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Seismic Data Digital Transformation Begins with Tape Transcription

Evaluating legacy media inventory opens a pathway to digitalization of seismic data

One of the biggest digital transformation challenges facing the oil and gas exploration and production industry today is the vast amount of different tape media technologies used by E&P and geophysical companies throughout the history of seismic exploration.

Seismic data is extremely valuable and rarely ever destroyed. To make this data usable in today’s environment, oil and gas companies often require tape transcription services to access this data on modern media for reprocessing, interpretation and data analytics. These services – often called paper to digits, scanning or digitization services – are essential for geophysical companies. Without them, seismic data digitalization and digital transformation in the oil and gas industry wouldn’t be possible.

From legacy 9 and 21 track tapes to today’s 3592 drives, understanding each technology and potential data recovery issues can help oil and gas companies begin their digital transformation projects to fuel their data analytics programs.

Taking an inventory of the various types of legacy media used for seismic data storage may seem overwhelming, but the potential value for seismic interpretation and data analytics cannot be realized until the data is in a usable format.

Common Legacy Seismic Storage Media and Data Recovery Issues

The list below is a high-level overview of the most common legacy media types used over the history of recording seismic data that require tape transcription services today.

9 & 21 Track Open Reel Tapes – Used extensively in the oil and gas industry for geophysical exploration in the 1960s and 1970s, handling these aging media today requires addressing the well-known effect of “stiction.” Stiction (sticky-friction) causes the oxide on the seismic tape to become sticky and delicate. If not handled correctly, it can result in permanent data loss. Data management companies have developed stiction reversal methods that allow even the stickiest of tapes to be read with maximum data recovery achieved.

8mm Exabyte – The Exabyte format became incredibly popular in the oil and gas sector during the 1980s and 1990s because of its relatively low-cost drives and tape media. The oil and gas industry’s usage of this media was seen mainly in processed seismic data and well logs, where substantial value-added processes have been performed on the data stored on the media, and therefore small losses of seismic data represent a larger loss of value to the end user.

3480, 3490, 3490E Cartridge Tapes – Released in the early 1980s, 3480 data storage was the first of a long line of robust cartridge format tape drives and media types. The main areas of concern for this media type are related to factors including the availability of hardware to read the seismic tapes and the issue of density variations between tapes. In addition, the sheer physical volume of this media type is becoming difficult and expensive to manage for some companies.

3590 B/E/H Tape Drive – IBM’s flagship since 1996, this enterprise technology is extremely versatile and robust. The main issue for this media in today’s terms is that it is very low capacity and the drives are starting to become harder to find. Although the technology is robust, the recommended course of action would be to migrate to 3592 simply for the sake of space and capacity savings.

Modern Tape Media Storage for Seismic Data

LTO – Linear Tape Open – With excellent throughput, LTO is one of the market leaders with seismic tape media capacities. While robust and high speed, LTO was not designed for the type of use that the oil and gas industry traditionally performs. While great for network backups, it is generally not an appropriate media for data storage and data accessibility of seismic and exploration media types.

Disk – Providing that the correct hard disk solution is put in place for the correct seismic data storage application, a hard disk can be a much more effective solution than tape media. For some reason, and unlike conventional tape storage media, hard disks tend to be poorly labeled and documented for in-house tracking. The issue with knowing what is on a disk in any level of detail is poorly managed – probably because the ability to write just about any type of data to a disk in a free-flowing manner makes the data less structured, and more diluted and difficult to describe.

3592 Tape Drive (top choice) – This is IBM’s blended technology. Its inner workings and tape mechanisms are a mix of technologies found in 3590 and LTO drives. The adoption of this technology has been proven to be slow worldwide. 3592 Tape Drives are the next generation of enterprise drive technology and will be found in high-end data center environments, silos and libraries where online seismic data access is a must. This first generation shows excellent capacity and throughput. This is an excellent all-around performer and is highly recommended for seismic data storage, if budget permits.

Digital Transformation to Evergreen Storage

Rather than storing valuable seismic data on various media types that will age and change over time, Katalyst Data Management offers clients the option of evergreen storage solution. Katalyst has the capability to retrieve E&P data from any type of media ever used in the history of recording seismic and well data.

Discover more about our process for seismic tape transcription and digital transformation.

If you’re searching for best practices and good data management processes, we recommend that a routine subsurface data audit take place on storage media on a periodic basis. Data management never ends, but with routine data audits, companies can ensure seismic data is accessible and usable. Generally speaking, an audit should be done annually in line with budgeting and planning for the financial year of the company to which the seismic media belongs. This would then allow for the action items and recommendations to be better planned and budgeted for while guiding a company forward in their digital transformation and seismic media management strategy.

For more details on legacy media issues, tape transcription services and evergreen solutions for subsurface data volumes, contact us.