HPC: Fueling Innovation in the Oil and Gas Industry

Note: This is the third and final blog in the Dell EMC HPC vertical blog series. For more information, visit past blogs on HPC in healthcare and manufacturing.

Oil and Gas

As the economic opportunities, demand and stakes continue to rise, the oil and gas industry attracts some of the leading scientific minds in the world. Gone are the days of intuition and trial and error in favor of incredibly advanced, sophisticated seismic exploration techniques that can pinpoint hydrocarbons with unprecedented accuracy. But the recent emphasis on more complex and challenging offshore and on-shore production has brought with it a new set of difficult seismic challenges. As the risks, rewards and global competition have ratcheted up, so too has the pressure on scientists to deliver even greater precision and ensure optimal production.

High performance computing (HPC) has played a critical role in oil and gas industry innovation for more than 30 years because the data sizes and physics computations are incredibly compute intensive. It seems that every seven or eight years additional compute, storage and network throughput capacity increases, so an algorithm that’s been laying around for a while can finally be put to use. Over the years, some truly incredible scientific discoveries have revolutionized oil and gas exploration. One of the earliest seismic migration methods, Kirchhoff Time Migration, required what was for that time great amounts of compute, but allowed us to “see” beneath the ground.  Then Kirchhoff depth migration came along providing even finer gradation producing HD-like images, and reverse time migration is allowing oil and gas companies to visualize what’s under salt with incredible accuracy, but these require 10 to 12 times more compute and data than any other techniques.

These rapidly evolving research and technical computing workloads are now pushing the limits of many HPC systems, creating severe computing bottlenecks and major performance issues. We are now also seeing data management and storage requirements becoming a concern for customers. With the integration of legacy Dell and legacy EMC portfolios, Dell EMC as a combined company has an even broader set of offerings designed to solve these customer challenges.

From workstations to large clusters, Dell EMC is proud to work with some of the world’s top oil and gas providers and some emerging ones to address all aspects of HPC, enabling them to scale by choosing with confidence when, where and how to integrate new HPC capabilities to complement or replace existing capacity. We ensure that all aspects of our oil and gas customers’ HPC systems are interconnected and impact their overall business success, performance and productivity. By looking at the whole system and these interconnections, our future-ready infrastructure of servers, storage and networking solutions ensures that HPC clusters are prepared for the new exploration technologies we all know are coming.

Some of these innovations focus on efficiency rather than exploration accuracy. For example, machine learning could have a huge impact on the industry and bring with it massive new compute demands. By learning how to perform certain difficult and expensive tasks such as seismic velocity modeling and automating those processes, computers could save oil and gas companies tremendous amounts of time and money.  Velocity Picking is expensive both in time and money during the flow of a seismic operation.  An auto-picker would shorten the time spent in the hands of geophysical technicians and would become another calculated portion of the job flow. Also, increased processing power can help eliminate redundant work to ensure better computing utilization, which is critical for profitability.

For oil and gas companies of all sizes, continued success in a volatile market will depend on innovation that only HPC can support. HPC in the cloud is gaining momentum so smaller companies can compete by handling huge jobs. As the scientists in the industry continue to develop breakthrough technologies at a breakneck pace that get us closer to the elusive goal of perfectly pinpointing oil and gas reserves, flexible and scalable HPC systems will be more critical than ever.

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About the Author: Ed Turkel

I've joined Dell's growing HPC team in the role of HPC Strategist, helping to develop Dell's evolving HPC Strategy, as Dell EMC increases its investments in this strategic and growing market.