Discovery Centre finds itself in need of IT overhaul

Halifax’s Discovery Centre is applying some scientific principals to its own systems by replacing outmoded technology with IBM gear.

The centre was using what executive director Liz Batstone called “”a patchwork quilt

of various machines and services that have been either acquired or donated.””

Local companies would donate equipment that had become obsolete within their organizations, she said, which constantly left the centre at least one generation behind. “”Everything was always outdated. It was always five years behind at least.””

The centre reached an agreement with IBM Canada to supply a raft of new tools, including new PCs and laptops as well as embedded security systems and access points to move between wired and wireless networks. IBM Canada, along with regional services organization IMP Solutions, put the technology in place.

The upgrade was past-due, said Batstone. “”As an organization, our outmoded technology was a detriment to moving forward — and that’s particularly bad in a science centre.””

“”It really wasn’t up to running current revisions of software and current levels of technology,”” said Brian Evans, IBM Canada’s PC division sales specialist in the company’s Halifax office. “”It was basically a network that they have put together on their own using Microsoft peer-to-peer networking that literally just grew over the last few years. On a shoestring budget, they managed to connect printers to it . . . and they supported this internally.””

The technology has been phased in over the last six months, said Batstone. The centre’s network was interrupted for a time as it was upgraded, but the centre stayed open to the public for the duration.

The centre’s marketing efforts were typically contracted out to businesses that could handle the workload. But with the upgraded technology in place, it should now be able to handle its own newsletters, signage and other needs, said Batstone.

As a result of the overhaul, the centre will also see enhancements to its point-of-sale software which handles admission fees and gift shop purchases, added Evans, as well as improvements to basic operations like e-mail.

Visitors to the Discovery Centre will benefit directly, since some of the technology that the organization purchased will appear on the display floor. New PCs will offer features like interactive games and exhibit information.

Evans stressed that the centre’s upgrade is an ongoing process, with some of the work yet to come. “”You can’t just take an IT infrastructure that was five to eight years old, rip and replace it with everything that was brand new, and turn it all on and have everything functioning and the people trained on how to use it,”” he said. “”Some of the bits and pieces we’re turning on in phases as we go.””

The centre’s next project is to relaunch its Web site. Older systems within the centre prevented this is in the past, said Batstone, but the upgrade should allow it to host the site internally.

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