Emulation & Virtualization as Preservation Strategies | The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

Digital content — from word processing files to websites to video games — offers preservationists challenges that go beyond those encountered when preserving books, manuscripts, and photographs. Unlike these relatively self-contained items, digital content is linked inextricably to the machinery and programs used to present it. Ideally, for example, researchers examining a website from 1995 would be able to view it and interact with it as it was presented on the Mosaic browser twenty years ago, while in reality, data migration — a mainstay of digital preservation — falls short of preserving the functionality or appearance of the original. Emulation and virtualization, however, are two strategies which, by using contemporary technology to mimic earlier environments, can enhance digital preservation.

In this report commissioned by the Foundation, David Rosenthal describes current technology frameworks for emulation and virtualization, and outlines the issues and challenges in deploying these technologies to preserve both digital artefacts from the past and current digital material that will age into legacy status.