UVC: A Universal Virtual Computer for Long-term Preservation of Digital Information

The preservation of digital data for the long term presents a variety of challenges. But one of the most difficult of these challenges is to maintain the interpretability of files created long ago. A sequence of bits is meaningless if it cannot be decoded and transformed into an intelligible representation. Since the decoding and transformation are generally specified through a computer program, the loss of that program translates into a loss of valuable information.

In 2000, a project in IBM Research proposed the use a Universal Virtual Computer (UVC) to specify today a process that will be executed on a – still unknown – machine of the future. The UVC is a general purpose computer, complete yet basic enough as to remain relevant for a very long time. The method consists of archiving, with any file of a specific data format, a program P which can decode the data and return the information to a future client, according to a logical view (a la XML). The novelty is that P is written for the UVC. In the future, the only thing required is an emulator of the UVC, which will be able to run the program P and return all data according to an easy to understand, logical view.

The initial specifications of the UVC were published in 2001 [1]. This report describes a more advanced – and, in some respects, simpler – version of the UVC, that has been fully implemented and is now considered to be the UVC Convention, version 0.

By: Raymond A. Lorie; Raymond J. van Diessen

Published in: RJ10338 in 2005


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