CIO Profile: Imperial War Museum's Ian Crawford's storage battle

See also: Imperial War Museum's Ian Crawford on ordering data

A £1m government grant to help the Imperial War Museum monetise its vast multimedia archive gave its Head of ICT Ian Crawford the opportunity for a root and branch infrastructure upgrade.

Part of that project was bringing the Museum's storage capabilties in London and Cambridgeshire up to date.

The collections management system Crawford deployed to support the archive of over 22,000 hours of film and video, 11 million photographs, plus a mountain of paper documents, is supported by a tape-based storage facility, supplied by Spectralogic, using Network Attached Storage for easy retrieval.

Crawford explains that the museum has roughly 80 terabytes of Network Attached Storage in London, mirrored overnight to a similar repository in Duxford. The tape library is capable of storing around 10 times that amount, but even this is scalable to 1.5 petabytes, just by the acquisition of more tapes.

250 days of film
Crawford explained that an hour’s worth of archive-quality digitised film footage takes about 250 gigabytes of storage, so 1.5 petabytes is the equivalent of over 6000 one-hour films.

He is working on the assumption that the storage requirement is going to grow by 2-3 terabytes a year as the museum’s departments work on digitising their records.

Academia is not always known for being the most enthusiastic adopter of new working practices, so was it hard to sell the infrastructure upgrade to his business-line peers?

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Crawford needed extra funds from them above the £1m development grant. It has turned out to be twice as much again in fact, plus on-going maintenance fees that bring his budget to around two per cent of the museum’s annual budget.

Crawford assured me that his peers understand the IT need. He put forward a plan based on best-of-breed suppliers, with whom he could trade on the IWM name to gain competitive rates.

Network infrastructure providers include Cisco, HP and IBM. Desktop systems are provided by Microsoft. It is a virtualised environment based on VMware.

Crawford believes that he is getting a better return on his investment by using top-tier suppliers that he can rely on.

His IT team is small, but specialised, with much of the systems he is buying in designed to minimise the routine maintenance overhead and allows him to recruit talented people enthusiastic about working on such a complex project for such a prestigious organisation.

“We’ve got a central team in London that manages the five sites [the original Lambeth Road buildings in South London, the airfield at Duxford in Cambridgeshire, the cruiser HMS Belfast, moored in the Thames, the Churchill War Rooms in Whitehall a museum in Manchester’s Salford Quays],” says Crawford.

“It’s interesting work for the staff. We aren’t bleeding edge, but we are getting there.”

For the future, Crawford’s biggest concern is managing the data explosion. The museum already has a remit for reaching out to the wider public, and its researchers are approached all the time by people uncovering more military records in family members’ papers or requesting information about a relative’s military past.