by Tina Olivero

The Fibra Frontier: Equinor’s Tech Odyssey into Real-Time Well Monitoring


In the uncharted territories of innovative tech, the oil and gas exploration sector of Equinor is charting new frontiers with an arsenal of cutting-edge technology.

Welcome to the Fibra Frontier, where a small but dynamic team is revolutionizing real-time well monitoring, propelling the oil and gas industry into an era of unprecedented efficiency and cost savings.

High-Tech Hub in the Heart of Europe

Did you know that Equinor boasts one of the fastest computing clusters in all of Europe?

The Fibra team, stationed at the core of this technological marvel, orchestrates a symphony of 40 servers processing data from fiber optic cables embedded in the wells. What might seem like a routine operation takes on a groundbreaking significance when you realize it has already saved Equinor millions of NOK (Norwegian Krone) – and they’re just getting started.

The Fiber Optic Ballet Below the Surface

Imagine a dance of data beneath the ocean’s depths as oil and gas find their way from the reservoirs beneath Johan Sverdrup to the shores at Kårstø. How is this feat accomplished? Enter fiber optic cables, seamlessly integrated along the wells. Perched atop the well is an interrogator, a machine that sends laser pulses down the fiber. When the laser bounces back, it creates a back reflection, the cue for Fibra to shine. This revolutionary technology transforms these back reflections into usable, real-time data.

At this point, you might ask, “What makes Fibra so special?” It’s not just the data; it’s the staggering volume and speed at which it’s gathered. Picture constantly streaming 10,000 Netflix movies – that’s the magnitude of Fibra’s prowess. This amalgamation of high-speed performance computing and big data sets Equinor’s Fibra cluster among the fastest in Europe, making it a playground for innovation and a challenge to be reckoned with.

Speed is the Name of the Game

Lindvar Lægran, the Fibra team lead, emphasizes the need for speed in every aspect of their work. Processing data at a speed of approximately 5 GB/s requires every line of code to be meticulously optimized for performance. In the world of Fibra, a ‘canary test’ is conducted every 30 minutes to ensure that each line of code runs seamlessly millions of times per second.

The speed at which Fibra operates is not just a technical feat; it’s a mindset, a way of life. Espen Tjønneland, a Fibra developer, explains how the team’s code must be efficient enough to process data faster than it’s received. Fibra, in essence, is a continuous symphony of signal transformations and optimizations that demand meticulous attention to detail.

From Two Weeks to Two Seconds: A Data Revolution

An integral part of Fibra’s success lies in creating a standard for streaming fiber data. Previously, different suppliers had varied formats for their interrogators, causing delays in data processing. Fibra changed the game by becoming the “one system to rule them all,” allowing operators to view data a mere two seconds after collection. This monumental shift, facilitated by the use of Kafka and Kubernetes technologies, revolutionized Equinor’s approach to data access and decision-making.

Espen Tjønneland, the Fibra developer, points out that the system’s ability to choose the correct processing profile during an interrogation session is crucial. Fibra stores raw data but employs different algorithms to process various data flows, filtering for specific information based on the task at hand. The efficiency gains are immense, allowing Equinor to save resources, scale operations, and maximize hardware capabilities.

Edge Processing: The Need for Speed Beyond the Clouds

While the cloud is the go-to solution for many, the Fibra team quickly realized that it couldn’t deliver the speeds they needed. In response, Fibra embraced edge processing, using on-premises servers and hardware to achieve the required velocity. Ian Utbjoa, another Fibra developer, underscores the importance of scripting everything for ease of handling the infrastructure. Fibra’s need for speed goes beyond code; it involves working on infrastructure, implementing file readers for unconventional file systems, and delving into layers of technicality rarely explored.

Ian Utbjoa provides insight into the team’s multifaceted responsibilities, comparing their work to dissecting an old radio and understanding its intricacies. The need for speed, combined with a broad spectrum of responsibilities, makes working on Fibra a fascinating journey that goes beyond traditional software development.

Building, Deploying, and Automating: The Fibra Mindset

The Fibra team operates on the principle of scripting and “automating themselves out of a job.” While everyone in the team wears multiple hats, there are specialized areas of focus. Petter Kvamen Clausen, working on the lower layer of Fibra’s development, collaborates with technologies like Kubernetes, Docker, Helm charts, server operations, and Ansible. The emphasis on fault tolerance within servers ensures rapid rebuilding and restoration when needed.

Fibra, though not classified as business-critical, operates with the same level of diligence and precision. Petter highlights the importance of monitoring, using open-source tools like Prometheus and Grafana to keep a vigilant eye on operations. The aim is to deliver a stable product, ensuring that operators can depend on data availability even if Fibra isn’t classified as business-critical.

Fibra’s Economic Impact: Saving Millions with Swift Detection

Fiber optic cables and Fibra have already demonstrated their economic impact, with a remarkable example from Johan Sverdrup. Fibra played a crucial role in swiftly detecting a leak between two annuli, the void spaces between casings in the well. This early detection saved Johan Sverdrup from a two-day shutdown and additional diagnostics, resulting in a staggering savings of 40 million NOK.

Taber Hersum, the Fiber Optics project lead, acknowledges the impressive work done by the Fibra team, recognizing their creativity and perseverance. Taber, a geoscientist turned project leader for Fibra & Fotone, marvels at the stable and high-performing system the developers have built from scratch in just two years.

Today, Fibra is in use on Johan Sverdrup and Martin Linge. With fibers in over 35 wells currently under real-time monitoring and more installations in the pipeline, Fibra is becoming a cornerstone of Equinor’s technological prowess.

Fibra Light: A Glimpse into the Future

As the Fibra team continues to enhance and maintain the existing system, they’re not resting on their laurels. The next big innovation on their horizon is Fibra Light – a smaller, mobile version of Fibra designed to bring real-time monitoring to assets that might benefit from its capabilities. Espen Tjønneland details the vision behind Fibra Light, emphasizing its potential for intervention jobs and testing scenarios. This compact solution aims to make real-time well operation observation accessible to all assets with minimal effort and cost.

Building Fibra Light is not just about code; it involves tackling logistics and developing a solution that can seamlessly travel offshore without consuming excessive space. The team’s dedication to innovation, automation, and efficiency shines through in its commitment to bringing real-time monitoring capabilities to a broader spectrum of Equinor’s assets.

A Symphony of Speed, Innovation, and Savings

In the ever-evolving landscape of oil and gas exploration, Equinor’s Fibra project emerges as a beacon of innovation. The combination of cutting-edge technology, a forward-thinking team, and a commitment to automation has not only revolutionized real-time well monitoring but also resulted in substantial economic savings.

The Fibra team’s journey reflects the dynamic nature of technological advancement in the energy sector. Their ability to navigate challenges, automate processes, and push the boundaries of speed sets a standard for efficiency in the industry.

As Fibra continues to expand its footprint across Equinor’s operations, it symbolizes a commitment to harnessing the power of data for informed decision-making. The Fibra Frontier is not just about streaming data at unprecedented speeds; it’s about transforming the way the industry approaches real-time monitoring, ultimately driving cost-effective and sustainable practices.

In the grand narrative of Equinor’s technological odyssey, Fibra stands as a testament to the company’s ethos of embracing innovation, challenging conventions, and boldly venturing where few have gone before – into the depths below, where data dances through fiber optic cables, orchestrating a symphony of efficiency and savings in the heart of the Fibra Frontier. The future is here, and it’s streaming data at the speed of innovation.

Tina Olivero

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