About Willbros Group
Based in Houston, Texas, Willbros Group is a specialty energy infrastructure contractor serving the oil, gas, refinery, petrochemical, and power industries. The roots of Willbros date back to 1908, when it was founded as the William Brothers Company. The company’s offerings include engineering, procurement and construction, scheduled shutdowns, maintenance, facilities development, and operations services. Willbros has constructed more than 114,000 miles of pipeline and has been employed by more than 400 clients in 60 countries.
The oil and gas industry is cyclical. The ability of Willbros to respond quickly to new opportunities when demand is great and to scale down when it fades is paramount to the success of the business. The physical server infrastructure Willbros had in place was hampering the company’s marketplace agility.
The company’s IT environment was a combination of collocation and on-premises servers in four main data centers. Willbros also had dozens of offices—which sometimes had their own servers and networks—spread across the United States and Canada. In this physically distributed environment, the IT department was unable to respond quickly to new project demands. It had difficulty accurately estimating the capacity needed for new projects and swiftly provisioning the correct number of servers. Without the ability to scale, the IT department would often oversubscribe, buying 20 percent extra capacity to avoid having too little.
In addition, Willbros leadership wanted to focus on developing the company’s core business, not its IT infrastructure. “We want to build pipelines, oil and gas assets, and other energy assets… not data centers. We want to focus on our business and what’s important to us, not the commodity of IT,” explains Jason Cradit, VP of information systems at Willbros Group.
Why Amazon Web Services
Willbros decided to move its business applications to the cloud to improve agility and enable more focus on developing its core business. Amazon Web Services was the first choice for Willbros, and the company did not consider other cloud providers. Cradit says, “We had a knowledge and understanding of Amazon. They’re the leader in the Gartner Magic Quadrant for cloud services. So, we said, ‘Let’s go with it.’”
Willbros uses Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) to run the solutions it provides to its customers. “Anything that we’re commercially developing is based on AWS,” says Cradit. “For example, we have a cloud-based data management solution called Integra Link that we run on AWS.” Integra Link provides real-time access to pipeline data stored in the cloud to help operators manage risk, lower operating costs, and improve pipeline asset performance. Another example of a solution that Willbros runs on AWS is its Mapping Data System (MDS) for quality control. Using MDS, survey crews submit data from the field that is automatically integrated into the system. MDS helps Willbros reduce workloads and perform more survey work. Willbros is also running Microsoft applications, including Windows Server, SQL Server, and Office on AWS.
Willbros also uses Amazon EC2 to quickly prototype and test possible products before demonstrating them to large customers. An example that made it to market is the Willbros Preliminary Pipeline Route Optimization Tool (PPRO), a solution to analyze geographical factors involved in different pipeline routes. Factors like highways, wetlands, mountains, hill grades, and even playgrounds and hospitals all play a role in choosing a route. “Historically, routes were plotted using paper maps, and it would take a month to get a route,” Cradit says. “With PPRO, now we can do it in about eight hours.”
In addition to providing agility, Cradit points to AWS security certifications and the continual innovation of AWS offerings as supporting factors for choosing AWS.
By using AWS, Willbros is able to respond swiftly to marketplace conditions, prototype and complete projects quickly, and focus on business value instead of IT costs. “Now, with AWS, the need to acquire and install hardware is gone, so we’re able to execute projects more than 80 percent faster,” Cradit says. “That’s a difference of six months to one month in time-to-market.”
Using the AWS Simple Monthly Calculator, the IT department can now deliver precise costs. “I can give a report now that says this project costs us this many dollars to consume. Now we don’t need to add that extra 20 percent capacity,” Cradit says. “If we need to ramp up because we’re doing well, we can. If we need to turn resources off, we can. We can buy compute services and pass the cost directly to a customer. And that is the panacea for IT, and for business.”
This ability to scale is an important part of the value equation for Willbros. “Because of cloud computing, we’re able to turn off servers if we don’t need that much capacity. The agility of downward elasticity in a down market is key,” Cradit says.
The transparency of IT costs coupled with the flexibility and speed of obtaining compute resources that AWS provides helps inform business decisions at Willbros. “Because you don’t worry about the lead time,” Cradit says, “you can actually go through these rigorous processes to define rate cases. And when you’re ready to go, that afternoon the servers are up and running and you can start taking action. We focus now on value instead of cost.”
Value extends to Willbros customers. Cradit explains, “Because of the agility, lower total cost of ownership, and elasticity of using AWS, Willbros can now support the specific requirements of our customers much more easily. We can create complete compute stacks per project. So we only focus on the things that matter to our customers, not the ones that don’t.”