UK Firm Drills Down With WAFS

Drilling barges spread around the world give remote office a new meaning

November 24, 2005

3 Min Read
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Despite a proliferation of storage and networking products for remote offices, offshore drilling contractor Seacores offices were a bit too remote for most.

At least that was the case in 2003 when Seacore searched for software that would speed data transmission from its barges back to corporate headquarters. The U.K.-based company’s offices often consist of jack-up barges -- platforms transported to sea by freighters and quickly set up for drilling. Seacore has nine of these barges along with four ships, and three offices in the U.K. Current barges are set up as far away as Tahiti and New Zealand.

The problem is getting data gathered from these barges back to shore. Broadband isn’t an option. “Occasionally we access the Internet over a satellite link, but mostly we transmit over mobile phone,” IT manager Paul Letchford says.

Seacore didn’t even have broadband at its headquarters in the village of Gweek in Cornwall until this year. Yet transmitting data between its barges and offices in Gweek, London, and Warwick is crucial to the business. Letchford says waiting for data for a few hours can cause costly delays in offshore construction and exploration projects.

The engineers at Seacore use laptops connected via mobile phones, which sometimes ratchet down to as little as 9.6 baud. Considering their applications include AutoCAD and the larger ships run SQL Server, Seacore needed to find a reliable and efficient way to transmit data.Seacore began by looking at mirroring software from Veritas as well as a few emerging vendors. “We evaluated six or seven players, virtually everyone we could get our hands on,” Letchford says. "Everyone who came past our noses, we looked at. Everyone walked away from the game after hearing what we were trying to do.”

Letchford eventually found Availl, which tried to solve his problem with an early version of what it was calling data mirroring software. (See Availl Updates Data Mirroring Software.) Today Availl is known as a wide area file services (WAFS) vendor, but nobody was using the term WAFS two years ago. (See Availl Touts WAFS System, WAFS vs WAN Optimization: No Contest, and Watch Out for WAFS.) After early problems with latency, Letchford found his solution.

“Availl was willing to work with us,” Letchford says. “At first it didn’t work very well. It worked, but not brilliantly. But they’ve made changes and now it works well.”

Letchford wouldn't disclose how much the company spent, but Availl pricing starts at $1,995; Seacore is using the software on three servers in its offices and at 13 remote locations.

Availl deals with latency by transferring byte-level changes in files, which eliminates most of the bandwidth requirements. But the most significant change according to Letchford concerns the way Availl handles interrupted data transfers.“Files keep trying,” he says. “What happens is the file doesn’t give up. Even if broken into hundreds of parts, it keeps going until the file gets through. If the file’s broken, it doesn’t start again from the beginning, it carries on where it left off.

“Now we’ve got a nice system that seems to be doing its job even over the slowest connections. We’re still mostly using mobile phones, and can get our data back and forth quite reliability.“

— Dave Raffo, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

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