How will our grandchildren understand the dramatic events of the 2008 U.S. presidential election if they can’t access the rich digital information that documented and, arguably, influenced the process?

To create a “memory” to deliver today’s digital information reliably to future generations, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) Transcontinental Persistent Archives Prototype (TPAP) project is addressing key challenges in safeguarding, preserving and providing access to authentic electronic records as the nation’s information becomes increasingly digital.

To support this effort, the National Science Foundation (NSF) Office of Cyberinfrastructure recently awarded nearly $1 million to the Data Intensive Cyber Environments (DICE) group at the School of Information and Library Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The TPAP project, built on the innovative DICE iRODS Integrated Rule-Oriented Data System, has been recognized for enabling transformational progress in digital preservation research, receiving an Internet2 Driving Exemplary Applications (IDEA) Award in 2006.

“The goal is to identify the basic preservation rules and procedures that automate the management of authentic archives over decades or longer,” said Reagan Moore, professor and principal investigator of the research project. “The TPAP project is developing a reference implementation for preservation environments that can be used as a starter kit.”

iRODS rules-enabled automation is essential for the TPAP prototype to be able to preserve, validate and provide long-term access to mushrooming collections of digital data as they grow to petabytes in size and hundreds of millions of files. (A petabyte is one million gigabytes or about 100 years of a standard television signal.)

For example, the iRODS system can enforce retention and disposition policies for each file that is registered, and check whether the policies have changed over time.

“The ultimate goal is to have an archive that cleans up after itself,” said Richard Marciano, professor at SILS and co-principal investigator. “The iRODs middleware allows you to specify the management policy for the archives or repository, and turn these specifications into a set of rules, without having to change the iRODS code. This allows easy customization of how the archives behaves, creating a system that is self-managed based on rules that can be individualized for each organization and users.”

As a testbed for preserving electronic records collections from the National Archives and Records Administration that must be maintained for “the life of the Republic,” the TPAP project includes six partners nationwide. Along with SILS and the Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI), the other partners include two NARA sites in or near the nation’s capital, the University of Maryland; the Rocket Center in West Virginia; the University of California, San Diego; and Georgia Tech. The separate partners are taking advantage of iRODS ability to incorporate different types of storage resources across the six sites to form a single unified “virtual collection” that lets users easily share data, while enabling replication of data between the sites for added protection.

“The DICE group is world-renowned for their expertise in large-scale data management and persistent archives for digital preservation,” said Dr. José-Marie Griffiths, dean of SILS. “Managing several million records of digital data for the NARA TPAP project to ensure that our nation’s information is safeguarded and available to all its citizens over the long-term is a significant challenge. The assembled team is especially well qualified to address these issues and produce usable results.”

The TPAP project is led by Reagan W. Moore, principal investigator; Arcot K. Rajasekar. and Richard J. Marciano, professors in SILS and co-PIs; Antoine de Torcy, research associate; Leesa Brieger, senior research software developer, Renaissance Computing Institute; Jonathan Crabtree, SILS graduate student; Jewel Ward, doctoral student and research assistant from UNC at Chapel Hill; Michael Wan, iRODS architect; Wayne Schroeder, senior software designer and developer; and Sheau-Yen Chen, data grid system administrator, of the UCSD Institute for Neural Computation (INC).

The funding includes support from the National Archives and Records Administration, Electronic Records Archives Program.

Related links:

UNC School of Information and Library Science (SILS)

Data Intensive Cyber Environments (DICE) group

Transcontinental Persistent Archives Prototype (TPAP)

National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)