Where to store research data
Researchers should ensure that all research data, regardless of format, is stored securely and backed up or copied regularly. It is recommended that you store your research data in the University's Research Data Store rather than rely on personal or external storage devices.
Research data at the University of Sydney needs to be kept for a minimum of 7 years after publication of the research results, so understanding your storage options and documenting your backup regime is an important part of data management planning.
Consider the following:
- how likely is it that the hardware, software or media will fail or become obsolete?
- what would be the impact of any failure?
- what security systems are in place?
- what disaster recovery procedures are in place?
It is highly recommended that you store your research data on network storage that is managed by professional IT staff centrally or within a specified faculty or academic unit.
The Research Data Store (RDS) is the preferred network storage environment for research data at the University of Sydney.
The benefits of having your research data stored on network storage such as the RDS include:
- data is readily available to you and other authorised users
- data can be made available via remote access on request
- project team members from other institutions can get remote access to the project’s research data
- data is stored in a single place and backed up regularly
- data is available to you as and when required
- data is stored securely minimising the risk of loss, theft or unauthorised use
For information on the RDS, please see the following:
What is the Research Data Store?
Request Research Data Store space
Personal computers (PCs) and laptops are convenient for storing your data temporarily. However, they should not be used for storing master copies of your data. Local PCs may fail and laptops may be lost or stolen leading to the loss of your data.
External storage devices - removable media
External storage devices such as hard drives, USB flash drives, Compact Discs (CDs) and Digital Video Discs (DVDs), can be an attractive storage options due to their low cost and portability. However, they are not recommended for the long term storage of your data as:
- they have a short lifespan, for example, CDs and DVDs degrade over time
- they can be easily damaged, misplaced or lost
- errors with writing to CDs and DVDs are common
- they may not be big enough for all the research data, so multiple disks or drives may be needed
The Research Data Store (RDS) offers researchers networked storage for digital research data. Given the availability of this storage, it should not be necessary for most researchers to use removable media for storing master copies of digital research data.
If you choose to use CDs, DVDs and USB sticks (e.g. for working data or extra backup copies), you should:
- choose high quality products from reputable manufacturers
- follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer for care and handling, including environmental conditions and labelling
- regularly check the media to make sure that they are not failing, and periodically 'refresh' the data (i.e. copy to a new disk or new USB stick)
- ensure that any private or confidential data is password-protected and/or encrypted.
There is a real risk of losing data through hard drive failure or accidental deletion. It is recommended that you store your digital research data in the Research Data Store, as data is backed up on a regular basis. If you store research data on personal hard drives or removable media, you should investigate the many free and commercial tools and services available for automatically backing up your system to an external hard drive. Online remote backup services are available, but you should be aware that the privacy and security policies of these services may not meet the legal and ethical standards expected of responsible researchers.
If managing your own backup strategy it is recommended that you keep at least 3 copies of your data, for example, original, external (locally), and external (remotely), and have a policy for maintaining regular backups. To ensure that your backup system is working properly, you should regularly restore your data files from your backups and check that you can read them.
When considering your backup strategy you need to know:
- how will you back up your data?
- how regularly will backups be made?
- whether all data, or only changed data, will be backed up. (A backup of changed data is known as an "incremental backup", while a backup of all data is known as a "full backup")
- how often full and incremental backups will be made
- how long will backups be stored
- how much space will be required to maintain this backup schedule
- if the data is sensitive, how will it be secured and (possibly) destroyed
- what backup services are available that meet these needs and, if none, what will be done about it
- who will be responsible for ensuring backups are available