice and other services.

This only adds to the fact that the variety of options available is expanding and, with it, the number of suppliers there to deliver solutions for the different requirements of remote sites.

Many organisations are now managing a growing portfolio of communications suppliers delivering individual network services. The inherent problem is not only the hidden costs associated with this, but the need to interface a variety of equipment and then manage all the suppliers involved with it. Even when a service is running effectively the implications of a service failure can be frustrating and costly when trying to establish the cause of the failure and where the responsibility lies to resolve the issue. 

Let's take an example. A mining company has multiple sites. It manages its communications on a site by site basis. As each new site comes online, it selects a range of local suppliers. This may be expedient and cost-effective in the short term  but the scenario soon becomes overly complex to manage. If we accept that the last mile connection will involve multiple technologies, we're adding more layers of complexity and becoming over-reliant on the skills of local suppliers – which are likely to vary greatly site to site. This is a situation that can only ever result in a lack of resilience and increased costs by having to provide secondary systems to cover any potential failure in the prime connection. Moreover, the corporate communications strategy of the company cannot be consistently applied across its sites.

Remote communities – whether a business entity (a mining site or drilling platform), a village or a farming community all look to have their communications delivered in an effective, reliable and secure way. Once a site is connected the issue becomes one of service distribution and the addition of any site services required by individual users.

Datasat Communications became aware of these requirements some time ago and, using its experience of the communications marketplace, has developed product offerings that cover many of the terrestrial requirements – such as Internet distribution using 802.11 wireless, security and surveillance systems such as high definition camera and camera analytics, video distribution and voice services as well as support for access control and biometrics, and process and production management systems.

The development of these services has been driven by a recognition that an organisation cannot receive all its business, operational, production and workforce infotainment requirements from a single supplier. Instead it needs an ecosystem of  complementary communications solutions that provides the capability for a single point of management. This gives the company only one supplier contact - and significantly reduces the day to day network management burden – while still retaining control of their network priorities and performance.

Datasat Communications has developed close partnerships over the years with other communication companies in order to provide a comprehensive 'single source' communications solution for the natural resources industries. As increased focus is placed on remote management and automation, the need for high performance, reliable and cost-effective communications infrastructure is clear. Selecting a complete solution for a single communications supplier can't reduce the complexity of a modern remote network but it can deliver real benefit in simplifying its management.