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Tate Galleries Take Pictures Into the Cloud

Peter Judge has been involved with tech B2B publishing in the UK for many years, working at Ziff-Davis, ZDNet, IDG and Reed. His main interests are networking security, mobility and cloud

Tate have raised their profile with a virtual gallery in the cloud, which will launch next month

Galleries are buildings which house pictures, and one might be surprised to find them moving to the cloud, but Tate Galleries has found that online information and other features on its website are engaging its audience in new ways.

Rob Gethen Smith, director of information services at Tate Galleries, is appearing at Cloud Expo Europe this week.  He talked to TechWeekEurope beforeheand about the real benefits his organisation got from building a virtual gallery in the cloud.

What does Tate use its IT services for?
Tate’s mission is to increase public knowledge, understanding and enjoyment of art. Our IT is used to achieve and support these goals, primarily through our website, which attracts over 18 million global visitors per year. We also use IT to manage and provide access to online records and information relating to the institution’s 70,000 works of art, as well as an extensive art archive and library. In addition, IT plays a large role in the operations of the four galleries and their 7 million visitors. It is used to enhance gallery experience with Wi-Fi, smartphone apps and interactive exhibitions supported by social media.

Has the number of online visitors overtaken physical ones?
At the moment the number of visitors online is more than double the amount of real people visiting the galleries.

Into the cloud

How was your IT arranged before you went to the cloud?
Much of our IT is supported, hosted and managed internally, but last summer we transferred our website into the cloud with NTT Communications to ensure we could deliver what our visitors were demanding. The decision to move was inspired by the plans to refresh the front-end of the main website and ambitious targets to increase online interaction and discussions about art. Geoffroy Millais with Alison Smith (Millais Curator) at Tate Britain in front of Dew-Drenched Furze

What were the limitations?
Previously, we were trying to manage a variety of providers looking after diverse elements of the site, which became complicated. The hosting contract lacked flexibility and we were therefore unable to grow, change or modify to support our online innovations.

Can you tell us about your current cloud based services?
We are currently hosting the website on NTT Communication’s Compute Cloud Platform, and have 14 servers supporting Drupal 7 Web CMS with My SQL database. We also have access to NTT’s Smart Content Delivery network, which caches rich content to the end users’ nearest exchange, ensuring that the site is immediately responsive for its international audience.

Is there anything you are doing that you couldn’t before?
By putting the website onto a single infrastructure we’ve been able to build a far more dynamic, flexible and reliable site, offering better navigation, higher quality content, integrated social media and online communities to encourage conversation and debate. We’re also able to provide a more integrated digital experience by linking mobile web/apps, e-publications and in-gallery Wi-Fi. The new site will be launching on 6 February.

How will the galleries evolve in the future, and what are your next IT steps?
A key area of focus for my team is to run a 21st Century Art gallery as efficiently as possible, with faster and more cost-effective backend IT and business process automation. We’re going to be moving internal staff over to virtualised desktops this year and there will be further work to digitally preserve artworks and improve customer relationship management.