Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Preserved with the help of AWS

Since the outbreak of war in late February, much has been at stake in Ukraine, not least the possible loss of the country’s rich heritage. Until recently, many of Ukraine’s cultural websites were hosted on physical servers that were at risk of being physically compromised at any moment. This situation led to volunteer librarians, archivists, researchers, and developers from different countries to rally together and form an organization called Saving Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Online (SUCHO). Founded just a few days after the conflict began, its mission is to find and swiftly archive content from Ukrainian cultural websites. Amazon Web Services (AWS) joined the movement in early April, to support cloud migration of data and resources. 

We spoke with Sandra Topic, an AWS Strategic Programs PM, to find out more about AWS’ involvement in the project, how the team helped SUCHO to overcome technical challenges, and the impact their work has already had. 

Sandra, could you tell me a little about how your partnership with SUCHO started? 

Sure. The request from SUCHO actually came from two channels. The first was one of our AWS Account Managers - and the second was via Tech To The Rescue. My role is to be the ‘glue’ between Tech To The Rescue team and AWS when it comes to our Ukrainian Humanitarian Relief Effort. 

On the 4th April I was introduced by Tech To The Rescue to Sebastian Majstorovic from the Austrian Center for Digital Humanities and Cultural Heritage - one of the co-founders of SUCHO.  

Great. And how did the AWS team help? 

Sebastian explained that SUCHO’s first step is to identify the data and documents that are in danger of irreparable destruction as a result of the Russian invasion - and the next step is to move these over to the Cloud. This is the part with which he needed our help. We later also ended up guiding the SUCHO team on a range of technical challenges that they faced. 

 As part of our humanitarian relief effort, AWS gives out free credits enabling the people and organizations who have been affected by the war to use our Cloud for free. SUCHO received these credits, but their team also had (and continues to have) free support from our technical experts such as Solutions Architects, Storage and Cost optimization SMEs, etc. We gathered a team of experts who worked after hours to help out on a pro-bono basis. The team consisted of CEE Enterprise Lead, Cloud Economics BDM, Solution and Storage Architects, AWS Social Impact team, AWS Open Data Analysts and Tech Volunteers. 

And where were the documents that required migration previously stored? 

They were mostly stored on premises and on local hard drives, which posed a risk of being destroyed. SUCHO quickly decided that Cloud migration was necessary, as each day became more and more unpredictable. In the beginning, there were volunteers within SUCHO who tried  to coordinate the migration efforts themselves, but eventually they reached out to AWS Cloud for support. 

Could you tell us a little more about the technical challenges that you mentioned? 

Sebastian told us that the credits that we were providing for free were really helpful, but he was afraid that they were going to run out soon due to the sheer amount of data that they were moving. So we decided to offer more credits, but also to engage our Cloud Economics and AWS product teams to help SUCHO with cost and storage optimization, and teach them how to use those credits wisely. I put the team at SUCHO in touch with our product teams in the US and the UK. We also jumped on a technical call with our Solutions Architects from Poland. We looked at every technical problem line by line, and then either provide solutions ourselves internally or put SUCHO volunteers with AWS technical experts.

The most burning issue was the data transfer costs, so we began by brainstorming how we could bring these down in the short term, and so we onboarded SUCHO to AWS Open Data Program to help in the long term. 

And the timeframe for all of this was incredibly fast, wasn’t it? 

Yes. TTTR put us in touch with Sebastian from SUCHO on a Monday, next day we had already the MVP of the solution, and by Wednesday we were onboarding them onto The Open Data Program. Everyone jumped in to help, their line managers were more than supportive of these efforts, overall it was really heartwarming to see how engaged everyone was.

Have you been able to measure the impact of your efforts? 

Sucho received $12K worth of AWS Promotional Credit to migrate the websites of Ukrainian cultural heritage organizations, museums, and libraries into the cloud. So far, the project has archived more than 25 terabytes of data from over 3,000 websites, with many of the websites going offline shortly after SUCHO was able to back them up. This just shows how important and urgent the migration was. The project is still ongoing, so this number is constantly rising. 

That’s brilliant to hear. And could you tell me a little about what surprised you the most about the project? 

I think what surprised me the most was the response from my AWS colleagues all across the world. Within a few days only, we got over 90 AWS employees volunteering for the Ukrainian humanitarian relief effort. Off the back of this, we started a technical volunteer group in support of the Ukrainian crisis and local and global communities. The variety of skills that my AWS colleagues are willing to “donate” is also wider than expected. We have all: business people, sales people, finance specialists, AI consultants, designers, program managers and more. They’ve all pledged a given number of hours per week to support the Ukrainian War effort. I found that I had the same problem as you grapple with at Tech To The Rescue - I often didn’t have these programs and projects set up for them to work on, so I needed to act fast. I was also surprised by the sheer number of NGOs coming to Tech To The Rescue with need for support.  

Do you usually support pro-bono projects at AWS, or was this a first for you? 

We’ve supported a range of projects in the past, so the AWS Disaster Response Team had mechanisms and guidebooks already in place to effectively help Ukraine and Central Europe, when the war broke out.  

You mentioned that the project is still going. What are the next steps for it? 

We’ve addressed the cost issue for SUCHO with Open Data Program, it essentially means that the team can use AWS at no cost. The next step will be for Amazon Retail to provide digital equipment, such as computers and cameras, which will be transported to Ukraine. These will help librarians and museum workers to take as many photos as possible of different artefacts, so that they can then be uploaded and stored on the Cloud. The good news is that the process is relatively simple, as we’re able to give out Amazon gift cards. Users can then go on Amazon and purchase the equipment that they need. Some equipment for SUCHO has already been transported to the Polish border, and from there, it was picked up by somebody from Ukraine to send on to the right places. 

As a next step we will be engaging with AWS Cloud Economics team - Cloud Financial Management (CFM) as SUCHO continues to grow with the cloud and address how to manage their environment and the costs. What's been great is while our first stage leverages a key CFM activity of identifying and optimizing data storage and transfer needs, we will support SUCHO in understanding other cost management techniques so they further gain value despite these trying times.

SUCHO will continue to have ongoing tech support from our team, but apart from that we’re pleased to say that they will be able to mostly self-serve with the tools that we’ve provided them with. We’re now ready for a new partnership through Tech To The Rescue and we hope to replicate this success. 

What do you think is the business value of engaging in projects such as this one with SUCHO? 

I think it’s about understanding that you can do something good for the world and that it can be good for your business too. For me personally, the motivation to work at AWS is much higher, and I believe that this is also true for a number of my fellow volunteers. Morale is definitely up, which we can see in our employee surveys. 

 

Thank you Sandra. And we wish you every success with our next Tech To The Rescue and AWS Partnership!

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