Backing up your research data held in electronic form is an essential part of research data management. To 'back-up' data is to make and store copies of your data in more than one place. This means that if one copy fails e.g. the copy on your laptop, there are still other copies available.

As an issue closely tied to data storage, back-up is a vital issue.
Simply consider the two questions:

1. Q.  What would happen if I lost all my research data?
    A.  Restore it from my back-up copy, and carry on working.

2. Q.  What would happen if I lost all my research data?
    A.  Lose all my research, as I don’t have it backed-up.

University data back-up

Key Issues:

  • Use University network data drives - they are supported by central IT Services data back-up facilities.
  • The network drives are backed-up every day.
  • The network drives you have access to a personal data drive (Z:), departmental data drive (X:), and (through request) a specific research data drive (R:).
  • If data is held on either of these drives (Z:, X:, and R:) central IT Services data back-up facilities will operate.
  • If data is held elsewhere these back-up facilities will not operate and you will have to take responsibility for ensuring appropriate back-up is dealt with.
  • As part of your research you may create or process data on mobile devices such interview data on digital recording devices, or using a laptop remotely.  You need to consider how that data will be appropriately backed up e.g. use an encrypted data drive (IT Services recommended encrypted devices), and consider processes to ensure data is transferred to a network data drive.

General advice

Information Assurance Services - Backing Up Your Files and Data

University information security policy makes various statements about backups including this strategic summary: University business must not be exposed to undue and unnecessary risk as a result of inadequate backup arrangements.

Information, whether stored on paper, or electronically on computer equipment, is exposed to various risks. For example, information may be stolen, destroyed or irreparably corrupted. Computer hard drives are very reliable; however, they do fail eventually. Floods, fires and thefts at the University are rare; however, they can and do happen occasionally. People sometimes erase, overwrite and discard information by mistake.

Consequently it is essential that backups are available to help reduce the impact that an information loss would have on any University teaching, research or administration activities.

How well backups mitigate risk in practice will depend on how they are implemented. In addition it is important that information owners understand what to expect from the backup arrangements implemented by those who manage their information.

Important things to consider

  • Who will be responsible for ensuring backups are run to plan
  • What to back up
  • The backup regime to use. This will include frequency of backups and whether to use only full backups or combine full backups with differential or incremental backups. The cost and effort involved in frequent backups is to be weighed up against the data changes made since last backup that might be lost should a recovery from backup be necessary.
  • Whether to keep full backups in addition to the latest full backup.
  • Where to store backups. It is desirable for backups to be held securely and for them to be somewhere unlikely to be affected by an incident affecting the live data.
  • Recovery from backups should be tested periodically (taking care to ensure that the recovery procedure does not accidentally destroy more recent files). The intention is to help discover any problems with the restore procedure before it needs to be used for real.
  • Backup media must be securely disposed of, when no longer required, in a way that ensures that information will not be disclosed to unauthorised persons.
  • It should be noted that use of mirrored disks (and other disk arrays that offer resilience against a drive failure) does not avoid the need for making backups. For example if data is accidentally corrupted or deleted on a mirrored drive, having two identical copies of the drive is little compensation.
  • Information that is held on central servers managed by IT Services are regularly backed up. This includes all files and emails held within your CFS account (on Z: and X: drives but not your local PC drive).
  • How should I choose what to back up and when? - Back-up can be time-consuming or expensive if your files take up a lot of space, or if you keep different files in different locations. To help you decide what to back up and when, think about which files you’d need in order to re-create or restore in the case of loss and which data are crucial for your work?

You may choose to only back up certain data, or to back up files you use every day more regularly than others. The basic rule of thumb is:  The more important the data and the more often they change, the more regularly they need to be backed up.

If your files take up a large amount of space and backing up all of them (or backing them up sufficiently frequently) would be difficult or expensive, you may want to focus on backing up specific key information, programs, algorithms, or documentations that you would need in order to re-create the data in case of data loss.