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When Dubai Culture was set up in 2008 as a government body responsible for overseeing the emirate’s libraries, heritage sites and museums, it never imagined the IT journey it would have to make to engage with citizens, residents and tourists.
In the eight years since it was formed, Dubai Culture has grown substantially and is bringing the emirate’s history and heritage to life.
Operating from 24 sites across Dubai, its work centres on organising a number of high-profile exhibitions, including the Dubai International Film Festival and the Emirates Festival of Literature.
Heritage plays an important role in Dubai Culture’s work, with a host of museums and sites, including Hatta Heritage Village and Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood, under its stewardship.
For a nation with 31% of its population under the age of 25, organisations in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) must provide the latest technology platforms to help bring the country’s history and culture to life.
Dubai Culture’s chief of administrative systems and networking, Ahmed Al Sharawi, knows this as well as anyone.
At the core of Dubai Culture’s technology offerings are two applications that Al Sharawi and the IT team have developed over the past two years. One is a library app that enables users to peruse the vast quantity of books on offer, as well as to book facility rooms for group study and access membership services.
The other is the Dubai Culture official app, which contains information on heritage sites in the emirate, and a selection of 360-degree drone images, video footage and augmented reality features, showing some of Dubai’s most famous historical sites.
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But a lot of detailed planning is needed behind the scenes to bring this technology to life.
“The most important thing for us is our IT infrastructure,” said Al Sharawi. “I am very pleased and proud to say we have built a very strong infrastructure that links our 24 sites.”
The organisation has not done this alone, using an outsourcing partner for support.
According to Al Sharawi, Dubai Culture began working with system integrator Think Software Services just over two years ago, and the partnership has been a success.
“We had strong systems and a datacentre prior to working with Think Software Services, but we were not using them to the full potential,” he said. “The equipment was there, but was limited to our library system, domain services and basic IT.”
Help from Dell
Think Software set to work on assisting Dubai Culture with its systems design and, with help from Dell, made a series of changes to the infrastructure.
It introduced Dell blade servers, EqualLogic storage, Commvault backup and SonicWall security appliances. It also replaced more than 600 PCs with the latest systems.
“They helped us design how these systems were structured and how they would communicate with each other,” said Al Sharawi. “They also helped establish datacentre health – power, cooling and fire safety.”
Middle East citizens are consuming more and more data and the region’s IT infrastructures must be modernised accordingly.
According to the Cisco Global Cloud Index 2012 to 2017, the Middle East and Africa’s datacentre traffic is projected to grow more by than five-fold by 2017, representing a compound annual growth rate of 41% between 2012 and 2017.
More agile IT infrastructure
The region is also seeing a rapid take-up of smart devices, the rise of smart cities and increased investment in megaprojects such as World Expo 2020 in Dubai, driving business demand for more agile IT infrastructure.
Al Sharawi is satisfied that his organisation has the IT infrastructure in place to support these changes.
“We have built a very strong environment to host our virtual servers, and we have enough storage to effectively manage our data and backups,” he said.
“Our security level is very high, using the firewall and VPN communications. We have a very stable network now.”
Al Sharawi believes the steps Dubai Culture has taken to grow its technology processes will help the development of the organisation as a whole. “We are growing at a fast pace, and the system is now ready to host any changes that may come,” he said. “We can quickly install apps, which will help Dubai Culture’s growth and ability to deliver services.”
Al Sharawi and his team are now looking to push on with a number of ambitious technology initiatives.
“We want to develop more mobile apps that can engage users to interact with us, as well as use more augmented reality in our systems,” he said. “Automation will be key for us. We are also deploying new systems, such as archiving and licensing.”