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by Daemonn Brody
14 September 2020
Associate feature: Bringing a university’s collections under one digital ‘roof’

Credit: Getty images

Associate feature: Bringing a university’s collections under one digital ‘roof’

The University of Oxford’s four museums contain some of the world’s most significant collections: these are not only important for scholarly research, they also represent the front door to the wealth of knowledge and research curated by the University.

However, as Dr. Sarah Joomun, Digital Collections Manager, points out,“It was almost impossible to find information about our collections and what we actually had in the museum. This project was the chance to set up a single search for all our collections and a single place to look for collections data, to display this and to add additional information to the collections.”

The solution would be a key resource for scholars, students and the general public and needed to ensure prompt (and appropriate) search responses. According to Professor Paul Smith, Director of The University of Oxford Museum of Natural History, “Online collections enable researchers to assess whether the specimen they’re looking for is the right one – rather than having to travel to Oxford to see it or transport it to the research institution concerned.”

Embracing the cloud

The teams at The University of Oxford Gardens, Libraries And Museums (GLAM) and IT Services wanted each museum’s collection to be viewed as a discrete entity, but they also planned to create a single mechanism facilitating the online search and discovery of items across the University’s collections.

A key challenge was the creation of an infrastructure able to deliver accurate search results from the data sets. In the process of bringing the University’s collections under one digital ‘roof’, the in-house development team would be continuously onboarding new data sets and wanted to interrogate existing data from the same single search tool as they did so. 

The solution needed to be secure and robust, with capabilities for backup and restoration. In addition, the teams required continuous integration and deployment of the solution that could be managed internally. Finally, they wanted to ensure that the solution provided a blueprint for best practice and was cost-effective.

The team had the in-house skills and resources to build the solution’s core functionality, but recognised the advantages of deploying this application on AWS’s managed cloud services and taking advantage of its serverless technology


The AWS solution that CirrusHQ provided was created using AWS best practices and utilising AWS Well Architected Framework. One of the key deliverables of the project was ensuring that the development team had the ability to control integration and delivery of new features to the targeted environment and accelerate the delivery of new features and improvements to the system.

CirrusHQ used AWS CodePipeline as a tool to implement Continuous Integration / Continuous Delivery (CI/CD). The use of managed services provided by AWS for this solution ensures best practice, high availability, scale, resilience, and maintainability of each component. 

Anjanesh Babu, GLAM IT’s Systems Architect and Network Manager, said, “The level of expertise in solution design and support provided by CirrusHQ has been a formative experience with this project for Garden and Museums IT. Having a simple – yet robust – support support framework means setting up our AWS operational infrastructure has been seamless.”


“Digitisation provides us with a great opportunity to open our doors virtually and this is the first step in that journey to making the collections accessible to the world,” said Kevin Rodd, GLAM’s Divisional Secretary and Chief Operating Officer. “There is also potential for financial gains through this channel by engaging with donors or developing a picture library.”

Overall, the solution not only enables high performance and resilience from the adoption of resources that are managed by AWS, but it is also cost-effective. As all the infrastructure is in code, it is repeatable, easy to update, and has a delivery pipeline that is managed by the in-house development team to ensure continued updates are quick, and do not constrain their development or deployment processes.

The solution has enabled the GLAM and IT service team to have an AWS blueprint for best practice, demonstrating use of serverless, code pipelines and services managed by AWS to gain the most from current practices within the public cloud.

Dr. Joomun says, “Our visitors are sending enquiries to the museum which are getting more specific which is indicative of the fact that visitors will have looked at the Collections Online, are able to find information online and then ask questions based on that.”

You can visit The University of Oxford Museum of Natural History website to see the new collections online search functionality in action.

You can also hear The University of Oxford and CirrusHQ talk about the project on 15/16 September at ther session at Holyrood Connect – the flagship event for those interested in Cloud Services in the Public Sector.

Register here for more information


CirrusHQ are a highly accredited AWS Advanced Consulting Partner who focus purely on the Amazon Cloud. For the last 14 years we have been specialising in designing, deploying and managing Cloud solutions; migrating services and applications to the Cloud; and providing Cloud consulting services across the public and private sector.  

Our unrivalled skills and insights into AWS enables public sector and private organisations of all sizes to unlock the scale and innovation of the Public Cloud. Based in Edinburgh, London and Oxford, our team of AWS certified solution architects work with customers to find the optimum balance of availability, security and affordability for Cloud solutions.

We work as partners to our customers: enabling them to grow and innovate in the Cloud, and be part of their team delivering and managing their solutions"

This piece was sponsored by CirrusHQ



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