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Software upgrade KOs gas shipping auction system

Fax machines running red hot at UK's National Grid

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A botched Oracle upgrade last Sunday has denied access to an online trading system used to sell space on the UK gas pipeline network. Fax machines have been running hot all week as every transaction has had to be entered manually.

The Gemini system at the centre of the affair doesn't control movements of gas, nor is it used to buy and sell gas. Rather, it is used to run daily auctions in which spare capacity on the pipeline network can be bought.

Gemini is run by a company called xoserve, jointly owned by the five companies which run the regional pipeline systems.

"Although xoserve itself is relatively new, many of our employees have a rich heritage of providing these types of services and running complex IS systems since the British gas industry was opened up entirely to supply competition in 1996," says the company - having only been founded in 2005.

This time, however, something went wrong. On Monday, National Grid informed its customers that: "Yesterday's Gemini Oracle upgrade was completed at 15:00, some three hours later than anticipated due to an issue with the software. This issue has been resolved. However, xoserve are experiencing ongoing operational issues..."

These operational issues have led to all external access to Gemini being cut off for the week, though data could still be input centrally. Hence, the cumbersome system of faxing, with National Grid in some instances having to fax back screenshots from Gemini for the customers' records.

xoserve staff declined to comment to the Reg, referring all questions to National Grid.

National Grid's Stuart Larque played down the seriousness of the situation. "Gemini is not physically connected to the infrastructure and it isn't used to buy or sell gas."

Larque said he couldn't comment on how the market in pipeline capacity might be affected, but did say that most capacity is bought and sold in large long-term deals unaffected by the current outage. The daily auctions now being conducted by fax handled only a relatively small part of the market.

Larque added that xoserve hoped to have access to Gemini restored later today. ®

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