WWII code-breaking computer gets IoT protection

Britain’s National Museum of Computing is using Internet of Things (IoT) technology to protect some of the world’s oldest computers.

The museum is using sensors, ultra-narrowband communications and network monitoring tools to detect environmental changes in the rooms housing its historic computers. The system alerts staff members if the rooms become too hot, cold, bright or damp.

Among the machines the system is protecting is a rebuilt Colossus, the computer that helped decipher Hitler’s messages during World War II. The system also monitors a room housing a restored Wolverhampton Instrument for Teaching Computation from Harwell computer (also known as a WITCH computer) which the museum says is the world's oldest working digital computer.

The computers are highly sensitive and the museum risks damaging their components by operating them.

“Colossus can get hot enough to melt its own solder,” said a museum spokesperson. “The logical solution would be to install air conditioning, but the museum has chosen not to do that because it is not true to the experience of the ladies who actually worked here in the second world war.”

The IoT solution is comprised of Sigfox-enabled microcontrollers, with attached sensors, located in each of the museum’s 14 rooms. They communicate real time data securely via Sigfox’s Low Power Wide Area network. This allows museum staff to monitor environmental changes more accurately and alert staff members about those changes faster.

The Sigfox network also allows the museum to transmit data without the need for internet access in every room. This makes it possible to monitor the museum without interfering with other IT infrastructure.

Staff members are warned about problems and can see various environmental levels through a single view using PRTG Network Monitor.

“PRTG allows us to set thresholds on the various environmental factors and sends us alerts when we are closing in on those thresholds,” said the museum’s Head of Learning, Claire Marston.

“It allows for much more precise monitoring to proactively manage and mitigate risks to our collection.”

“We have a duty of care to keep the machines working for at least the next 100 years. PRTG provides us with a more accurate monitoring system which enables us to do this,” said Marston.

There is more to the system than just protecting computers though. It also provides the museum with the distinctly human benefit of being able to welcome visitors on the autism spectrum who can find excessive noise confusing and stressful.

The museum uses PRTG to monitor sound levels, which are then visually represented by ‘traffic lights’ on a dashboard. Visitors use this information to choose and prepare their path through the museum.


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