IT Science Case Study: How to Digitally Preserve Heritage Sites

CyArk uses laser scanning, digital modeling and other state-of-the-art technologies to create extremely detailed 3D models of everything from the Tower of London to the faces on Mount Rushmore.


Here is the latest article in a new eWEEK feature series called IT Science, in which we look at what really happens at the intersection of new-gen IT and legacy systems.

Unless it’s brand new and right off various assembly lines, servers, storage and networking inside every IT system can be considered “legacy.” This is because the iteration of both hardware and software products is speeding up all the time. It’s not unusual for an app-maker, for example, to update and/or patch for security purposes an application a few times a month, or even a week. Some apps are updated daily! Hardware moves a little slower, but manufacturing cycles are also speeding up.

These articles describe new-gen industry solutions. The idea is to look at real-world examples of how new-gen IT products and services are making a difference in production each day. Most of them are success stories, but there will also be others about projects that blew up. We’ll have IT integrators, system consultants, analysts and other experts helping us with these as needed.

Today’s Topic:  How to Digitally Preserve Heritage Sites for Future Generations

Name the problem to be solved : CyArk’s (short for cyber ark) mission is to digitally preserve cultural heritage sites for future generations. The organization uses laser scanning, digital modeling and other state-of-the-art technologies to create extremely detailed 3D models of everything from the Tower of London to the Presidio in San Francisco. Raw data from each monument requires multiple terabytes of storage, and the number of sites continues to grow. They have more than 200 projects from seven continents currently archived. CyArk’s existing data infrastructure wasn’t designed and built to support the growing data needs (scalability and reliability) of an operation of this size and importance

Describe the strategy that went into finding the solution:  The overriding priorities for CyArk were to employ technologies that would let them capture more valuable data and do it faster. At the same time, data is only as valuable as what you do with it, so CyArk also sought a back-office infrastructure that would free staff to spend more time creating realistic 3D models from the data and less time managing data transfers, recoveries and other administrative tasks.

Name the components used in the solution:

  • In the field:  CyArk initially saves the files onto Seagate 4TB Backup Plus drive and LaCie Rugged 1TB SSD drives. The Rugged drive is extremely fast and built to withstand the elements it often faces in the field.
  • At Cyark HQ in Oakland:  Once the data is captured, it is transferred directly onto a 200TB Seagate OneStor Embedded Storage Platform configured specifically to meet CyArk’s needs. Using 8TB enterprise capacity drives, it scales by simply adding more racks, up to 500TB. CyArk also uses Seagate’s 8bay NAS Rack NAS system with Sdrive for remote access to enable digital preservation partners to send their own data files directly to CyArk without using a third-party service.  CyArk is also increasingly making sophisticated solid 3D models of its scans. When working with these models on their desktops, employees use a 12TB LaCie 2big Thunderbolt RAID system as their primary hard drives for editing due to its fast transfer time. It performs four-times faster –up to 420 MB/s using Thunderbolt 2–over what CyArk previously used.
  • Archiving: CyArk uses Commvault software to a Spectra Logic Spectra T950 Enterprise Tape Library to make compressed tape copies, as well as a StrongBox storage gateway for uncompressed gold copies. In addition to onsite copies, Iron Mountain holds two copies, including one in an ultra-secure site.

Describe how the deployment went, perhaps how long it took, and if it came off as planned: As a non-profit, CyArk has a relatively small in-house team and really depends on its network of technology partners to help accomplish its mission. Companies such as Seagate, Iron Mountain and Microsoft have donated their expertise to CyArk to ensure that files are accessible and protected in perpetuity. 

Describe the result, new efficiencies gained and what was learned from the project: While CyArk has always had enough redundancy to ensure original data files are not lost, the new infrastructure has enabled a small team work much faster. For example, faster drives in the field are letting CyArk digital preservationists stay on-site in difficult locations like Iraq and Syria for longer periods of time. Once back in the office, the primary storage platform is largely hands-off, as is the process  of getting large files from third parties. Meanwhile, data faster data transfer times mean staff spends more time building models to enable the world to experience these priceless heritage sites and less time waiting.

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Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor of Features & Analysis at eWEEK, responsible in large part for the publication's coverage areas. In his 12 years and more than 3,900 stories at eWEEK, he...