Suncor centralizes applications over wide-area network of 4,000 Pcs

While the fluctuating price of gas is a point of contention for most car owners, it’s also frustrating for oil and gas executives who want to cut operating costs — particularly in an industry where custom applications don’t come cheap.

“”The cost of operation is everything because obviously we

cannot control the cost of a barrel of oil,”” says Doug Pelton, project manager with Calgary-based Suncor Energy. “”But we can control or we can work hard on controlling what it costs to produce one.””

Suncor is focused on developing Canada’s Athabasca oil sands. It has four major business divisions and more than 4,000 employees. It needed to upgrade its operating system to Windows XP and Office 2003, but decided to take things a step further.

It hired Toronto-based systems integrator Charon Systems to deploy Softricity’s SoftGrid application virtualization platform for its locations in Canada and the U.S. The rollout, which is expected to be complete on Dec. 10, will not only cut costs, but also centralize about 1,000 applications on 4,000 desktops.

“”The pressure in today’s environment is such that we need to upgrade or patch our various applications very frequently,”” Pelton says, adding patches “”became an onerous task.””

Deployment time to be cut from 40 to four hours

Suncor expects to cut its operating costs by about a third, and Pelton says these cost savings will carry into the future. “”So the next time — and there will be a next time in three or four years when we’re going to want to go to whatever Microsoft gives us next — a good chunk of the cost of that has already been borne by this project.””

Some of the cost savings will come through the elimination of desk-side support; 80 per cent of problems on a desktop are software-related, so those problems can be fixed by redelivering the application to that desktop remotely.

SoftGrid will help Suncor to deploy and manage applications on both desktops and Citrix servers, reducing the time it takes to deploy applications from 40 to four hours (on average).

“”We were aware that they had some major issues on their Citrix farm in terms of needing to silo applications,”” says Andis Bergsma, enterprise account manager with Charon Systems. “”They were running a couple hundred applications on a Citrix farm, quite a number of which didn’t play nicely together.”” By virtualizing applications, all of that goes away, he says.

Combining departments will be a lot less painful

“”You not only eliminate the application conflict but you’re able to do pretty significant server consolidation as well.””

Applications are essentially turned into data files, which can make them easier to manage. Not only does this reduce WAN traffic, but it also allows Suncor’s IT department to update applications for the entire organization with one change to its central SoftGrid server.

“”They’re on the acquisition trail to purchase additional refineries, so when you acquire another company, to integrate the initial staff on an IT level is a big and difficult task normally,”” he says.

But he adds the integration will be “”a lot less painful now,”” because they can wipe desktops clean and stream the new application sets from head office.

Suncor’s Pelton believes the technology will increase the reliability of its workstations and make them easier to service and support when there is a problem. But he says it was a challenge to convince people this was a good idea. “”There’s a fair amount of skepticism and nobody likes change and this is, from an architectural perspective, a dramatic change,”” he says.

“”I think it’s a learning curve for the organization to move to a common infrastructure so they can share that infrastructure and deploy applications,”” says David Fung, president and chief executive officer of Charon Systems.

“”We basically have to educate a whole group of people within Suncor and help them learn the new technology and how to deploy the applications from a shared infrastructure.

“”The issue comes down to ownership: If the application isn’t underneath my desk in my server in my office, I’m a bit skeptical. But what we’re trying to say is, if we’re all connected then why would you care where the application is residing?””

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Vawn Himmelsbach
Vawn Himmelsbach
Is a Toronto-based journalist and regular contributor to IT World Canada's publications.

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