Building a State of the Art Digital Backup Solution
At the end of June, the Africa Media Online team was hard at work moving offices. We are still in Pietermaritzburg, but have moved up to the top of a hill overlooking the city to Hilltops Office Park in Clarendon. Apart from the view, what attracted me to the site was the ideal conditions for building a digital repository.
In January 2017 I was in The Netherlands at the Winterschool for Audiovisual Archiving held at the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision in Hilversum. It was a real privilege to interact with colleagues from all over Europe and lecturers from Europe and the US gaining an insight into what it takes to build a Trusted Digital Repository.
A Trusted Digital Repository is a term used to designate a digital repository that has everything in place to pass an independent audit and become accredited in terms of the International Standards Organisation standard ISO 16363. Gaining such accreditation is no small matter. The standard looks at the big picture of what is needed in order to sustain a digital repository for the long term. One not only needs a state of the art digital asset management system in place with documented processes to run such systems reliably in a manner that satisfies the independent auditors, but one also needs proven sustainability as an organisation including such elements as staff training and long-term financial plans that are regularly reviewed.
In the First World, organisations that tend to gain such accreditation tend to be large government institutions with long institutional memory and clear systems and processes that ensure that knowledge and capacity are passed down the generations. In many parts of the Majority World, however, such longevity of institutional memory in government institutions cannot be taken for granted. This provides an opportunity for private service providers, particularly those that have a broad footprint in the market, serving a range of sectors. Such organisation are often better placed to take on the critical role of digital preservation behalf of public institutions, businesses and community organisations. This is especially true of social enterprises that exist for a higher cause than simply bottom line profits. With our foundational purpose as “Africans telling Africa’s Story” we believe that we at Africa Media Online are well placed to be part of playing that role here in Africa. For this reason we are working hard toward the goal of gaining accreditation as a Trusted Digital Repository. There is certainly no quick way of accomplishing this – it is very much a journey.
An important next step in that journey, however, has been taken simply by moving offices and the opportunities it has presented us. What I saw at Hilltops, was not just a far more conducive working environment for our team, and a more pleasant environment for clients to come to, but also the ability to have an off-site server room in a secure environment. Our main office is now in one building and our server room in a physically removed separate building. We have put a lot of investment into the server room environment, sealing it to deal with dust, putting in airconditioning, and installing an alarm system. We have also just commissioned an automated fire-suppression system. We are also looking to extend our power backup system linking it to solar power generation.
What is really exciting for me about having a physically removed server room, however, is that we can run offsite backups automatically. We have installed a fibre link from the server room to a secure Backup Room in our main office. What that means is that all backups are automatically off-site backups. Of course we will not leave it at that, as I plan to also have a whole set of backup tapes housed 20 km away in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands. Soon we will also be announcing another innovation in terms of secure backups which will be added to our system which we believe will be a first for a digital collection in Africa.
None of this comes cheap. We believe, however, that the investment will be worth it in the long-run, both in terms of caring for the collections that have been entrusted to us, and in terms of the long-term sustainability of what we hope will be, in the not too distant future, an ISO accredited Trusted Digital Repository.