Backup, storage & security

Don't risk losing your data. Find out about backup services and get advice on safe storage.

Safe storage of your ‘working’ data with regular backup is essential during your research project.

Backup refers to your ‘live’ or ‘working’ data.  Backing up your data is essential to avoid the risk of losing data through accidental deletion or hard-drive failure.  Files stored on your desktop are not backed up.  You should always save your work on the University’s network.

Data storage is important to consider and in this context includes issues related to file formats (such as MS rich text format or Excel) and media for physical storage of data (eg. hard-drive and CD)

Security refers to keeping your data safe, or controlling access to your data, to ensure data are not lost and are kept free from corruption eg. encryption.

The UK Data Archive provides excellent online guidance in this area.  Here are some questions you may wish to consider with resources and tools to help.

The format and software in which research data are created usually depend on how researchers choose to collect and analyse data, often determined by discipline-specific standards and customs.   You should however also consider that all digital information is designed to be interpreted by computer programs to make it understandable and is - by nature - software dependent. All digital data are thus endangered by the obsolescence of the hardware and software environment on which access to data depends.   Despite the backward compatibility of many software packages to import data created in previous software versions and the interoperability between competing popular software programs, the safest option to guarantee long-term data access and usable data is to convert data to standard formats that most software are capable of interpreting, and that are suitable for data interchange and transformation. This typically means using open or standard formats - such as OpenDocument Format (ODF), ASCII, tab-delimited format, comma-separated values, XML - as opposed to proprietary ones. Some proprietary formats, such as MS Rich Text Format, MS Excel, SPSS, are widely used and likely to be accessible for a reasonable, but not unlimited, time.

 The UK Data Archive’s has a 'at-a-glance' guide to  optimal file formats here, and an extensive set of resources on the issues you should consider in formatting your data here.

  • Academic research often results in the creation of sensitive data. At the very least you may wish to control who has access to your research data, prior to peer review or publication, for example, and be able to determine, and keep track of, what others are authorised to do with your data.
  • Research data may also be of a type where you are legally or contractually obliged to keep it safe and confidential. For example, raw data may contain information about persons, with concomitant responsibilities under the Data Protection Act. Certain types of data may be commercially sensitive or be protected by intellectual property agreements.
  • Depending on the nature of the responsibilities associated with your data there are a range of solutions you may consider in order to mitigate the risks of inadvertently losing, exposing or compromising your research data.   If you need further guidance please speak to Information Systems and Services via the IT Helpdesk. 
  • MANTRA Project:  An interactive online training module on Storage and Security.
  • The Digital Curation Centre (DCC) offer a number of useful How-to Guides including, ‘How to Develop a Data Management and Sharing Plan’ and ‘How to Appraise and Select Research Data’. 

  • The UK Data Archive also offers a series of useful information on how to Create and Manage Data.

  • The UK Data Service offer a companion website for their publication ‘Managing and sharing research data: A guide to good practice’ by Louise Corti, Veerle Van den Eynden, Libby Bishop and Matthew Woollard, resources from which are utilised throughout these RDM webpages. This website is available here.

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Adapted from the University of Oxford under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported licence (CC BY 3.0).  Original content at: http://researchdata.ox.ac.uk/