Archivist puts price on e-records

It will cost about $130 million and take about five years to build, but

a national electronic records archive is technically feasible, U.S. Archivist

John Carlin told Congress Tuesday.

With help from the Advanced Research Projects Agency and the San Diego

Supercomputer Center, the National Archives and Records Administration has

shown it is possible to overcome the biggest problem with archiving electronic

records — that computer hardware and software become obsolete, leaving records

unreadable.

A records storage system developed by the supercomputer center shows

that it is possible "to preserve any kind of electronic record, free it

from the format in which it was created, retain it indefinitely" and then

make it readable on computer systems that exist now and those that will

exist in the future, Carlin told a House appropriations subcommittee.

The task remains to build a system able to handle the enormous volume

of electronic records produced by the federal government.

Hardware and software is changing so fast that some electronic records

created a decade ago are unusable today, Carlin said. The electronic archive

system described by Carlin solves that problem by "encasing" electronic

records in a digital wrapper that permits the storage system to "unwrap

it and present it in a readable format," he explained.

Besides solving the format problem, the electronic archive has shown

it can handle the volume problem. In one demonstration, the system converted

more than a million e-mail messages from their original format to a storable

one, archived them and provided access to them from a different technology,

all in less than two days, Carlin said.

Carlin is asking Congress for $902,000 to continue development work

on the electronic archive in 2001, but he said the price will rise after

that. Initial cost estimates are "as high as $130 million," he said.

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