Electrifying Data

Electrifying Data

How will the National Archives and Records Administration preserve the federal government's zillions of electronic records in an obsolescence-proof format? The agency chooses two contractors to bid the Electronic Records Archive.

Faced with the problem of preserving the federal government’s zillions of electronic records in an obsolescence-proof format, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) <www.archives.gov> has announced that technology and communication systems companies Lockheed Martin <www.lockheedmartin.com> and Harris Corp. <www.harris.com> will duke it out for a chance to solve that dilemma.

As technology advances, today’s CD-ROMs, Zip disks and other means of data storage may go the way of the Betamax videocassette and eight-track audiotape. NARA’s challenge for the two contenders is to design the Electronic Records Archive(ERA) — a system that will store information permanently so it’s retrievable with whatever hardware and software are available at the time. According to NARA, ERA promises to make finding records easy for the public and for government officials, and to make delivering those records easy for NARA staff.

After a yearlong, $20.1 million ERA design competition, NARA will select one of the players to build the system. If you figure in the potential for reworking the ERA blueprints into electronic record-storage products for other organizations, the NARA contract could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars for the winner.

Lockheed Martin already has subcontracted with Electronic Data Systems (EDS), the company that worked with Microsoft to design the country’s first electronic-records preservation system for the state of Washington. Unveiled in October 2004, Washington’s Digital Archives system <www.digitalarchives.wa.gov> works by “ingesting” electronic records generated by government offices, creating Web-viewable versions and storing the originals — all without human involvement. The searchable Web site debuted with marriage records from three counties (Chelan, Snohomish and Spokane) and a list of 16,000 elected officials sworn in from 1854 to 1978. Within 15 years, say archivists, Washington state’s system could contain up to 800 terabytes (the equivalent of 200 billion pages) worth of public records.
 

From the February 2005 Family Tree Magazine 

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