Digital Preservation and its Challenges

Note: I had the opportunity to work with Fujifilm on a new white paper discussing how Fujifilm’s Object Archive Software helps institutions deal with the challenges of digital preservation. This first of a two-part article is derived from this content and speaks to the challenges of preserving our digital history.

The concept of digital preservation is analogous to a museum where objects ofPicture of computer button with digital preservation imprinted historical, scientific, or artistic interest are kept. The world preserves these items because of their cultural significance and to steer future decisions through remembering the past.

Historically, important objects like records, maps, books, and art were made where one could see, touch or hold them. In the 1990s, a shift occurred with the rapid rise of computers and the Internet. Today, nearly all vital information or expression of historical, educational, scientific, or cultural significance is created or distributed digitally through computer technology and the Internet. Where meaningful, this digital heritage needs to be preserved regardless of discipline, language, or geography.

The Challenges of Digital Preservation

 

With increasingly powerful computers and cloud-based platforms, one might believe that society forgets nothing. However, digital preservation faces threats and risks different from its analog counterparts.

Corruption. Corruption to the digital object itself can lead to complete loss. Bit-rot or electromagnetic decay within storage media can happen as digital collections grow large.

Machine dependencies. Uniquely, digital materials depend on hardware and software technology for accessibility. If hardware, media, or software stops working, historical files can no longer be accessed.

Obsolescence. Rapid technological change impacts digital preservation. New technologies appear, older technologies lose commercial viability and become obsolete.

Scalability. Data growth brings challenges for storing accumulating data. Simple strategies for storing photos on a hard drive fail to scale when dealing with extensive, growing, mixed media collections of digital documents, images, audios, and videos.

Legal issues. Collecting and storing digital items bring copyright complexities, distribution legalities, and government regulations for storing and transmitting preserved data.

Ongoing management. Digital content requires ongoing commitment, policies, budgets, skills, and management. A lack in any of these areas threatens digital preservation.

The Cloud for Digital Preservation

 

Certainly, storage serves as a critical aspect of digital preservation and cloud storage presents itself as a reasonable solution. One of the great benefits of the cloud is its simple value proposition: immediate availability of scalable compute and storage infrastructure. However, cloud infrastructure brings challenges for archiving historical documents and media.

Data ownership. Organizations risk losing chain-of-custody, audit trail, and access management in cloud services. In some cases, digital rights for data stored or generated within the cloud transfers to the cloud provider through the services agreement.

Data sovereignty. The rise of cloud computing has resulted in countries passing regulations that specify how data is stored. Regulations may require data originating within a country’s borders to remain within those borders. It may also mean that data is subject to the jurisdiction in which the cloud infrastructure physically resides.

Data protection and security. The accessibility and volume of data stored in the cloud make it an attractive target for criminals. Misconfigurations can expose data to unauthorized users. For data protection, cloud storage does not automatically include data backup. Each cloud vendor handles data differently requiring the customer to know how to deploy back-ups or replication for data protection.

Cloud cost overruns. While storing data in the cloud is relatively inexpensive, the cost of frequently accessing that data adds up. Further, it is not always clear how cloud decisions will affect an invoice. It is a common experience for organizations to receive an unexpectedly high cloud services bill at some point.

Certainly, there are good reasons why organizations should leverage the public cloud for digital preservation. The ‘however’ is that for an institution’s primary archival storage, the cloud does not scale cost-effectively and brings challenges for digital preservation.

In part 2, we’ll review why many institutions find on-premises object storage solutions (private cloud) attractive for digital preservation and how Fujifilm’s Object Archive Software benefits an institution’s digital preservation program.

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