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Flash drives are very convenient places to store data. However, flash drives, like all storage media, degrade over time. They are also very small and easily lost or broken. For this second reason especially, it is not recommended that one of your 3 copies of your data be stored on a flash drive.
Backing up your data is a bit like flossing: You know you should do it but it's hard to start doing it consistently. Once you get into the habit, though, it will come naturally to you. Have a schedule for backing up your data and decide who's responsible for doing it.
You should have different plans for the active research phase and the post-research maintenance phase. It helps to have these plans written and available for anyone in your lab or research group to read.
For great tips on storing your data, we suggest:
Hart EM, Barmby P, LeBauer D, Michonneau F, Mount S, Mulrooney P, et al. (2016) Ten Simple Rules for Digital Data Storage. PLoS Comput Biol 12(10): e1005097. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1005097
It is recommended to follow the 3-2-1 Backup Rule: keep 3 copies of your files in 2 different locations, with 1 copy off-site. This practice will enable to recover your data in the event of data loss. Off-site storage is especially important is essential in case of natural disaster or fire.
While working on your data you'll likely be using and saving your files on your desktop computer or laptop. Make sure to save often but also keep master copies in another location in case your computer crashes, is stolen, or falls victim to other unfortunate events.
Networked drives are a good place for one copy of your data. They're managed by the institution so they're generally quite stable.
Talk to your department IS team about the storage available on your networked drives. Consider asking:
Some offer automatic backup services that backup daily or at other intervals but these services may not be designed to save your research data.
External Hard Drives
External hard drives are convenient places to keep a backup copy of your data. If you're working with sensitive data, you can even get encrypted external hard drives for added security.
It's best not to keep your external hard drive right next to your computer or other copies of your data. If there's a fire, flood, burglary, or other misfortune in the lab your external hard drive will face the same fate as your computer if they are co-located.
It's also a good habit to label your external hard drives and keep a record somewhere of which hard drives have what data on them.
Note that an external hard drive is not an archive for permanently storing your data. The hard drive will eventually break down. Migrate data to newer media every 3-5 years.
Some articles on caring for you external hard drive:
Storing your data "in The Cloud" is an easy way to meet the "1 copy offsite" piece of the 3-2-1 Rule. Cloud storage is also nice because you can often sync your files from your computer, making backing up a breeze. However, most cloud storage solutions are owned by private companies, so it's important to remember to be aware that (1) your data may not be private as the company probably has the right to look at it and might have the right to do what it pleases with that data and (2) that company may go out of business or otherwise become obsolete.
A note about syncing: While it's very handy to have your files automatically synced onto a cloud server, make sure the files on your computer are not automatically overwriting what's in the cloud. This video from Explaining Computers gives some terrifying reasons why this is important.
Grateful acknowledgement to the University of Pennsylvania Penn Libraries for their permission to use and modify their template: Data Management Resources
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