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Wildscreen conservation charity uses colocation to preserve endangered species media library

Wildlife charity explains how Virtus Data Centres is helping it spread the word online about the importance of conservation

For more than a decade, wildlife conservation charity Wildscreen has been building an online catalogue documenting details of the world’s endangered species through its Arkive initiative.

The portal is designed to give conservationists of all ages comprehensive overviews of these creatures and raise awareness of the environmental threats they face.

Since Arkive was launched in 2003, the number of species it profiles has grown from about 100 to more than 16,000, and Wildscreen estimates that the information it contains is accessed by 1.2 million people a month.

Each Arkive profile comprises a written fact file detailing the habitat, threats and conservation work being done to protect the species.

To bring this information to life, Wildscreen showcases images and videos of each creature, captured in the field by the world’s top wildlife film-makers and photographers.

As the amount of information and the number of people trying to access Arkive have grown over the years, Wildscreen has faced a variety of scalability and bandwidth challenges, said the charity’s technology manager, Jonathan Bride.

These problems were compounded by the fact that the Bristol-based company had servers sited in a local university, others in the US, and a smattering of IT infrastructure housed in its own offices.

“At that time, we were essentially borrowing space from the university, but eventually they wanted that to use that space for themselves, and managing those resources was also a little bit tricky because we had to go via them for access all the time,” said Bride.

“It was also getting to a point – with video, especially – where the bandwidth wasn’t enough from those two locations, so we moved a lot of things – including the species images and videos – onto a content delivery network [CDN].”

The original, high-resolution images supplied to Wildscreen are first passed through a separate system, dubbed The Media Vault, for processing where they are tagged with species-specific metadata and keywords.

Lower-resolution versions are also created and then watermarked with the Arkive brand before being passed to the CDN, which is when they appear online.  

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“What that enabled us to do was reduce the bandwidth to the datacentres where the web servers were, and having that distributed network of content really helped us improve load times,” Bride added.

The organisation also embarked on a period of server virtualisation and consolidation as it looked to wind down its reliance on the space it took up in the university campus – an exercise that saw its footprint shrink from 12 appliances to two, which were moved to a datacentre “outside of London”, said Bride.

The Media Vault part of its operations was housed in a server room in the charity’s offices until late 2014, when the prospect of an office move prompted an urgent rethink about how and where it kept this data repository, said Wildscreen director Lucie Muir.

“We had to move offices quite quickly because our landlords wanted the building back, and that created some challenges around what to do with our server room, as it would take months to move,” she said.

The company resolved to do without a server room in its new offices, and decided to move The Media Vault to Virtus Data Centres’ colocation facility in Enfield, north London.

The migration process was relatively pain-free and was achieved within a day, said Bride. “They took it over, confirmed the move was done, and then, the day after, we were ready to go.” he added.

“From the public’s point of view, there was no disruption. From an internal perspective, while there was a little bit of downtime, in terms of access to hi-res imagery, we were all busy with the move, so it wasn’t really a problem anyway.”

Preserved for posterity

The remaining parts of Wildscreen’s in-house infrastructure now occupy a single, soundproof, self-contained server cabinet, which should make any future office moves less daunting, said Muir.

But that is just one benefit Wildscreen stands to gain by going down the colocation route, she added. It should ensure the organisation is better equipped to cope with the predicted rise in quality and quantity of media it expects to receive in the years ahead.

“We have high-resolution versions of the films and pictures created by the world’s best photographers and film-makers, and security is really important and critical to us, as Arkive is an archive in the actual sense of the word too and is there to be preserved for posterity,” Muir said.

“Therefore, having those stored within our own server room and building wasn’t really practical, and that is why we looked to outsource it.”

Also, as Wildscreen’s contributors look to submit more in the way of ultra-high-definition content, the organisation may need to upgrade its storage systems, which may have proved difficult if it was still all in-house.

“If we were to do a storage upgrade in the office, it could be tricky, as we would need to make sure we have enough power, space and cooling capacity,” said Bride. “If we needed to do that now, we can get more storage and ask Virtus to take care of the power, cooling and space issues for us.”

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