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Managing your data

Who is responsible for managing and controlling the data?

Who controls the data (e.g., the PI, a student, your lab, your university, your funder)? Before you spend a lot of time figuring out how to store the data, to share it, to name it, etc. you need to know if you have the authority to do so.

For what or whom are the data intended?

Who is your intended audience for the data? How do you expect they will use the data? The answer to these questions will help inform structuring and distributing the data.

How long should the data be retained?

Is there any requirement that the data be retained? If so, for how long? 3-5 years, 10-20 years, permanently? Not all data need to be retained, and some data required to be retained need not be retained indefinitely. Have a good understanding of your obligation for the data's retention.

Backups and Security

Making regular backups is an integral part of data management. Your personal computer, external hard drives, departmental or university servers are examples of places where you can make backup copies of your data. Software that makes backups for you automatically can simplify this process considerably. CDs or DVDs are not recommended because they fail so frequently. The UK Data Archive provides additional guidelines on data storage, backup and security.

Backup Your Data

  • Good practice is to have 3 copies (e.g. original + external/local backup + external/remote backup)
  • Geographically distribute your local and remote copies to reduce risk of calamity at the same location (power outage, flood, fire, etc.)

Data Backup Options

  • Hard drive (examples: via Windows 7 backup and restore, Mac Time Machine, Linux/UNIX rsync)
  • Tape backup system
  • Many UC campuses provide a service similar to UCBackup at UC Berkeley. Check with your campus IT support to see if backup service is available.
  • Cloud Storage - some examples of private sector storage resources include:

Secure Your Data

  • Unencrypted is ideal for storing your data because it will make it most easily readable by you and others in the future. But if you do need to encrypt your data because its sensitivity:
    • Keep passwords and keys on paper (2 copies), with mainstream encryption tools (e.g., PGP)
    • Don't rely on 3rd party encryption alone
  • Uncompressed makes your data easier to read without special tools in the future, but if you need to compress files to conserve disk space, try to limit compression to the 3rd backup copy and use a mainstream compression tool (e.g., ZIP, GZIP, TAR).

Test your backup system

In order to make sure that your backup system is working properly, periodically try to retrieve your data files and make sure that you can read them. You should do this upon initial setup of the system and on a regular schedule thereafter.

Credit to MIT Libraries for permission to use and adapt their pages and to members of the UC3 community.
Please send us any comments about these guidelines.

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Last updated: December 14, 2012
Document owner: Perry Willett