SoCal Gas turns to Java for an edge in deregulated world

COMPANY: Southern California Gas
PURPOSE: Place for buyers and sellers of natural gas to meet and trade information in a deregulated market.

APPLICATION: Energy Marketplace -- In an age of deregulation, utility companies are scrambling for new and innovative ways of sustaining growth and keeping customers in an open landscape of competitiveness. With deregulation, the gas company is out of the commodity business; its money will come from the distribution of natural gas from third-party vendors to customers.

The problem for both sides of the gas distribution issue is that neither side knows about the other. It is expensive for gas suppliers to market and sell directly to customers. On the flip side, it is difficult for customers to find the best possible price for natural gas. Los Angeles-based Southern California Gas Company (SoCal Gas) came up with a plan to build a place where gas providers and customers could come together to buy and sell gas.

Using the Internet as its communication infrastructure, the company built the Energy Marketplace, a Web site (http://www.energymarketplace.com) where gas customers in SoCal Gas' service area could find information on suppliers and post requests for their gas needs. In turn, gas suppliers that have partnered with SoCal Gas can bid on each request.

Energy Marketplace, which is accessible to four million customers but only services small businesses at the moment, uses Netscape Enterprise Server, a NetDynamics Application Server (NetDynamics Inc., Menlo Park, Calif.), and a Sybase System 10 database, all running on a Sun Microsystems UltraSparc Enterprise 2, said Steven Durflinger, software project manager for SoCal Gas.

The key to the system is the NetDynamics Application Server and integrated development environment. After evaluating a number of tools such Cold Fusion from Allaire Corp., Cambridge, Mass., Sapphire/Web from Bluestone Software Inc., Mount Laurel, N.J., and Net.Data from IBM, SoCal Gas settled on NetDynamics for its support of the Java language and "it was the best one at the time," Durflinger said. "We still believe it is the best today."

Why did SoCal Gas select an immature Java language? "We took a leap of faith," Durflinger responded. "We figured it would be the architecture of the future."

Overall, reaction to the system has been positive, from both SoCal Gas management and customers. "[Energy Marketplace] shows there are innovative minds and teams in the gas industry," Durflinger said.

- Jason J. Meserve


TEAM

ERIC BATY, business information manager

LISA BROADWAY-LIEU, core aggregation program manager

RON KENT, gas transportation manager

STEVEN DURFLINGER, software project manager

ROLLENCE PATUGAN, programmer/analyst

DAVID MCBRIDE, programmer/analyst

NILESH DARJI, programmer/analyst

DOUG WONG, Webmaster

JIM NGUYEN, computer support technician



BENEFITS:
By creating such a marketplace, it keeps Southern California Gas' customers happy and keeps gas flowing through their network of pipes.

TOOLS:
NetDynamics 3.03

PLATFORMS:
Windows 95 Workstations (for development)

NetDynamics Application Server

Netscape Server 2.01 with SSL

Sybase System 10 on HP-UX

Sun Ultra Sparc Enterprise 2 running Solaris

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