Safeguarding Oxford University’s Global Heritage Collections with AWS

Gardens, Libraries and Museums (GLAM) digitized its collections and reduced storage costs by 50-60 percent and avoided a management cost increase of 13 percent with Amazon Web Services (AWS). GLAM consists of four University museums and the Botanic Garden & Harcourt Arboretum. It has created a digital record of its collections, which it stores in Amazon S3 via the AWS Storage Gateway and retains the data long-term in Amazon Glacier.

“We cut the IT expense of digitization by 50-60% with AWS.”

Anjanesh Babu, Systems Architect and Network Manager, GLAM


  • About GLAM
  • The Gardens, Libraries and Museums (GLAM) of the University of Oxford contain some of the world's most significant collections. While they provide important places of scholarly enquiry, for the public they also represent the front door to the wealth of knowledge and research curated and generated at the University.

  • Benefits of AWS
    • Reduced IT costs by 50–60%
    • Lowered management costs by 13%
    • Protects the museums’ digital assets
  • AWS Services Used

Visitors from Around the World

GLAM houses some of the world's most significant collections, covering the natural world, global art, and artefacts. The four museums, the Ashmolean, History of Science, Natural History, and Pitt Rivers, together with the Botanic Garden & Harcourt Arboretum are home to over 8.5 million objects and specimens. In 2018, the collections were visited by over 2.4 million members of the public and researchers from around the world.

The Drive to Digitization

GLAM can display only a small proportion of their objects and specimens due to the volume of the collections. GLAM, which oversees daily operations, planned to address this issue as part of the GLAM Digital Programme to democratise access to the collections, eliminating geographic, cultural and economic boundaries.

Anjanesh Babu, systems architect and network manager for Gardens and Museums says, “We needed a resilient, robust, and scalable storage platform that I could onboard in a short space of time. This would represent a seismic shift in our entire infrastructure.”

GLAM wanted to preserve and safeguard their digital assets as efficiently as possible because of ongoing major changes with infrastructure upgrades. The constant risk of damage to objects increased the pressure to build a digital record without delay.

Anjanesh adds, “It was clear our existing tape libraries could not meet our requirements.”


Only the Cloud Offers the Right Solution

The key challenge was that an on-premises storage system would take too long to deploy and configure. Anjanesh says, “The expense of the hardware and managing it with our small IT team was beyond our reach.” Anjanesh looked at Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform and AWS as alternatives.

He assessed the AWS Storage Gateway to connect on-premises data servers to an Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) repository. “AWS Storage Gateway provided a familiar interface and resiliency,” he says. "Anjanesh adds, “We found no other native hybrid storage service like AWS Storage Gateway that we could deploy in minutes, uses standard storage protocols, and has no storage limitations.”


A Seamless Extension into the Cloud

Via AWS Storage Gateway, GLAM personnel saved digital images to file shares mapping to Amazon S3. “Within a few weeks, we established our digital collection in the AWS Cloud. I felt as though I could now sleep at night,” says Anjanesh.

A problem with one server meant that AWS Storage Gateway could not be used to lift 23 terabytes of data. To overcome the issue, Anjanesh used AWS Snowball, a petabyte-scale data transport solution. “The commandline interface tools in AWS Snowball made it easy to set up and start transferring data. We shipped the device to AWS, which then transferred the data to our Amazon S3 repository,” Anjanesh says.



GLAM started using Amazon Glacier to archive data from Amazon S3 for long-term retention. “Amazon Glacier is easier to use than an on-premises archive,” says Anjanesh. "You don’t lose time with complicated instructions, and you don’t have to change the data in any way.”

GLAMs also begun using Amazon S3 Standard-Infrequent Access (Amazon S3 Standard-IA) to archive data that required faster read/write access than was available in Amazon Glacier.


Halves IT Costs Versus On Premises

GLAM reduced the costs of creating its digital collection by avoiding on-premises IT infrastructure. “We cut the IT expense of digitization by 50-60 percent with AWS,” says Anjanesh.  

The security of the AWS environment with its two-factor authentication allows GLAM to focus on developing the Digital Programme.

“I don’t have to worry about protecting our digital archive or its availability with AWS,” comments Anjanesh.



The primary deliverables from the project have enabled development agility across the board with faster times to production and an array of toolsets that enables creative freedom for developers.

“We are also working on proof of concepts for AWS Lambda serverless architectures for the next-generation digital services. Because developers with AWS skills are widely available, we also gain value through the AWS Partner Network to help with project sprints and operational support,” added Anjanesh.


Safeguarding the Past with a Better Understanding of the Digital Future

The project gave the University of Oxford its first experience of migrating to the cloud, which has helped facilitate further research, teaching, lifelong learning and public engagement, and encouraged new collaborations and experimentation.

The IT team at GLAM is now looking to integrate AWS services such as Amazon Secrets Manager to manage and retrieve database credentials, application programming interface keys, and other sensitive data needed to access applications and services. The team is also looking to integrate Amazon AppStream 2.0, a fully managed application streaming service, into its operations.




The Digital Programme is attracting interest from the wider Oxford University IT community and has initiated discussions for the potential of adopting cloud services more widely.

Says Anjanesh, “People across the organization are seeing how AWS can support the Digital Programme and increase our potential to be innovative."



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