Good data management practice includes ensuring that data created in the course of your research remains safe. It is, therefore, the responsibility of you, the researcher to ensure that adequate backups of data and documents are regularly made.
Backup is different from archiving. The essential difference between archiving and backup is that the existence of an archive file is independent of the existence of the file from which it was copied; a backup copy is dependent on the existence of the file on the local computer. Usually, if the file disappears from the local computer, its copies will, after a delay, disappear from the backup system.
University-wide backup and file storage service - HFS (Hierarchical File Server)
OUCS provides a University-wide backup and long-term file storage service for staff and postgraduate students. The Hierarchical File Server (HFS) provides an automated backup service for personal computers and servers alike.
By using the HFS:
- three copies of your data are retained, each to separate magnetic tapes: one copy is held in the automated tape library while two copies are stored in separately located fire-proof safes. Up to two versions of any particular file on your local system are kept: the current version and the penultimate version (backed up before the current version was created).
- should a file be deleted from your computer, the last backed-up version is retained on the HFS for 90 days.
- if you are working away from Oxford (whether at home or abroad) it is still possible to backup essential data so long as you have a reasonable Internet connection and have a working VPN (virtual private network) client installed.
- data may be restored from the HFS using the same desktop client (but to a different computer if necessary). Access to the data is private to the owner and is normally available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Manage your own backups
Should you choose to manage your own backups then you should:
- Consider what data you need to back-up. Clearly, any data you have created or for which you have responsibility, that has value to you or the University, and for which there is no convenient replacement is a priority.
- Consider how many versions you should retain. You should usually keep a backup of your current working data and the previous version if possible.
- Consider how often you intend to backup. Some data may have crucial changes on a daily basis, others less frequently. Ensure the time between backups is no longer than the amount of data you would be
prepared to risk losing.
- Consider how many copies you should retain and their location. It is standard practice to keep at least one copy of your backup files in a separate location from the working copy of your data.
- Consider how you intend storing backup data. Whether on external disk drives, CD/DVD-Roms or backup services elsewhere on the Internet, treat all storage media as liable to failure.
- Consider what software you will use to manage backups. Most operating systems come with backup solutions and other software is available to purchase or download. You should always test that you can easily restore data, especially to another computer. A backup is pointless if you cannot restore the data to a working environment.
Links to further information and resources
- The Research Skills Toolkit (SSO login needed) offers advice on Keeping Data Safe, including Versioning. Those who use multiple computers may also find the section on Synchronising Files useful.
- Storage and Security is an interactive online training module from the MANTRA Project.
- The University of Cambridge’s research data management Web pages offer sections on Storage and Backup.
- Store It Safely is a brief introductory PowerPoint presentation on keeping data safe from the PrePARe Project at the University of Cambridge.
- The UK Data Archive provides an advice page on Backing Up Data.