Carnegie Mellon University
October 04, 2012

News Brief: Carnegie Mellon Awarded Grant To Preserve Executable Content

Contact: Cindy Carroll / 412-268-7260 /

Gloriana St. ClairPITTSBURGH—The Institute of Museum and Library Services has awarded a two-year, $497,756 grant to Carnegie Mellon University computer scientists and library personnel led by University Libraries' Dean Gloriana St. Clair, to develop Olive, the first archiving system for the preservation for executable content. Co-PIs with St. Clair are Jerome McDonough of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and Anita de Waard of Reed Elsevier, Inc.

The Olive concept grew out of a collaboration between the research teams of Mahadev Satyanarayanan (Satya) from Carnegie Mellon and Vasanth (Vas) Bala of IBM Research. Together they explored applying virtual machine (VM) technology invented by IBM in the late 1960s to current problems of software configuration and distribution in cloud computing. That research led to the realization that a global archive of curated VM images that could be shared, searched, extended, and executed via the Internet would be a powerful catalyst for collaboration across space and time. Realizing this vision is the goal of the Olive project.
Dynamic, interactive, executable content is the core output of the computer science community. New types of educational electronic content such as learning games and interactive data visualizations are transforming teaching research and scholarly publishing. Preserving this content, and the generations of earlier executable content upon which it was built, is essential to optimal progress in computer science. For centuries, academic libraries have been the trusted keeper of scholarly and research output in all disciplines. But the means to archive the dynamic, working content of computer science have not yet been successfully achieved.

St. Clair recognized the endorsement of U.S. Congressman Mike Doyle, who wrote to support the Olive grant proposal.

"[Olive] seeks to address a pressing and ever-growing need to preserve and maintain, through a revolutionary new type of archival system, executable content in its original form," Doyle wrote. "Analogous to the manner academic papers and research data in academic libraries are currently preserved, this archive... would be accessible to future researchers in a trusted 'virtual world' that would ensure, with a high degree of certainty, its provenance and integrity. It would enable academic libraries to empower researchers to run a program in the original environment in which it was created.

"Preserving these scholarly products of computer science research and making them accessible for future researchers has tremendous relevance for ensuring the accurate and reliable history of intellectual property to resolve issues of licensing and security constraints. For this reason, I believe the project will yield important benefits for government and industry."

CMU's Olive team will collaborate with diverse partners to identify the properties of executable content that must be preserved over time in a digital archive, and explore existing models for building and evaluating digital archive systems. Olive use-cases will include educational software in partnership with David Miller (1994 Great American History Machine) and David Yaron (2000 ChemCollective); both deprecated and hardware-intensive game software in partnership with Preserving Virtual Worlds 2 team member McDonough; and executable academic research articles in partnership with de Waard.

At the conclusion of the grant, the Olive partners will produce articles and presentations to share knowledge from the research. Besides its impact on the academy, Olive also will serve industry, business, entertainment and government as a springboard to the ultimate goal to enable libraries to preserve historic software in an unaltered form while allowing library users to engage that software on demand from anywhere on the Internet.


Pictured above is CMU's Dean of University Libraries Gloriana St. Clair.