Using the cloud offers operators an edge in managing global business operations.

By definition, cloud computing is agile and flexible, and as it gains acceptance in the oil and gas sector, it is transforming how international companies do business.

Jay Crotts, vice president of IT services for Shell, told attendees at the 8th annual Microsoft Global Energy Forum in Houston on January 18 that Shell is using the cloud to increase business value through high levels of business integration.

The need for the cloud was obvious, Crotts said, with Shell active in 90 countries and employing 101,000 full-time employees using 140,000 desktop computers.

In determining to implement the cloud, Shell identified four significant advantages to operations: speed, agility, cost, and scale.

There are many concerns for oil and gas companies considering using the cloud, including:
• Security and privacy
• Performance
• Technical immaturity
• Regulatory compliance
• Integration
• Lock-in/service costs
• Cost of implementation/ROI
• Uptime
• Skills
Shell evaluated these concerns thoroughly before implementation, identifying three significant concerns of its own: extending security, global regulation, and service integration.

“Though it is still early days, and we’ve got a ways to go,” Crotts said, “we’ve had great initial success in implementing the cloud at Shell.”

Crotts explained how Shell is using what he called a “hybrid cloud” to advantage. The hybrid cloud combines traditional and cloud computing, he explained, listing Shell’s hybrid cloud components as infrastructure as a service, platform as a service, and software as a service.

The biggest challenge, according to Crotts, is not the cloud itself. The challenge is in making sure there is a consistent environment internally. “If I had one hope over the next few years, it would be conformity and consistency of solutions integration,” he said.

Crotts discussed some of the obstacles overcome in implementing the hybrid cloud at Shell, noting that it is important to “fail fast and fail small,” to be sure to use “the right cloud for the right task,” and to give serious consideration to standardization and innovation.

“Be willing to do things differently,” Crotts said, “but be sure you have the stewardship the IT group can provide. Not everything ‘virtualizes’ well.”

With all of the potential pitfalls taken into account, Crotts is satisfied that moving to the cloud was the right decision for Shell. “I think the cloud is ready,” he said.

As Crotts put it, the best solutions are fast, good, and cheap, but it is unusual to achieve more than two of these objectives. The cloud could change that. “You actually could achieve that nirvana goal of fast, good, and cheap,” he said.

In implementing the cloud, Shell has facilitated both internal and external collaboration. “We want to be the company that’s easiest to deal with,” Crotts said. “We want to be the most innovative energy company in the world.”