Kodak, Lockheed Martin go analog

Although government scientists work on an electronic archive designed to store millions of government records in digital form, imaging experts at Eastman Kodak Co. still say the best way to store digital documents is to convert them to "analog media," such as paper or microfilm.

"It's simple, straightforward, not so elegant, but it works," said Cliff Hanaoka who markets digital preservation technology for Kodak's document imaging division in Rochester, N.Y.

Kodak announced March 14 that it is teaming with Lockheed Martin Corp. to sell systems for storing digital records to government agencies and commercial buyers. The companies say they will merge Kodak's imaging and digital preservation expertise with Lockheed Martin's experience at integrating large government information systems.

But the pair won't try to duplicate the work government scientists have done to develop a digital archive in which digital documents can be stored for centuries in digital form and retrieved and read by whatever technology exists years in the future.

Instead, the two companies said they will market "complete digital preservation systems capable of safely storing and retrieving digital or paper-based records utilizing analog media."

"Analog media" means "human readable" media, and that means paper or microfilm, Hanaoka said.

Most government documents are "born digital," meaning they are created on computers. And many are managed digitally, meaning they are changed or processed on computers. But when it is time for storage, most documents are not supposed to change, and the best way to ensure that is to commit them to paper or microfilm, he said.

If a document is stored in a format that leaves it "processable," users in the future will have no assurance that the document has not been changed, Hanaoka said.

Converting digital documents to analog also avoids the costly "migration" problem of having to transfer digital documents from format to format as technology evolves.

The Kodak-Lockheed team's reliance on "analog media" is a bit of a technological retreat from digital records storage efforts headed by the National Archives and Records Administration.

Working with the San Diego Super Computer Center and the Georgia Tech Research Institute, NARA announced last year it had developed a process called "persistent object preservation" that promises to store digital documents by stripping them of the formats in which they were created and storing them in a way that will allow them to be called up by whatever software and hardware is being used in the future.

Persistent object preservation is intended to preserve documents in usable form for hundreds of years, NARA officials say.

NARA is spending $130 million to build a test version of the digital archive. It is to be operating by 2004 or 2005.

But the Archives itself has in some cases opted to use microfilm as a long-term storage medium. Completed questionnaires from the 2000 census, for example, must be kept secret until 2072, when the Archives intends to put them online. Until then, they are being preserved on microfilm to avoid the high cost of migrating them as often as once a decade to new digital formats.

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