by Jennifer O'Brien

National Portrait Gallery paints a digital future

Jun 01, 2017
Cloud Computing

The National Portrait Gallery is on a path towards digitisation as it works to provide almost one million on-site and online visitors with “unprecedented access” and interactivity with the Canberra-based gallery’s 2,500 portraits.

“We’re trying to always enhance the digital experience be it online or on-site,” National Portrait Gallery COO, Trent Birkett, told CIO Australia. “We try to move along and keep up with the trends that people are moving towards including social media.”

Around 450,000 people visit the gallery each year, and a further 80,000 visitors attend its travelling exhibitions. With the agency’s website experiencing high volumes of audience engagement, with half a million sessions per year, there was a need to provide visitors access to a robust digital library.

Trent Birkett

Working with Lenovo Data Centre Group, the gallery has built a new IT system to make way for a fully integrated digital asset management storage solution. DataCore Software and local IT consulting firm, Vintek, helped the gallery digitise its collection of portraits.

Managed by Vintek, the new high performance, hyper-converged storage solution is powered by DataCore’s Virtual SAN software and consists of x3650 Lenovo servers in a metrocluster configuration.

Birkett wanted to adopt a modern, fully-managed IT environment to digitise, store and make available its extensive catalogue of historical portraits to a wider audience.

“We were after a scalable, reliable, fully-managed technology platform that could release our assets to the public, allow our image library to be updated in real time, and ultimately protect and secure our data while giving staff flexibility to plan and organise exhibitions,” Birkett said. “Since its implementation, the new system has increased the efficiency of internal processes, provided seamless integration of previously incompatible platforms and ensured improved security around our data.”

The IT infrastructure was built from the ground up, and now hosts key applications including the National Portrait Gallery’s customer relationship management, SQL/Web based apps, and file and print servers in a VMware environment. The Vintek infrastructure is hosted at the Metronode Data Centre in Mitchell, Australian Capital Territory, which guarantees 100 per cent uptime of its facilities. Time for change

Birkett said it was time for change at the gallery, which had been restricted in both access and overall capabilities over the last several years. The gallery needed to have a platform that would empower the art gallery to deliver better experiences for visitors.

“For the last six to seven years our IT was delivered by government agencies who were on restricted networks. As an agency we were restricted on what we wanted to do. So we wanted to enhance our capability and especially in this era where everything is moving to online, and on social media, it was about time to free up to allow our walk in visitors, and our online visitors, easier access to our information.

“This will allow our staff the ability to collaborate and do exhibitions without being hampered by the restrictions we had previously in our IT.”

According to Vintek business development manager, enterprise and government, Greg Lance, the solution took six weeks to build, test, install and deploy, and included a data transfer of 20 terabytes of raw files to software-defined-storage.

Greg Lance

“We moved the gallery from their existing provider during a six-week period. We built all of the infrastructure and the datacentre. The gallery was on very old software updates all of the time. They were running Windows 7. When we took over we moved everything to Windows 10. We moved everyone to the common platforms of Office 2016,” Lance said.

“These were all enhancements which allowed the staff to be able to do things in a much more effective way.”

Lance said the new infrastructure is primed to support the gallery’s growth for the next five years, and the gallery now has the flexibility to expand quickly by adding extra hard drives to the servers and buying additional licenses as and when required.

“When we decided to move to a software defined environment using DataCore, this was going to be new technology. But we needed to give the gallery something that gave them guarantees of their infrastructure for the next five years. Even though from day 1, we didn’t tell the gallery what we were doing, we just provided it, we can now look back and say.’ that was the right decision at the time.’”

Looking back over the overall work over the last 12 months, Birkett said it was a “leap of faith” on the gallery’s part in terms of making the technology decisions, and steps involved in moving towards a digital transformation path.

“My big concern was around integrity of data and being able to backup the data, and having access to that data. . . So I was always very keen to try and push things,” he said.

Birkett said the move to adopt the new IT system – and its ongoing efforts to adopt cloud technology – enables the agency to expand digital areas such as social media and digital promotions to engage its customers differently.

“With the support of Vintek and Lenovo’s Hyper-converged solution powered by DataCore, we now have the opportunity to introduce new ideas and try new things. Whether it’s turning on additional storage or speed when we need it, we’re no longer limited by our IT storage environment now that we’re software-defined.”

Birkett said the gallery has already moved some of its systems to the cloud including its finance, payroll, building management and safety monitoring system. “We have an intranet that will be in the cloud – so almost everything will be in the cloud.”

The idea is to have a hybrid cloud environment that mixes the functionality, Lance explained.

“There has to be a blend of what you provide in-house and what you provide on the cloud. Right now, we’ve got the blend right. The information needs to be accessed very quickly, is accessible to all of the staff, but at the same time, the things that can be in the cloud, are in the cloud, and that gives reliability and guarantees of delivery.”