Tracking Projects on Time at Hydro-Quebec

Hydro-Quebec, one of eastern Canada’s largest enterprises, is best known for generating and distributing power to more than 3.5 million customers across Quebec. With abundant hydropower reserves, the company also supplies power to nine municipal systems, one regional cooperative and 15 electric utilities in the northeastern United States and surrounding Canadian provinces.

Managing such a huge transmission and distribution system requires stringent project management. Costs for Hydro-Quebec’s construction and maintenance projects can range from hundreds of thousands to billions of dollars, and in many cases the projects stretch out over several years. Because of the size, complexity and volume of projects, in 1991 the company developed its own project management and work scheduling systems, initially using Oracle Forms.

Since computing project requirements and work schedules involves large volumes of data, Hydro-Quebec required an efficient, high-performance platform. It recently migrated from legacy Digital VAX platforms to Sun Enterprise servers. The results have been startling, according to Claude Germain, database administrator for Hydro-Quebec. Jobs that formerly required up to 12 hours of processing now can be turned around within 30 minutes to an hour.

Powering Up

Keeping projects on track is a critical component of delivering the service that Hydro-Quebec’s customers expect. For instance, after 1998’s massive ice storms, there were more than 200 projects involved with rebuilding fallen power lines alone. Having a robust project management system has become critical to keeping the lights on.

When Hydro-Quebec developed the first version of its project management system in 1991, processing times for complex jobs could extend far beyond the workday. “In the past, many people wouldn’t use the system because it was so slow,” said Germain. He added that, although the system was developed around an open Oracle database, the closed nature of the original VAX platform made it difficult to use the information with other third-party applications.

Over the years, Hydro-Quebec had excellent experience using Sun workstations as its standard for research and technical computing. When Sun’s enterprise server product line became available, the company began phasing it in for numerous applications.

“If it comes down to NT vs. Sun, we’ll always pick Sun because it’s a far more stable server,” said Germain.

Not surprisingly, when it came time to improve the Oracle-based project management system’s performance and accessibility, Sun was the obvious choice. “Hydro-Quebec has used Sun platforms for so many years that we’ve gotten to know them very well,” said Germain. “We’ve found that Sun platforms work especially well with Oracle.”

In January 1999, Hydro-Quebec installed several Sun enterprise servers to base the project management system and several related applications. They began with a four-way Sun Enterprise 4000, with 2 GB of RAM and 216 GB of storage, as the database and application server for the project system. Significantly, both the server and client portions of the application were based on this system to allow Hydro-Quebec to eventually migrate to a web-based architecture. Additionally, the system hosts the database used with a subset of the project system, which is used for initial planning of projects before they are uploaded to the main project system.

A four-way Sun Enterprise 3500 server is used to base a project reporting system, which includes a replicated database from the main project system. Additionally, a Sun Enterprise 3000 server runs several applications, an engineering catalog system and a system to manage water levels at hydropower facilities. Rounding out the system is a Sun UltraSPARC 2 server used for backup and a Sun Enterprise 250 server reserved for the development environment.

The system is backed with dual, mirrored Sun D1000 storage arrays, each containing 108 GB of data. The data is stripped for performance and mirrored for fault tolerance.

Generating Results

The project management system currently serves more than 300 users, with typical concurrent usage loads averaging about 40 to 50 users. Usage involves a mixed pattern of routine transaction processing and the complex computations to generate project plans. Performance improvements on the new system have been dramatic. For instance, generating complex plans took up to 12 hours to process on the old system. With the Sun Enterprise servers, processing of the worst problems is completed in less than an hour-and often within 30 minutes.

Since the system was installed, availability has been excellent. The only unplanned outage occurred when a larger server had to be installed to handle the load resulting from the system’s newfound popularity. “We are making sure that utilization rates on our servers never exceed 70 percent, to maintain performance,” said Germain. Keeping service levels high has been a high priority for Hydro-Quebec and Sun.

According to Germain, performance is a powerful selling point for getting better use of the system. With the earlier system, only 20 percent of all projects were tracked. Today, with the high-performance Sun Enterprise systems, 100 percent of new projects are being entered. Based on the high acceptance of the system, Hydro-Quebec plans to put the project management system on the web to ease access from outside the main offices.

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The Clarion Energy Content Team is made up of editors from various publications, including POWERGRID International, Power Engineering, Renewable Energy World, Hydro Review, Smart Energy International, and Power Engineering International. Contact the content lead for this publication at

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