Keeping Emulation Environments Portable (KEEP)

Published on: 25/08/2011
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KEEP (Keeping Emulation Environments Portable) is developing emulation services (KEEP Emulation Services) to enable accurate rendering of both static and dynamic digital objects: text, sound, and image files; multimedia documents, websites, databases, videogames etc.

The overall aim of the project is to facilitate universal access to our cultural heritage by developing flexible tools for accessing, manipulating and storing a wide range of digital objects using emulation tools either to reproduce the original environment in which they were created or to enable those objects to be migrated accurately to another environment.

In addition to the development of a KEEP Emulation Framework, within which 3rd party emulators are hosted, the project is also supporting the development of a Virtual Machine which will permit other environments to operate independently of the actual software and hardware environments.

Now in its final year, KEEP is also running a series of workshops across Europe where we will share research outcomes and provide delegates with hands-on experience of our tools and services.

Project KEEP is co-financed by the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme for research and technological development (FP7).

Description of target users and groups

Although primarily aimed at stakeholders in cultural heritage, such as memory institutions and (computer games) museums, the KEEP Emulation Services should also be able to serve the needs of a wider range of organisations and individuals.

Description of the way to implement the initiative

The project is divided into seven work packages (WPs):

WP1 - Transfer tool
This WP corresponds to the research, specification, development and testing of transfer tools and the associated framework.

WP2 - Emulation framework
The aim of this work package is to specify and implement the system-side part ("core") of the emulation framework and integrate this with the front-end of work package 3.

WP3 - Meta-data research
The aim of this work package is to specify and implement the front-end of the emulation framework; and the meta-data architecture without which the KEEP project cannot function.

WP4 - Portability
This WP is responsible for the specification, development and testing of the virtual machine as well as the associated tools.

WP5 - Test and validation
WP 5 is responsible for the integration of the results delivered by WPs 2 and 3 on top of the virtual machine provided by WP 4 to form the Emulation Access Platform as well as for testing and validating this overall platform.

WP6 - Dissemination
Dissemination will promote the goals, progress and results to scientific, industrial, academic, emulation and video games developer communities at national, European and international levels.

WP7 - Management
Management and coordination provides the management, co-ordination, monitoring of activities as well as financial coordination.

Technology solution

Our vision:

Accessing digital material requires the mediation not just of a computer but a computer compatible with the preserved material. The very success of computing technology where machines are rapidly superseded has created a serious and growing challenge of how to preserve access to digital material produced on obsolete machines. Over time individuals and organisations build up digital assets comprising a wide variety of digital objects ranging from plain text to multimedia applications and websites. The central goal of KEEP is to provide new tools for accessing any digital object both at present and in the long term.

Strategy:

Long-term preservation of digital objects not only entails secure storage and management, but also includes the development and execution of strategies to access and render these objects, now and in the future. Such strategies can roughly be divided into two groups: migration and emulation. Migration is focused on the digital object itself. Emulation does not focus on the digital object, but on the hardware and software environment in which the object is rendered. It aims at (re)creating an environment in which the digital object can be rendered in its original form. This is done by an emulator, a software application that runs on a host computer platform and recreates the targeted platform.

The advantages of emulation is that the original digital object can be left untouched, no periodic migration cycles are needed, and functionality and appearance of the object are preserved by using its authentic software environment. However, to successfully apply emulation as a preservation strategy, several challenges have to be considered:

  1. Methods are needed to securely capture the digital contents from old and obsolete data carriers.
  2. Knowledge and experience have to be gathered to integrate emulation with existing operational digital archiving systems.
  3. Redesign of existing emulation solutions is needed to make them sustainable and applicable for a wide variety of digital contents (text, multimedia, applications, websites, etc.)
  4. Innovative solutions are required for improving use and re-use of emulated digital objects. Currently, digital contents captured by an emulated computer environment are difficult to use and re-use by end-users due to complexity of operating emulators and lack of support for additional services such as contents extraction for re-using valuable information.

The KEEP project recognises these issues and presents end-to-end solutions to the challenges mentioned above. KEEP will develop the KEEP Emulation Services to enable accurate rendering of both static and dynamic digital objects. This solution will address all aspects ranging from safeguarding the original bits from the carrier to offering online services to end-users via a highly portable emulation framework running on a wide range of device. It not only results in a software package but will also deliver understanding about how to integrate emulation-based solutions in an operational electronic deposit system. Existing metadata models will be researched and guidelines will be developed for mapping existing digital objects to emulated manifestations.

Technology choice: Proprietary technology, Open source software

Main results, benefits and impacts

KEEP will develop emulation services (KEEP Emulation Services) to enable accurate rendering of both static and dynamic digital objects: text, sound, and image files; multimedia documents, websites, databases, videogames etc.

The overall aim of the project is to facilitate universal access to our cultural heritage by developing flexible tools for accessing and storing a wide range of digital objects. KEEP will also consider legal issues concerning the implementation of emulation-based systems and propose solutions which comply with European and national copyright laws.

The very success of computing technology, where machines are rapidly superseded, has created a serious and growing challenge of how to preserve access to digital material produced on obsolete machines. Cultural heritage organisations are particularly sensitive to the threat of major data loss resulting from technical obsolescence. KEEP will develop the KEEP Emulation Services to enable the accurate rendering of these objects, designed for a wide variety of computer systems, so that they can be securely accessed in the long term.

KEEP will address the problems of transferring digital objects stored on outdated computer media such as floppy discs onto current storage devices. This will involve the specification of file formats and the production of transfer tools exploited within a framework, and taking into account possible legal and technical issues. KEEP will address all aspects ranging from safeguarding the original bits from the carrier to offering online services to end-users via a highly portable emulation framework running on any possible device. In addition to producing a software package, the project will deliver understanding about how to integrate emulation-based solutions with an operational electronic deposit system. Existing metadata models will be researched and guidelines will be developed for mapping digital objects to emulated manifestations. KEEP will seek ways to integrate its work with the outputs of other digital preservation projects and software (for example Planets and Pronom). Overall, KEEP will contribute to the next generation of permanent access strategies based on emulation.

 

Intermediate Results:

During the first two years, the project team has undertaken research into media carriers and available transfer tools, and into the state-of-the-art in emulation. Also, a user requirements analysis was carried out in the National libraries of France, Germany and the Netherlands, and a design has been formulated for creating flexible, user-friendly emulation services, media carriers and media transfer tools.

Furthermore, an investigation was carried out into the potential legal issues arising when copying information from original data carriers, and a study about metadata standards and approaches in Europe has been produced.

Lessons learnt

This field will be completed by the submitter when the lessons learnt have been identified and understood.

Scope: International