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Research Data Management: Storing your data

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Preserving additional copies of your data in a separate physical location from data files in storage. Backup preserves older copies so you can restore your data if accidental deletion/alteration or a disaster such as fire, flood, or hardware malfunction damages your data in storage.


To safeguard your important data assets, remember both storage and backup are essential.

  • A granting agency may require you to retain data for a given period and may ask you to explain in a data plan how you will store and back it up.
  • Storing and backing up your data ensures that it will be there when you need to use it for publications, theses, or grant proposals.
  • Good preservation practices help make your data available to researchers in your lab/research group, department, or discipline in the future.

What should you backup?

  • Everything that would be required to restore data in event of loss (data/software/scripts/documentation)

How many copies?

  • Follow the Rule of 3: Original copy, second local copy, remote copy

How often?

  • Backup frequency is dependent on the project and the data. Consider how much data you would be willing to lose.

What type?

  • Full: Backup all files
  • Incremental: Backup only files that have changed since last backup (either full or incremental)
  • Differential: Backup only files that have changed since last full backup

Test your system: Go through the exercise of accessing backup functions to see that the procedure works & you can fully restore your data


Storage refers to preserving your data files in a secure location you can access readily. Storage systems often provide mirroring, in which data is written simultaneously to two drives. This is not the same thing as backup since alterations in the primary files will be mirrored in the second copy. There are several options for data storage, each with their own pros and cons:

Type Pro Con
PC/Laptop Convenient for active data Easily lost/stolen; fail; manual backup
Network Automatic backup and security Access/capacity limitations
External devices Low cost; portable; easy use Easily lost/stolen; fail
Remote/Cloud Global access; collaboration Security/privacy limitations
Physical storage (e.g. notebooks) Convenient; tangible Manual backup