Top Flight solution for the RAF Museum

THE CLIENT

The Royal Air Force Museum exists to educate and inform present and future generations about the history and traditions of the RAF through integrated exhibitions, collections and the knowledge and expertise of the staff. The site in London is Britain's only national museum dedicated wholly to aviation. Five mammoth buildings contain over a hundred aircraft, artifacts, aviation memorabilia, fine art and photographs covering the history of aviation from early balloon flights to the latest jet fighters.

The Royal Air Force Museum at Cosford houses one of the largest aviation collections in the United Kingdom where museum staff, volunteers and British Airways' engineers are actively engaged in conservation and restoration. Over 70 historic aircraft are displayed in three wartime hangars on an active airfield and the collection spans nearly 80 years of aviation history. The jewel in the museum's inventory is the Research and Development Collection featuring some of the world's most exotic aircraft.


THE BUSINESS CHALLENGE

At the heart of the museum's operation is a network-wide Collection Database currently comprising 195,000 object records. The Collection Database, which uses a powerful retrieval engine, contains information and links to images for the museum's holdings and assists in meeting requirements for access, accountability and accuracy. In addition to the London and Cosford sites, a reserve collection of artefacts housed at the RAF base at Stafford also forms part of the museum's database inventory.

The museum needed to upgrade from Windows NT 4 Server, partly due to Microsoft's withdrawal of support but primarily to improve remote access to the large number of high quality photographs and other graphics accessed through the museum's remote terminal services.

"Images are key to the inventory process at the museum," said Tim Gowen, the museum's IT Support Manager. "Not only do they help identify and record objects but they also reduce the need to handle valuable artefacts." With the Collections Database in constant use by the curators and a range of other internal users, colour resolution was being significantly compromised and server time was slow. As well as a server upgrade, Tim also wanted to make some other infrastructure changes such as a cabling and a switching upgrade for the London network.


THE SOLUTION

After putting out to tender the museum selected Transputec Computers plc as its technology partner for the whole project - providing a complete migration solution from consultancy to implementation.

"The main criteria for using Transputec was that we had worked with them very successfully in the past - they installed the original network and provide technical support - and would be the right choice for a one stop supplier for the whole project," said Tim. Price was also an important part of Transputec's proposal, particularly considering the budget constraints of the museum sector.

"Value for money is always high on our list of priorities but cost has never been an issue with Transputec. They went over the original quote with a fine tooth comb to level it out where possible and without compromising on the quality of the end solution."

Transputec advised a direct migration from Windows NT 4 to Windows Server 2003 and Exchange 2003, effectively 'skipping' a generation of software to provide the optimum solution both for current and future needs.

The museum purchased five new Hewlett Packard servers and a new tape autoloader backup system for the entire system. All servers were installed in a series of racks so that the computer room could be more effectively organised. A series of 3Com switches were also installed to upgrade the comms infrastructure.


THE BENEFITS

The project was completed during a two week period timed during the school term to minimise disruption to the museum shop - an eposbased business and a valuable income earner for the museum.

"The work was finished remarkably quickly," said Tim. "Transputec supplied the servers already built and boxed so that installation went like clockwork - having all that done off-site was a big advantage. We also had the benefit of a Transputec project manager onsite throughout the whole process."

The RAF Museum now has a faster network supporting a more effective Collections Database which underpins the museum's work. Most of the existing servers have been replaced with state of the art kit, eradicating the previous server bottlenecks. Maintaining an effective network is critical as the database has a resource impact on the work of a large number of people across all three sites. With 33 user licences the database is in constant use, from helping to answer enquiries, to recording locations of objects and adding and amending the information contained in records.

"The benefits of the upgrade have been immediate. With fewer network delays the curators can work more effectively in compiling the inventory, serving to enhance the museums' conservation role," said Tim. "Above all we are benefiting from a huge improvement in image colour resolution and like other museums we can start to think about offering the database online."

"Having worked with Transputec before we knew we would get a good service at a price we could afford. The project was managed with the precision and professionalism we expect from a first class technology partner," said Tim.

Tim believes that attention to detail in scoping the final spec was a key factor in the overall success of the project.

"We had several discussions with John Bennett, our Transputec account manager, to explore all the issues. His meticulous and candid assessment of project costs was typical of Transputec's customercentred approach."

Tim concluded: "Service quality, professional integrity and breadth of technical expertise are the hallmarks of Transputec's approach to single source IT delivery." Transputec advised a direct migration from Windows NT 4 to Windows Server 2003 and Exchange 2003, effectively 'skipping' a generation of software to provide the optimum solution both for current and future needs.

The museum purchased five new Hewlett Packard servers and a new tape autoloader backup system for the entire system. All servers were installed in a series of racks so that the computer room could be more effectively organised. A series of 3Com switches were also installed to upgrade the comms infrastructure.