There is no one definitive solution for the problem of how to ensure long-term usability of data.
Ensuring physical survival of the bits is addressed by today’s archiving solutions. Typically, they deal with the obsolescence of media and form factors by migrating the data from one medium to another. Ensuring the usability of the information is the greater challenge, but in many cases there are a number of viable approaches.
• Using virtualization technology to emulate the obsolete hardware needed to execute the applications that can make the digital artifact useful.
• Converting the artifact to a standard canonical format, so that the problem is limited to ensuring the usability of the standard format.
• Periodically transforming the artifact into a current format.
The right approach often depends on why it is important to ensure the long-term usability of the information, and on the characteristics of the data, such as format or size. Once the business requirements are determined, it becomes possible to adapt and design a solution to meet specific needs.
IBM has been addressing various aspects of ensuring long-term usability over the past decade, with a wide variety of solutions that address both the survival of the bits and the broader issues of long-term usability.