the Issue with the old Web Server
The old web server used a Microsoft technology called “Silverlight”. In its day Silverlight competed with Adobe Flash. However, a number of high-profile security problems with Adobe Flash dented confidence in these kinds of web application frameworks and take-up of Silverlight had been slow. Consequentially Microsoft has deprecated Silverlight, which forced us to redevelop the Web Server.
? What were the goals of the developers?
Given that the Silverlight codebase was a dead-end in terms of software product development, we took the opportunity to re-evaluate why the Web Server existed, what it should be and how it should work. For a software developer, these opportunities don’t come along too frequently, and they are quite liberating – if a little daunting.
We noticed that most users of our web server were not the technical staff and operators, but the staff working in the planning departments, the accounting department, and laboratories at our customers’ sites. These people do not want or need access to alarms and events, they principally need to get up to date inventory readings to plug into Excel spreadsheets, or check what product movements have occurred on a tank.
MHT has a dedicated support function to work with customers, through that we also saw that customers were keen to improve their cybersecurity by segregating their operational and commercial networks. The old Web Server architecture required that commercial users directly access the tank gauging system, which made achieving this segregation difficult.
? Why change the name to Business Information Server?
Once we decided to focus on providing a convenient means of supporting our customers’ administrative processes it was decided that this should be emphasised by renaming the facility. We did this early on before we started writing the code so that everyone involved in the delivery could understand who the audience was and what it should do. The old “webserver” name focussed too much on the technology used and not enough on what the product delivered. “When you buy soup from the supermarket the most important consideration is the flavour, not the can it comes in.”
Segregated server architecture
The strength of the old webserver was that once you installed the software you didn’t need to do anything more to use the webserver other than pointing your web browser at the tank gauging server. With Business Information Server this still works! However, it does mean that anyone who wants to access the service needs to be able to access the HTTP interface of the tank gauging server, which is not always desirable. To overcome this, the Business Information Server service can be installed on a different machine.
The BIS server and Tank Gauging Server can be separated by a firewall; just one port needs to be open between them. The separation means that should a piece of malware get on to the administrative network, it would need to infect the BIS server and then be crafted to use an exploit in the Tank Gauging Server to infect it. The BIS server also maintains a local cache of data for its users, so that a sudden influx of requests for the BIS would not swamp the Tank Gauging Server, imperilling tank farm operations.
What can you no longer do with the BIS?
The original webserver was envisioned as a web-based alternative for tank farm operators to use: in reality, it always lagged behind the development of the tank gauging user interface of the Windows application. Many of the features, such as Movements, never made it to the webserver, and features such as the Alarm Event Viewer never really worked well on the web platform. When we redeveloped, we took a pragmatic view and killed off several features:
- Alarms and Events are no longer supported on the web interface.
- The “Home Page” no longer mimics the main product.
- Gauge commands are not supported.
? What new features can users expect?
By redeveloping from the ground up we were able to put some new features in that customers had been requesting for a long time; the most notable one from my perspective is Trending. We had several customers just purchase a tank gauging client license just to access the Trending graphs. These customers can now access this trending information from their web browsers, allowing them to see in near real time how stock levels have risen or fallen over time.
The developers didn’t just promote the web server grid view to be the new home page, it now offers users the ability to configure and customise their view of tank gauging data, as well as freeze it and export it to a spreadsheet for analysis. The customised views can be easily shared among users, so that common uses and processes can be supported.
Reporting received a major overhaul. We noticed that scheduled reports form a key part of many administrative processes, but that the ability to setup and configure those reports was being undertaken by the tank farm operators who didn’t consume the data and mostly didn’t understand why the reports were necessary.
Trending in BIS
The developers sought to grant access to reports and place the power to schedule them in the hands of the people who consume this information. Rather than receive a pile of paper reports prepared by the operators, BIS users can log on to the portal to get the reports they want at the time they want, or have them sent to their e-mail inbox.
? What features stayed the same?
The features we kept from the old web server were the ones that were most commonly used. The ability to set manual data values is invaluable to sites with on-site laboratories, oil accountants value the ability to use our inventory calculations in the inventory calculator as well as to get detailed live data of the kind on a Single Tank Overview.
How is the new server licensed?
The new server uses the same licenses as the old web server. If a user had 5 web licenses on their 18.0.2 system, they can upgrade to 18.3.1 and now they have 5 web licenses for Business Information Server. The pricing for BIS clients is exactly the same as web server clients.
When using the segregated server the license applied to the tank gauging server is used: you don’t need to buy a separate license for the BIS server. Note that this does not alleviate the customer from buying the appropriate Windows license for the BIS server.