Case Study

Ruhrkohle AG (RAG)

Stratus guaranteeing continuous and reliable operations at Auguste Victoria coal mine

For most industries entering the final stages of their life cycle, invest¬ment in infrastructure would be nonsensical. For Ruhrkohle AG (RAG), Germany’s leading domestic coal producer, it was absolutely essential. Lives, landscapes, livelihoods, equipment, reputation and income depended upon it.

With the last remaining working mine in the country due to close down by 2018, it was vital for RAG to ensure that its 3,500 staff, its property, its machinery and its data were all kept safe at all times. When the decision was made to port all systems from a Unix operating system to Windows, the time had also come to review the wider infrastructure. It was time to consider upgrading its servers too. RAG considered cluster systems first. They then found out about a truly fault-tolerant infrastructure. They chose the latter – ultimately hosting on Stratus® ftServer® systems.

Quick Facts

Solution Profile

  • Controlling and regulating the operating systems at Ruhrkohle AG’s (RAG’s) coal mine, Auguste Victoria, is a highly critical task. Lives, landscapes, livelihoods, equipment, business and reputations depend upon it. RAG protects its systems using fault-tolerant Stratus servers. The 38 Stratus servers have not failed once since migrating in 2003.

Solutions

  • Stratus® ftServer® systems
  • Siemens® Simatic/WinCC

Business Objectives

Germany’s coal mining industry has been in decline for decades, in fact predictions are that it will cease to exist by 2018. The Auguste Victoria mine (situated north of Essen and Dusseldorf) is one of only a few remaining, having been operational in Marl, on the edge of the Ruhr district, since 1899.

Around 3,500 people work here, two thirds of them 1,000 metres underground, mining coal in a tunnelling system that spans almost 100 kilometers. Nowadays enormous machines are deployed to help them, coal ploughs and long-wall shears cut and shape almost 14,000 tons of coal out of the seam every day. The control and regulation of the underground plant is brought together in the control room. The control room is the brain of the mine, the coordination centre for production and safety. Should any of this equipment or the supporting IT in the control room fail, then lives, landscapes, livelihoods, property, equipment, reputation and income are placed in real danger.

The control room has two specific roles:

1. It is responsible for the safety of the miners, particularly for providing ventilation and fresh air underground, and remov­ing mine gases, especially methane and carbon monoxide.

2. It is responsible for the operation of the machinery situated underground. Data from motors, pumps, conveyor belts and lifts is collected, alerting the centre to any power failures and the highs and lows of water levels, showing water levels and any flooding underground.

Lots of the machinery is directly controlled above ground in the control centre; the large coal ploughs may be set up under­ground, but the commands ensuring their continuing operation come from a kilometer above in the control room. The control room knows which machines are doing what at all times and can make any necessary adjustments to their operation. Their continuous availability is vital.

RAG initially used manufacturer-specific solutions in the control rooms of its five functional mines, including Auguste Victoria, replacing these with Unix applications in the 1990s. These systems were ported over to Windows and all IT systems in all of RAG’s mines now operate on this platform.

“We haven’t had to spend anything on training or administration to use these systems and we have been able to use all of our existing software with the Stratus servers without any adjustments. In this respect, fault-tolerant servers are a far better solution than a cluster system …”
Peter Riede
Servicing & Sales Department for BK 12 IT Infrastructure
Ruhrkohle AG (RAG)

In each of the four RAG control rooms, IT systems capture the status of pressure and water levels in the mine, as well as the servers, which are directly responsible for controlling the machinery. Both systems guarantee continuing operations inside the mine.

These IT systems are critical in every way to RAG’s business. Any IT breakdown would immediately result in the cessation of operations in the mine, which could quickly cause considerable damage, given the complicated interaction of a multitude of expensive machinery, methods of transport and air and water supplies. It is vital that any damage to machinery is noticed immediately in light of the fact that it is situated in tight tunnels, a kilometer below ground and in extremely unfavorable conditions. One false alarm, or a process initiated too quickly or not stopped soon enough, cannot be easily rectified by a service technician. Only a complicated procedure can put things right.

The servers in the control room must have continuous availability. The control room has an independent electricity supply to secure a fail-safe and uninterrupted operation and this uninterruptible power supply can hold off a breakdown for up to 10 minutes. Cables, connections and networks can be installed on a redundant basis. RAG needed to do more though. RAG needed to build redundancy into its servers in the easiest and most manageable way possible, causing minimum disruption to its systems and to its business.

RAG chose do this using Stratus fault-tolerant servers. These systems are built with redundant parts in all areas, which can continue without any interruption should any component fail. Because of this, the fault-tolerant servers have an industry leading level of availability. From a practical point of view, Stratus servers operate as a single machine and consequently are easy to install, manage and use, fulfilling all of RAG’s original buying criteria.

“As a system user you don’t see the redundant parts in the fault-tolerant server. You have one system in front of you, which internally regulates itself,” explained Riedel, RAG.

“We haven’t had to spend anything on training or administration to use these systems and we have been able to use all of our existing software with the Stratus servers without any adjustments. In this respect fault-tolerant servers are a far better solution than a cluster system.” he concludes.

Business Impact

RAG’s integration of this fault-tolerant infrastructure was a gradual process and a real success.

To start with, RAG simply put a Stratus server into the central operating computer, as Dietmar Misch, automation engineer in the Auguste Victoria mine, explains:

“After we saw that our expectations surrounding its availability were completely fulfilled, we divided up our operations and now run each mine using a separate Stratus server.”

Now, additional servers are ready for the transfer of operations and security from disused mines to new sites too. To enable this, fault-tolerant servers are in place in each of RAG’s mines: one server is responsible for collecting operational data and the remaining ones control the plant. In fact, today RAG has 38 Stratus servers in total, some of which have been in use for over a decade without suffering a single breakdown. To ensure high availability RAG also signed a service deal with Stratus.

“We have had one technical failure”, reports Misch. “Admittedly it was only one component, a hard disk controller, which failed. We didn’t even notice that it had failed originally because the computer just continued to work. So, despite the failure of one piece, our operations didn’t stop. And this is exactly why we have bought these systems…”

“As a system user you don’t see the redundant parts in the fault-tolerant server. You have one system in front of you, which internally regulates itself.”
Peter Riede
Servicing & Sales Department for BK 12 IT Infrastructure
Ruhrkohle AG (RAG)

About Stratus Technologies

In today’s always-on world, applications run under increasingly demanding circumstances. With these escalating demands comes greater pressure to prevent even the smallest amount of application downtime. Companies are responding to this need for always-on solutions by searching for technologies that either conform to or enhance their current IT infrastructures.

Stratus Technologies’ solutions enable rapid deployment of always-on infrastructures, from enterprise servers to clouds, without any changes to your applications. Stratus products (soft­ware and servers) combined with Stratus people, enable cus­tomers to prevent downtime before it occurs, ensuring uninter­rupted 24/7/365 performance of essential business operations.

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