Considering Emulation for Digital Preservation

There was a week in January 2014 where I participated in three meetings/events where emulation came up as a digital preservation solution. Emulation has really hit its stride, 20 years after I first heard about it.

An emulator is an environment that imitates the behavior of a computer or other electronic system.  In recent years, this has come to be known as a Virtual Machine, which is a recreated computer environment — from the operating system to the video drivers and software — that can be run in an interactive manner using current technology, including a web browser in some instances.

I was very much the fan of collecting hardware for digital preservation, until I participated in the Library of Congress Preserving.exe meeting in May of 2013. I wrote about my own conversion to Team Emulation in an earlier post on this blog., and my colleague Bill Lefurgy responded to my post with a post of his own.  (That said, we still need vintage hardware to read older media to bring operating systems and software into emulation environments.)

I am again going to refer to the Olive Executable Archive from Carnegie Mellon University, the Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator, and the emscripten project.  I would also like to point out recent advances by the bwFLA project out of the University of Freiburg, which has reached the demo stage of its Emulation As A Service. I saw an impressive live demonstration of this project at CurateGear 2014.  For some background,  Dirk von Suchodoletz was interviewed here on The Signal in 2012.  And I cannot leave out the remarkable work by the JSMESS project to emulate computing and game environments in a browser environment porting the MESS Emulator to JavaScript.

There are a few key articles on this topic:

  • Granger, Stewart. “Emulation as a Digital Preservation Strategy.” D-Lib Magazine 6.19 (2000).
  • Guttenbrunner, Mark, and Andreas Rauber. “A measurement framework for evaluating emulators for digital preservation.” ACM Transactions on Information Systems (TOIS) 30.2 (2012): 14.
  • Rechert, Klaus, Dirk von Suchodoletz, and Randolph Welte. “Emulation based services in digital preservation.” Proceedings of the 10th annual joint conference on Digital libraries. ACM, 2010.
  • Rothenberg, Jeffrey. “The Emulation Solution.” Avoiding Technological Quicksand: Finding a Viable Technical Foundation for Digital Preservation. Washington, DC: Council on Library and Information Resources, 1998. Council on Library and Information Resources.
  • Van der Hoeven, Jeffrey, Bram Lohman, and Remco Verdegem. “Emulation for digital preservation in practice: The results.” International journal of digital curation 2.2 (2008): 123-132.

Don’t let some of the early dates fool you – this issue was debated in just as lively a way 15 years ago as it is now.