The requirements I received to design and develop a new control center from our CEO, Steve Newby, and our COO, Rene Casadaban, were very direct and simple: It had to be functional, scalable, and industry leading. Having over 20 years of oil and gas experience, specifically in SCADA, and being involved with two other control center build-outs, I had plenty of ideas for achieving the functional and scalable aspects of the control room. Industry leading was going to pose some challenges.
Most CIOs are familiar with the vast majority of the technology that we utilize in the oil and gas industry. Our Wide Area Networks consist of a combination of leased lines, private cellular APNs, satellite Ethernet connections and internet VPN. We issue laptops and desktops similar to any other IT shop. If you stack on a few Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC), a SCADA system and a gas and liquids control center on top of that, you now have the full picture of Oil and Gas IT.
Last year, the Enterprise Technology department at Summit Midstream was presented with the unique opportunity to build a new control center from the ground up. During this design and build, we were able to work with technology that we had not previously had access to which made this one of the most interesting and exciting projects I had worked on in some time.
A typical Oil and Gas control center, at a high level, can be described as a room where controllers work around the clockto ensure safe and efficient operations of the company’s assets. They utilize a SCADA system to display operating metrics as well as critical data and alarms for the assets they monitor. All of this typically requires a large network of communications infrastructure. Summit’s control room is the central coordination and control point for all of our natural gas and liquids assets. From this location, our controllers monitor over 2,300 miles of pipeline and approximately 250,000 horsepower of compression in five states spread across three time zones. Our controllers are primarily tasked with ensuring that Summit operates its assets safely and effectively and within compliance of the Federal Control Room Management regulations.
One of the technology additions that we added to push our control center design to that industry leading line was to add a video wall that would provide big picture awareness for our controllers. Video walls are nothing new to our industry, but the way we implemented our video wall design, and the functionality we built into it, is industry leading.
Our video wall consists of a 4X4 (8 total) array of monitors in the center of the wall located at the front of our control center. The 4x4 array is primarily used for big picture awareness for our controllers. We provided some custom written applications and SCADA screens for our control center management to post items that are relevant to all desks in the control center. This video wall is not attached to a dedicated computer for display of its data. Instead, it is hooked to a Gefen Pro 32x32 professional grade video matrix switch. This matrix switch has 32 inputs and 32 outputs. If you think of it as hooking each one of its 32 inputs to a separate computer, and each output to a separate monitor, you can then display any one or all of the computers in any combination on the outputs. You can dedicate a single monitor to a single computer, or all monitors to a single computer. All at the touch of a button, after a little configuration. All of this was the result of working with our vendor Next Level Audio and Video (327next.com).
Our control desks run from 100% virtualized Microsoft Windows 7 computers using Microsoft virtualization technology. We use HP thin clients, each of which has multi-monitor capabilities up to four monitors and wireless mice capable of working up to 100 feet away. Our primary dedicated computer for the video wall big picture display is an HP workstation with a Matrox M9188 video card which supports display for a single computer on up to eight monitors. This workstation and each of the thin clients were plugged into the Gefen video matrix. This took care of all the current inputs.
The outputs were wired to our active control desks and our video wall. The switch was then programmed to push the video from the thin clients to our control desks and from the 8-way workstation to the video wall. We call this “normal” mode. We programmed the wall mounted touch screen that controls the matrix with two other modes, Desk 1 and Desk 2. These two modes will duplicate the displays on the respective desk on the main video wall. This setup is used for two purposes, emergencies that affect a desk and to assist with Federal Control Room Management (CRM) regulations around fatigue management.
If there is an emergency on a desk, our company has written into our CRM plan that only the controller and immediate control center management can approach the desk. Realizing that there are others outside of control center management thatneed to be involved in what is happening on the desk, we can set the wall to “emergency” or “single desk mode” which displays that desk’s monitor onto the video wall. This single desk mode also helps with fatigue management.
Part of the CRM regulations requires companies to take steps to mitigate controller fatigue resulting from their long shifts. Most of the companies that I’m familiar with have implemented exercise equipment physically in the control center, or in a nearby room. The primary issue expressed with this from the controllers is they do not like to leave their desks for extended periods. To help alleviate this concern, we installeda stand-alone treadmill with an attached desktop. We placed this in front of the video wall and the controllers can use the control pad to temporarily duplicate their desk on the wall and get a few minutes of walking in and still have all the functionality they have at their desk.
While the video matrix technology was new to us and enjoyable to work with, there are many other design attributes that went into our control center all centered around providing an extremely smooth and easy disaster recovery transition of our operations from our primary center to our backup center. This design allows the control center management to transfer their operation from primary to the DR center with no IT, SCADA or communications involvement. This is possible because of the design and the use of Microsoft Virtualization technology, HP thin clients, and a new cutting edge Shoretel SIP based phone system.