British Library revamps network for digitisation work

An example of a digitised book produced by the British Library

The UK's national library is using a new Ethernet networking infrastructure as the basis for a number of projects to digitise huge amounts of content and to consolidate its data centre using virtualisation.

The British Library needed to find more reliable and cost-efficient ways to network its two sites in London's St Pancras and Boston Spa, Yorkshire.

Stephen Lilgert, the British Library's head of infrastructure strategy and development told IT PRO the library is celebrating its tenth anniversary at the St Pancras site and needed to update its existing networking technology in support of a number of initiatives.

"We have 150 million items in our catalogues, including a copy of every book every book and newspaper published in the UK and we are growing at about 3 million new items a year, so capacity is an issue, as is the network for managing the distribution and storage of our digital content," he said.

The Library now uses equipment from Foundry Networks to meet demands in increased networking capacity for a wide range of digital projects, from digitising current and historical library collections and materials, to enabling virtualisation in order to control costs through better use of server infrastructure.

It is now using the latest BigIron RX-8 Layer 2/3 backbone switches and FastIron Edge X Series Power over Ethernet (PoE) ready switches to augment its existing Foundry equipment already installed at its Boston Spa and St Pancras facilities.

The British Library originally installed Foundry BigIron 8000 backbone switches, FastIron 4802 and FastIron Edge switches in 2000 at its archive and document delivery facility in Boston Spa after a full tender process in order to replace an obsolete fibre distributed data interface (FDDI) based 3Com network and a Cisco ATM-based network at its St Pancras site.

Lilgert said: "We always felt homogenising both sites and using one open standards-based supplier would give us considerable benefit from an ongoing total cost of ownership, support and management perspective, which is why we standardised on Foundry."

The network is also key to the use of virtualisation by the Library as a way to use space more efficiently and reduce the associated costs of its mixed Unix, Solaris and legacy VAX/VMS data centres. Lilgert said VMware technology, used for 18 months now, has already helped reduce the server farm by 80 machines.

"That amounts to 14,000 a year in power, not to mention 4,000 in air-conditioning and cooling," he said.

He added: "We're looking to reduce our large physical server infrastructure through a combination of consolidation and virtualisation. We are running a clustered, high-availability VMware infrastructure working on the basis of around 25 virtual servers sitting on one physical host. Bandwidth, therefore, needs to be increased at the distribution layer hence the deployment of gigabit Ethernet FastIron Edge X Series switches in our computer rooms."

He said the network infrastructure upgrades have also been key to load balancing the Library's integrated online library catalogue, as well as ensuring service uptime and availability through its Quality of Service (QoS) features and facilitating voice over IP (VoIP) and advanced video conferencing capabilities.

Miya Knights

A 25-year veteran enterprise technology expert, Miya Knights applies her deep understanding of technology gained through her journalism career to both her role as a consultant and as director at Retail Technology Magazine, which she helped shape over the past 17 years. Miya was educated at Oxford University, earning a master’s degree in English.

Her role as a journalist has seen her write for many of the leading technology publishers in the UK such as ITPro, TechWeekEurope, CIO UK, Computer Weekly, and also a number of national newspapers including The Times, Independent, and Financial Times.