Nirvana Case Studies | General Atomics Records Management System


Records Management

Linda Lansville, Constantin Scheder

General Atomics Records Management System

Document management, data archiving

Since its inception in the 1950s, General Atomics has maintained a repository of documents and drawings generated by a variety of projects. These masters have been maintained in hard copy form using microfilm as a backup and for meeting dual storage requirements. There are two groups with master copies:

1. Configuration Management housing all the engineering design and programmatic documents and drawings

2. Document Center that maintains all the technical reports that are the contract deliverables to our many customers. Requests for copies in both areas are still active and can reach hundreds per month. Not all the metadata for design documents of each project is readily available from an online database. Therefore, retrieval is based on an individual's memory or by reading a hard copy list of documents by project. These printouts were generated from a magnetic tape that at the time was the latest technology. Today, active project listings for design documents are maintained in an Excel spreadsheet -- better than tape, but still not the most efficient way to manage data.

Another issue is turnaround. Many customers have immediate need for the copy but it is a complex set of procedures: Retrieve the master, complete a reproduction request, take the copy to be copied, wait for the copy to be made, pick it up when completed, call the user for pickup, then re-file the master.

The dual-storage requirement also makes it difficult to maintain masters. All word documents must first be microfiched. The film must be developed, quality checked (often resulting in the need to refilm), stuffed into microfiche jackets, metadata typed on each jacket, each jacket sent out for duplication, and the microfiche is then filed. The master film goes into a vault in another building and the copy is filed and available for everyday use when needed.

For drawings, each sheet of the drawing is microfilmed, and typed with metadata. Each one must be filmed multiple times to meet user requirements, stamped for storage location and filed accordingly. Concurrently, the repair and maintenance of the filming and viewing equipment can be costly from both regular use and as they age.

Scanning all of these masters and using Nirvana provides General Atomics the powerful tool to accomplish the goal of having a computer-based retrieval system.

Players Involved
General Atomics Corporate Document Center, Xerox and Nirvana Storage, a Division of GA

Jan 2002 – ongoing

Data sizes
Approximately 4Mio pages, 80k documents

Nirvana is used to manage the whole document lifecycle and underlying data storage requirements, including backup, replication and data abstraction. Nirvana controls and tracks user access (Access Control Lists and Auditing) and stores the associated metadata with each document. And Nirvana facilitates a very rapid discovery of documents based on metadata attribute queries.

Benefits for both the system Administrator and users include:

  • Users are shielded from the underlying storage system architecture and only see data through a logical collection-based view. The collection-based view is independent from the underlying storage system (tape, disk, database) and helps the user organize his or her data based on meaningful attributes rather than server location and file names. Hence the system provides three major transparencies to its users: Name transparency, location transparency and access protocol transparency. Solving the hard-copy data retrieval procedure, quick retrieval of documents is now a reality.

  • Decoupling data from its physical storage location is a huge advantage for Administrators. Upgrading servers, changing the storage architecture, and adding capacity can be done without affecting end users. A separate backup solution is also not required since it is integrated with the Nirvana product suite. New users, groups, or domains can easily be added and centrally managed through the Nirvana Administration Tool. Even an extension of the system to GA's other offices worldwide is a simple. It only requires installation of another Nirvana server at the remote location and the pointing of that server to GA's central MCAT. Security is handled at every component of Nirvana, providing authentication and authorization. Required data can be transferred in an encrypted format and both end users and servers are authenticated via PKI.

Nirvana provides a complete solution, managing all corporate documents over their lifetime (from ingestion into the system, migration of the documents to new storage systems, and to the destruction of the documents according to their legally required lifetimes). Nirvana, through authentication and audit capabilities, ensures and guarantees that data has not been altered by unauthorized individuals.