Case study: Seadrill migrates in-house datacentre to virtual private cloud in six months

Offshore drilling company Seadrill moved its in-house datacentre in Norway to HP's virtual private cloud infrastructure in the UK in six months

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When Seadrill, the offshore drilling company, decided to move its headquarters from Norway to London in December 2012, its IT team had six months to plan, design and execute its new infrastructure before the Norway datacentre – its infrastructure hub – went offline.

The company’s main datacentre was at its office premises in Stavanger, Norway, managed by an external datacentre services provider. It also had several server rooms and small IT hubs at its regional offices in oil and natural gas-rich areas such as Dubai, Singapore, Brazil, Thailand and the UK.

“When we decided to relocate the main office to London, we had to decide whether to build our own datacentre or to outsource it,” says Richard Du Plessis, vice-president and CIO of Seadrill. 

The IT team had to plan and execute its IT strategy quickly, as the main datacentre in Norway was scheduled to be switched off in June 2013. “We realised we did not have much time to build our own datacentre, so we decided to outsource it,” says Du Plessis. 

The team launched a request for proposals for IT procurement, and then evaluated suppliers including IBM, Capgemini, HP, BT and the company which managed its Norwegian datacentre. Seadrill already had IT contracts with IBM and Capgemini, but in this case it opted for HP’s private cloud infrastructure.

The easiest option would have been to continue with the existing datacentre supplier or to host Seadrill’s datacentre infrastructure with existing IT supplier IBM, says Du Plessis. “But when we went through the evaluation process, HP’s services stood out among others for our needs.”

Cloud-based infrastructure increases IT and financial flexibility

The IT team wanted a managed datacentre hosting provider, but HP suggested its virtual private cloud suite to Seadrill. The decision to go with virtual private cloud was a strategic one. A virtual private cloud is the logical division of a service provider's public cloud multi-tenant architecture to support private cloud computing in a public cloud environment.

“Seadrill is a divestment-oriented and M&A-intensive company. We are in the fast-evolving sector of oil and natural gas, which means new exploration areas, new drilling projects and new technologies,” says Du Plessis.

More on migrating from datacentre to cloud

A cloud-based infrastructure will increase the company's IT and financial flexibility. “In an in-house datacentre, we cannot downsize and have to pay for the full capacity. But in case of a cloud infrastructure, we don’t have to pay for capacity that we will not use in case of a divestiture,” he says.

But why HP’s virtual private cloud services? The IT team knew that all applications must be fully virtualised under a private cloud infrastructure, but it had several legacy applications which don’t lend themselves well to a virtualised environment. Rather than the standard cloud offering available from many suppliers, it needed a service that could be customised.

A small degree of flexibility in the cloud services that could accommodate its legacy applications was one of the main criteria for the new infrastructure. HP allowed minor reconfiguration of the private cloud suite to accommodate Seadrill’s legacy apps and physical databases.

The cost of the service was another criterion. “When we looked at the overall business case, and not just the cost of HP’s virtual private cloud, HP emerged to be better and cheaper,” says Du Plessis.

Seadrill also continued its IT contracts with IBM and Capgemini. While the main datacentre is hosted within HP’s private cloud infrastructure, IBM continues to maintain Seadrill’s applications across all its regional offices and Capgemini looks after the IT infrastructure at its oil rig locations.

Overcoming networking and licensing challenges

The IT team started the migration in February 2013. “The actual project execution time was just four months,” says Du Plessis.

An IT army of 25 professionals began the migration with help from HP’s team. But there were some lessons to learn.

Changing the WAN infrastructure was a tricky process, as was virtual private network (VPN) connectivity between Seadrill's regional offices and HP’s cloud infrastructure in the UK, according to Du Plessis. Seadrill migrated the WAN infrastructure from Verizon in Norway to BT in the UK.

“Networking turned out to be the most challenging element of the IT to move,” he says.

But that was not all. There were a few application setup issues because of the nature of the legacy applications, so Seadrill chose to keep its databases hosted on physical servers instead of the private cloud.

Most of Seadrill’s databases are Oracle ones, so the IT team had to factor in the licensing complexities during the migration from its Stavanger-based datacentre to HP’s virtual private cloud.

“Oracle’s licensing and pricing in Norway was not beneficial to us and we used the new infrastructure project as an opportunity to renegotiate Oracle licensing,” he says.

I expected cloud products to be more rigid, so I was pleasantly surprised to learn that it can be tweaked to accommodate our legacy applications

Richard De Plessis, Seadrill

To avoid complexities, the IT team moved from a processor-based licensing setup to a user-based licensing setup for its cloud infrastructure in the UK. “The Oracle UK team was very flexible and the user-based licensing works for us now,” he says. 

Just recently, Seadrill moved the Oracle BI and ERP databases back to physical infrastructure to avoid setup issues.

As strategic cloud migration to minimise disruption

“We wanted to minimise user disruption, and we did not want to complicate things by moving process area applications in splits,” says Du Plessis. This meant the IT team had to plan the migration strategically, so it readied all applications of human resource (HR) systems to migrate in one go, and did likewise for financial applications.  

While the private cloud infrastructure in the UK has been operating since July 2013, Du Plessis and his team are still ironing out application and network issues. “It should all be sorted soon, and then we can move to longer-term application architectural review,” he says. The review will help the IT to slowly phase out legacy applications and have all elements of IT ready for the cloud.

In addition to cost savings on IT resources and a more agile and flexible infrastructure, Seadrill has seen other benefits.

“Although it is early days, we have not experienced any downtime like the latest AWS [Amazon Web Services] glitch that affected Netflix and Instagram,” he says.  

“I expected cloud products to be more rigid, so I was pleasantly surprised to learn that it can be tweaked to accommodate our legacy applications.”

Du Plessis says the technology to move datacentre infrastructure to cloud has become very sophisticated. “It is much easier today. All my previous datacentre consolidation and migration projects have been a lot harder and more expensive and involved bigger teams,” he says.

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