Maritime adopts cloud amidst internal IT chaos

Museum goes direct to Microsoft Online Services in search for IT renovation

After relying on single-person external contractors and a cacophony of systems and infrastructure for 19 years, radical IT change was never going to be easy for the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney.

Yet, after appointing its first IT lead in January since opening in 1991, the museum has shifted from the ageing Novell GroupWise email platform to Microsoft Online Services - the first of many changes to come - in three months.

“I presented a short sort of ICT strategic mission to the executive brief in February, I got the approval in March, we did it in April and we were all finished by the end of June,” the museum’s head of information services, Karen Holt, told attendees of the IDC Cloud Computing Conference 2010.

“I’ve been there seven months and I have my head around the bureaucracy a little, but I’m still amazed we were able to do this in a short amount of time.”

Since climbing on board, Holt has overseen 150 staff shift from varied systems to one Windows and one Mac operating environment, upgrading to Office 2007 and Microsoft’s hosted Exchange email service. Amidst the changes, Holt ensured staff were able to access email consistently and effectively on their mobiles for the first time, while rolling out Office Communicator for greater internal collaboration capability.

But Holt lamented the challenge she faced on entering.

“If you cast your mind back to 1984, a lot of small medium organisations then, that’s what we have - we have a little bit of everything,” she said. “There was no internal ICT technical staff at all... we had very limited storage space - I don’t think in total we had a terabyte of storage space - so storage space in mailboxes was always an issue.

“Staffing-wise, there was one contractor who is still there that has very long and very deep corporate knowledge, because she started off actually within the museum. [She] started her own business and she has been offering support to the users for some years now, so she knows the people and the system inside out, so she was the one internal resource.

“There were networking issues in the network configuration with the cabling, how the switches were configured, how the switches were positioned. We had quite a good internet connection, sort of a bonus even though the network issues internally were bad.”

Opportunities for change were slim to, largely due to resistance from company culture, and the museum’s continuing busy schedule throughout the year.

“[That is] just the very nature of the museum. It’s only closed one day of the year: Christmas Day.”

Email became Holt’s first priority and, after considering the different Microsoft-based options from partners and Telstra, she opted to go direct with the software giant, ditching previously assigned CapEx for a BlackBerry fleet and accompanying server in the process. Once the platform was implemented, the museum migrated away from the GroupWise mail server through Quest over two weeks, with access to three months’ email.

Holt then began to backfill the mail archive to Microsoft’s cloud over the next two months, only to find it was a “slow, laborious process”.

“We ramped our internet pipe up to 100 megabits per second (Mbps), it made no difference. Did it on the weekend, made no difference. Did it after hours, made no difference. It just took time because some executives had 16 to 18 gigabyte email inboxes.

“At the end of June we’d found about five separate emails with corrupted attachments so we just called it quits at that point in time.”

The museum now utilises Exchange 2007 with plans to upgrade to the 2010 version once Microsoft makes it available to the organisation. The ageing Mac fleet means those users have had to subsist on Exchange web access, but plans to upgrade to the Office 2011 productivity suite will remedy that.

Overall, Holt has little cause for concern in moving to the cloud.

“Less than 10 per cent had difficulty adapting - six or eight people have had to find ways to work in the same fashion for the time being,” she said.

“I think the partner company through working with us has learnt quicker and better ways at completing backfill, which probably can be done now by taking a hard drive off to a data centre somewhere and just migrating. That would be good.”

Holt told CIO last month that the museum plans to modernise all internal IT systems across both sites in Sydney.

This includes migrating the corporate LAN from a Novell-based directory service and Windows 2000 servers to Windows Server 2008 and Active Directory in order to save on licensing costs and simplify management overhead.

It will also move from VMware put in 12 months ago for backups and DR to Microsoft Hyper-V.

A comprehensive EDRMS implementation is also in planning.

“We are trying to achieve a high level of ICT maturity over the next 18 months,” she said. “We want to be able to say yes to all the innovation people come up with.”

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Tags cloud computingIDCAustralian National Maritime Museum

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