Petroleum Research and Exploration
Amerada Hess's 3-D Rendering of Seismic Images

As reported in Computerworld in May 1999, Amerada Hess developed an application using Linda for Red Hat Linux that makes it possible for geologists to render detailed 3-D seismic images of sub-sea formations. The application was moved from an IBM SP2 to a 32-node Linux cluster, a move that saves Hess nearly $2M, according to Vic Forsyth, Amerada Hess's Houston-based manager of geophysical systems. "Without Linda, a rewrite would have been required that would have delayed implementation by months," said Forsyth.

The $130,000 Beowulf system performs the task in about the same time - two weeks - as the 32-node IBM SP2 system running AIX that the company paid $2 million to lease for three years. Though the company could have saved at least hundreds of thousands of dollars by opting to set up Windows NT clusters, porting its Unix rendering application would have been a huge chore, Forsyth said. The application is about 2 million lines of code and might have taken years to rewrite for Windows, he said. "We thought about that for three nanoseconds."

As strategic as oil exploration is for companies, it isn't a sacred cow when budgets must be brought in line, said Steve Enger, an oil industry analyst at Petrie Parkman & Co. in Denver. "The companies have been working pretty diligently, in some cases for many years, to try to reduce costs," he said.

There are benefits beyond the cost difference, Forsyth said. Amerada Hess owns the hardware rather than leases it, can now sublease the SP2, can upgrade each node in the Linux cluster with more commodity components and can eventually salvage each node for use in a PC after an upgrade.

Meanwhile, he said, Amerada Hess can reinvest its savings in buying better seismic data, which can in turn produce more accurate images, which increase the company's chance of finding oil.
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