How This Museum Keeps the Oldest Functioning Computer Running
The National Museum of Computing now uses innovative technology to automate its environmental monitoring, making it easier to catch problems before they occur.
Technology evolves fast.
Most of us replace our computers every 3-7 years. Seeing old computers humming along decades after they were invented? Never happens. Unless, of course, you visit The National Museum of Computing in Bletchley, England, where antique computers are par for the course.
Here, some of the oldest functioning computers in the world are housed under the meticulous care of museum staff. Some of the computers — in particular, the Colossus and WITCH — date all the way back to the mid-20th century. (Read How to Get the Most Out of an Old PC.)
These are important pieces of technological history. Imagine yourself as a newly minted WWII engineer walking into a buzzing room full of the newest, most exciting code-breaking technology on the planet: a computer called Colossus.
Or imagine witnessing the launch of the world’s first digital computer, nicknamed WITCH. These two computers still run today under the methodical oversight and care of museum attendees.
But how do they keep this old technology running smoothly after all these years?
With a little help from modern technology.
More specifically, the National Museum of Computing uses PRTG—a 24/7 network monitoring tool—to track the continuous health of these artifacts. Prior to implementing PRTG technology, museum staff would manually have to ensure each of their 14 galleries and rooms achieved the appropriate conditions necessary for keeping all their antique computers alive.
The museum must monitor each computer meticulously to ensure temperature, humidity, UV level, and many other factors don’t cause damage to these important historical artifacts.
The National Museum of Computing now uses PRTG to automate its environmental monitoring, making it easier to catch problems before they occur.
Here’s the museum in action:
“As a museum, we have a duty to protect our items for at least 100 years,” said Claire Marston, Head of Learning at The National Museum of Computing. “One of the things that’s really important to caring for those, is knowing when there is likely something that goes wrong."
Old and new technology are coming together to preserve important technological history. To make this blend a success, the museum came up with a list of environmental factors they needed to monitor.
Colossus, the oldest functioning computer in the world, is understandably pretty picky. When it gets too warm, museum staff need quickly shut it down. On the other hand, some of the machines require the opposite: When the room gets too cold, they need to be warmed up.
In each room, Sigfox-ready monitoring devices were installed to measure a variety of atmospheric conditions:
- UV light levels
- and noise
Each device can be set to monitor the specific requirements for the resident equipment and alert staff if particular thresholds are approached.
Since each machine helps to form an Internet of Things (IoT) network, device recordings must be accessible online to allow authorized users constant access, no matter their location. The results of each monitoring computer is displayed in a dashboard. The museum Sys Admin can set up alerts to stay ahead of incoming problems.
These antiques are delicate. Handling and running this old technology requires a highly-monitoring environment. Abrupt changes to this environment can be catastrophic for these machines.
Taking a reactive approach to their care could mean losing these computers forever. Instead, the museum has taken preventative measures to ensure they always know the environment and general health of each computer.
By running PRTG around the clock, they can stay ahead of problems, detecting and correcting damages before they take place, or at least before they become detrimental.
Now, PRTG alerts the team about anything out of the ordinary like overheating or malfunctioning. The team can easily respond because they know the problems in front of them.
If these computers are to survive another century, active environmental management and regular upkeep is essential. PRTG helps museum staff gain a precise understanding of some of their most prized antiques, empowering them to do their job even better.
Learn more about Paessler PRTG here.