This is the Gate-way
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What does it take to upgrade an old tool that’s now helping us save millions? An eagerness to learn new technology. Here's how the Gate team did it.
When gas traders make decisions on what markets Equinor sells to or where to adjust production, they get decision support from a mathematical model named sing. Until now, this data was presented in a standard dashboard application.
While it got the job done, the times are a-changin’ and more functionality is needed. Which is why Gate has seen the light of day.
“Gate visualizes data in a way that makes it much easier for traders to get an overview of a rather complex gas portfolio. It also offers tailor made support on decisions connected to flow and production levels."
Eivind is the team lead for the merry band of 8 and has been part of the team since May of 2019. That’s when work on Gate started, but it’s been something that’s been talked about and requested for many moons.
A production time of a little over a year isn’t all that impressive you say? It is if you count the fact that no one in the team had any experience working with Microsoft Azure cloud technology.
“We’ve built a new web app and backend entirely from scratch, while also teaching ourselves new tech along the way. While Equinor encourages teams to do so, it’s not a given that everyone does. It’s been incredible to see how the team worked together on this."
Are you, like us, curious to find out what they’ve done and how’d they do it? And what tech went into solving this kind of challenge? Then you’re in luck - it’s time to find out!
This is Gate
Taking flight into the cloud
While Gate is the new app the team developed, they’ve also been working on supporting Sing - the mathematical model that delivers the data visualized in Gate. Sing is a collaboration with SINTEF and has been our good friend for close to 15 years.
Developers are just like people - they come and go, so naturally Sing has had its fair share of different ways of solving things and technical debt.
“We knew that we would face some challenges when moving everything over, but we also knew that we would be able to upgrade everything and have it done properly - and that it would be worth it in the end,” Tom Arne Sivertsen explains.
“I’m sure we could have gotten the job done faster by sticking to the tech we already knew. However, that strategy would leave us behind technology-wise and we’d end up with a product that wasn’t built for the future."
Tom Arne Sivertsen
Tom Arne works as a business analyst and developer and works close with the business areas that use the tools that rely on Sing data. It was when he heard that updates from Sing were a little slow and sometimes left users with questions, that the idea to redo it all was sparked.
“We believed, and still do, that if we could create a more interactive tool, we would be able to make even better use of the data,” Tom Arne says.
“We quickly realized that if we wanted to help make the decision-making process flow better, we had no choice but to do it as a web application in the cloud."
Tom Arne Sivertsen
Fixing speed and security
While working on Gate, the team had two main challenges: speed and security. Gate takes data from the Sing model and displays them in different windows. With Sing delivering updates almost constantly, they’re going to need some power to help them out.
“One of the first windows we created, called Overview, was simply put extremely slow. But during a course I picked up on different ways of caching that we ended up trying,” Rune Kristiansen Kvamme explains.
Rune has worked on Gate as an architect and has been a part of the Sing-team for 5+ years. When receiving new data from Sing, the data is immediately prepared for display and placed in a distributed cache. This way, when users request new data, it’s returned instantly:
“Users now see updated data from Sing about a millisecond after they’re posted. The experience our users have of instantly seeing fresh, updated data is crucial for this kind of work."
Rune Kristiansen Kvamme
Data visualizations in Gate aren’t for the world to see and security was a priority. Extra measures were taken to make sure the data stays as secure in the cloud as it’s always been. They’ve researched different options, tried out various ways of testing and spent a lot of time discussing with security experts, developer Audun A. Sæther explains.
“The challenge is that you don’t really know if safety measures work or not until they don’t. It’s more on a theoretical level, and not just a simple graph that pops up and tells you right away if you did a good job or not,” he says.
Architecture is critical
Audun Arnessønn Sæther is the youngest addition to the team and joined them after graduating 3 years ago. Before joining, he was a little worried that he might have to spend all his time on just supporting legacy applications.
He was new to Azure technology as well, and a natural place to look for answers was Microsoft’s own documentation. But discussions with the rest of the team were just as fruitful.
“Thankfully, I got to take part in building something new entirely from scratch as well. It’s a different way of working than just developing an existing app, and really exciting to be part of."
Audun Arnessønn Sæther
“They have a lot of IT experience and we made a good team in discussing possible solutions, especially in terms of the bigger questions like architecture,” he says.
Solving the architecture issues were crucial, especially when Gate is so heavily based on the different windows that display data, Rune says.
“Having good architecture is crucial, and a big part in deciding how easy it is to expand or not. We can’t afford to “get lost” in the code when adding more windows, as it would mean that development would take much longer,” he explains.
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Building blocks for the future
We’ve heard with the developers themselves, but what’s it like to be one of the people who are going to use Gate in their daily work? We struck up a conversation with Griff Owens, one of our London-based gas traders, to find out.
He tells us that just by logging in and opening up Gate he quickly gets an overview.
"Gate shows me with a casual glance a complete picture of the current state of play with the Norwegian Continental Shelf; and if I need a more detailed view that’s easily available. Both in terms of displaying and interaction with data - it’s just a much better way of working."
The previous dashboard tool was severely lacking in options for users to go in and personalize their view - tailoring data to the individual's requirements.
“Hopefully this makes people more open to try Gate out and use it daily. People might have shied away from fully using previous systems because the data was simply too much,” Griff says.
While the focus has been on Gate, the Sing mathematical model running in the background has also seen extensive renovations and upgrades.
“It’s especially interesting for me to be part of this, as we’re often just handed software as a finished product. Now, I get to help make Gate into a tool that we know will be fit for purpose to our daily work."
“Sing runs faster now and delivers updates quicker than previously. As a full picture it’s a great improvement,” Griff explains.
Griff has also been working closely with the team when developing Gate and will be helping in future developments.
“What we have now is a building block, and it’ll be exciting to see what it will be able to do in the future,” he adds.
Did you know that Equinor is the second-largest gas supplier in Europe? We produce gas equivalent to the gas consumption of more than 50 million European households.
Pushing the team forward
When discussing development of Gate, there’s a key player that we still haven’t gotten our way around to - until now. He’s been mentioned in every single interview we’ve done as an almost irreplaceable piece of Gate puzzle; it’s project owner Sigve Sivertsen.
“Sigve has really been one of the key ingredients to why Gate has become the success it’s become. Everyone in the team is in daily contact with him, and he’s crucial for us developers to get the job done,” Rune says.
“I don’t understand how he has so many seemingly hours in the day to help us, but I’m glad he does,” team lead Eivind laughs.
Sigve himself says that he thinks it’s key for someone to represent the business side and their challenges to the developers and being available is an important factor.
“It’s been fun too, especially seeing how positive the team has been all the way! They are super enthusiastic and there are a lot of high-fives going around when we solve a problem or two,” Sigve smiles.
“While my main role is as product owner, I’m also pushing the team to move forward and focus on delivering a quality solution. That can mean being very detail-focused at times, but it’s worth it in the end."
Currently, Gate only displays data on a shorter time span, but they’re working on an expansion named Horizon that would display key information for much longer timeframes.
“The newer features are more tailored towards planners than traders. A lot of the technical aspects are the same, but there’s much bigger amounts of data to handle. We’re also working on different visualization windows,” Audun explains.
The three key ingredients to success
Why is it that they were successful in learning these new techs? Rune Kristiansen Kvamme tells us that there’s three main reasons why they’ve succeeded:
“We’re all capable developers and eager to learn, but we also have a lot of experience in the world of natural gas. And lastly, we have a product owner who’s incredibly dedicated and always ready to help us out,” Rune says.
“I think having all these key ingredients is the reason why we’ve been successful. You really need people who are eager to learn, always want to stay updated and curious to see what’s possible with the different technologies."
Rune Kristiansen Kvamme
There’s a saying that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” - which doesn’t apply to these guys. Not that they’re dogs or even old, but they’re not fresh out from school.
“We’ve been working on maintaining these legacy apps for so long, but we’ve also been able to learn all of this and “upgrade” ourselves. It’s really been a lot of fun,” Rune smiles.
“There’s a high level of trust in each other as part of the team. As long as you’re doing your best, you’re always allowed to fail. I think that has played a big role in why we’ve been able to do this,” he adds.
It’ll be exciting to see what’s next on the horizon for both Sing and Gate - especially when looking at their work so far.
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Until next time - stay safe and take care!
Håkon Johan Thallaug Heuch
Tom Arne Sivertsen
Rune Kristiansen Kvamme
Audun Arnessønn Sæther
Ove Petter Gansmo