Swiss National Sound Archives Expands Reach With Revelation Software

Bookmark and Share

The Swiss National Sound Archives is Switzerland's official depository of audio records. Founded by law in 1987 as a private foundation working in close collaboration with the Swiss National Library in Bern, the mission of the Swiss National Sound Archives is the preservation of the country's audio heritage.

Behind the scenes, MultiValue technology from Revelation Software has played a critical role in the Swiss National Sound Archives' IT architecture from the start, from the initial collection and entry of data about its archives into the catalog to accessibility of that data over the web, to enabling real-time accessibility of the actual recordings over the web. 

Strictly for Switzerland's audio archives, the foundation collects and safeguards anything sound-related, including speeches, theatrical works, interviews, audio books, and all types of music-from rock to classical. It makes these recordings and detailed information about them, such as the people involved in their creation, available through a website accessible to the public in Switzerland's four official languages - German, French, Italian and Romansh - as well as in English.

Because of copyright laws governing use of the recordings, only those published in the last 60 days are available - and only the recording's initial 30 seconds - to listeners via the web. However, the Swiss National Sound Archives is now working to make the full spectrum of its recordings, which currently includes approximately 3 million tracks, available to the public at listening stations located in libraries and educational institutions spread across Switzerland's 26 cantons. In taking this approach, the foundation will be able to maintain complete security over the connections at the listening stations.

"We started last year by setting up remote listening spots all over Switzerland. We are planning to have at least one listening spot in each canton," states Stefano S. Cavaglieri, CTO and CIO of the Swiss National Sound Archives, which itself is based in Lugano, in an Italian-speaking area. Because there are four official languages in Switzerland, taking a multilingual approach to the foundation's website is not only important, it is mandatory.

Cavaglieri, who started his career as a sound engineer in the late 1970s, joined the Swiss National Sound Archives at the very beginning of the project. He learned about Revelation Software during a visit to the Library of Congress in 1986 when he was shown an application written in Rev G, a DOS-based product. At about the same time, he also began switching slowly to IT, subsequently gaining an additional degree in computer science. "It is a good combination because I understand both worlds," he notes.

Back in the 1980s when the project was just beginning, "we were looking for something special and very flexible," recalls Cavaglieri. After beginning in the 1980s with Rev G, the foundation moved to Advanced Revelation in the 1990s, progressing to the final release of Advanced Revelation 3.12. Advanced Revelation is still used as a front end internally for data entry purposes, but the foundation has added in OpenInsight, Revelation's repository-based applications development environment that enables development teams to work collaboratively to design, develop, deploy, and scale high-performance business solutions. OpenInsight's complete tool set (including a Form Designer, Editor/Debugger, UI Workspace, XML Workspace), advanced BASIC+ scripting language and powerful client/server development, deliver a complete environment for deploying and evolving network applications.

Currently, the foundation has a central repository for storing all the audio files it produces or receives, explains Cavaglieri. In order to be saved in the digital archive or "vault," every recording-even a very rudimentary one imprinted in wax that dates from the late 19th century-is converted to a high resolution WAV and an MP3 if it is not already in that form. The vault is based on a Sun Microsystems SAN solution, consisting of one disk array with a current capacity of 10TB for online access, and two tape libraries with a current capacity 40TB each for near-line access. "As a hierarchical management system we've implemented SAM-FS. All connectivity is granted by a Fibre Channel dual zone fabric, isolated, for security reasons, from the rest of the IT infrastructure. The vault contains high resolution files in WAV format, compressed files in MP3 format, images in JPG or PNG or GIF format, protocol files, etc.," explains Cavaglieri. "All that is organized and bundled as the reference model for an open archival information system (OAIS)."  Access to the contents of the vault is possible via CIFS, FTP, HTTP, and NFS protocols.

The web is used to deliver all services to end users, and internally, this part of the IT infrastructure consists of one Apache web server, one application server running OpenInsight and its OpenEngine socket server, two database servers (a primary and a mirror) running Revelation's Universal Driver Heavy, firewalls and switches. The web server has about 25GB disk-based cache storage attached.

Offering an example of the processing done behind a simple click to the Swiss National Sound Archives' website, Cavaglieri explains that if, for example, a visitor clicks on the "Jazz" button in the box called "Latest entries," they get a new window, when using Internet Explorer, or a new tab, when using Firefox. This page builds in real time a list of all records originally published on CD, DVD, or file, received during the last 30 days for the selected sector. The descriptive data, as well as the thumbnails, come straight from the database.

Then when the user clicks on any loudspeaker icon they get another window called "Prefade listening." The thumbnail can be clicked for zooming the cover image and, if the content of the CD was already transferred to the vault, the user can also get a Flash-based media player, fully loaded with a playlist of all tracks available. In keeping with copyright restrictions, the tracks are limited to their initial 30 seconds of sound.

According to Cavaglieri, in the seconds required for delivering this last page after a user has clicked the loudspeaker icon, the application server would have done a check to see if there was already the cover image in the temporary storage, and if not, then a copy of it would be moved from the vault to the cache, and a check made to see if there was already the playlist in the temporary storage. If not, then a check would be made to see if there was already a corresponding playlist in the vault, and if not, it then would have created it and simultaneously created a second, different instance for the cache. It also would have checked for all required MP3 files in the vault, and then copied each MP3 file to the temporary storage while cutting it to its first 30 seconds of audio and renaming it, in time for the player to start playing the first track.

Throughout the evolution of its IT architecture, Cavaglieri says, the Swiss National Sound Archives has relied on Revelation. That has not changed as the foundation enables real-time access to the public of its vast and constantly expanding archive of recordings and multilingual supporting information.

Reflecting on the Swiss National Sound Archives' use of Revelation technology, Cavaglieri notes, "They innovate but they always guarantee backwards compatibility. That means that the data that we started entering in l986 is still readable today, without changing anything and this is something I couldn't find in any other product."

Over the years, the foundation has experimented with other products, some from much larger companies, but Cavaglieri says they were not deemed to be viable alternatives.  With Revelation, he notes, "You as a customer can talk with the president; you can talk with the developers. If you have a problem or a question, you can call them or write to them and you get an immediate answer. And, if you need some new functionality you can discuss it freely." Additionally, he adds, the company is dynamic. "They understand what the market needs and what the trends are, and they get it to you so you are always up-to-date."