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Data Storage and Retention

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    OVERVIEW

    Research Data is often unique and irreplaceable. Typically, it has value extending many years beyond the termination of the project from which it was generated. 

    • How likely is it the hardware, software or media will fail or become obsolete?
    • What would be the impact of any failure?
    • What security systems are in place?
    • What disaster recovery procedures are in place?
    • What is the availability of support by professional IT staff?

    Researchers must ensure that all research data, regardless of format, is stored securely and backed up or copied regularly.

    Storage and backup arrangements need to cover the life of the research project, and also the statutory minimum period of retention. 

    In most cases, data will need to be kept for a minimum of 5 years after publication of the research results, so understanding your storage options and documenting your backup regime is an important part of data management planning.

    By following the guidelines listed below you can make sound decisions regarding storage of your research data.

    DATA STORAGE TYPES

    Networked drives

    These are managed by IT staff centrally or within your School or College. It is highly recommended that you store your research data on regularly backed-up networked drives such as:

    • Fileservers managed by your research group or school.
    • Fileservers managed by Information Services.
    • Storage Area Network (SAN) - either an infrastructure SAN or the Tulane University SAN.

    This will ensure that your data will be:

    • Stored in a single place and backed up regularly.
    • Available to you as and when required.
    • Stored securely minimizing the risk of loss, theft or unauthorized use.

    Personal computers and laptops

    It is not recommended that you store files on individual desktop or laptop PCs.

     Local hard drives (e.g. "the C: drive") are convenient for temporary working copies of data, but should not be used to permanently store master copies of research data. From time to time, local hard drives do fail and are often not backed-up. Local machines may also be replaced, upgraded, and/or re-allocated to other people, at which time data on those machines may be lost or at risk of being inappropriately accessed.It is not recommended that you store files on individual desktop or laptop PCs.

    Local drives PCs and laptops may be lost or stolen leading to an inevitable loss of your data with minimal or no chance of recovery.

    External storage devices

    The low cost and portability of removable media like CDs, DVDs and flash memory devices (i.e. USB memory sticks) makes them an attractive option for storage. But taking a long-term perspective, they are rarely a suitable option for long-term retention of your research data, especially master copies:

    • Removable media are often not big enough for all the research data, so multiple disks or drives are needed. This can make accessing your data later on difficult, especially if you do not have good systems in place for identifying and describing the data.
    • Although use of CDs, DVDs and USB sticks is common, their longevity is not guaranteed, especially if they are not stored correctly (ideally in a steady range of about 65-71 degrees  Farenheit and 35 to 45% relative humidity). Estimated life of a CD, DVD stored at above 83 degrees and 50% humidity is as low as two years, far short of the minimum retention periods that apply to most research data.
    • In addition to being environmentally sensitive, removable media can be easily physically damaged (e.g. through magnetism or shocks). Errors with writing to the media ('burning') are also quite common.
    • Because they are so portable and data can be easily copied from them, removable media pose a risk in terms of data security. Devices are easily stolen, misplaced or lost, and often the data contained does not have access controls.

    If you choose to use CDs, DVDs and USB flash drives (for example, for working data or extra backup copies), you should:

    • Ensure the products are encrypted and password protected.
    • Choose high quality products from reputable manufacturers.
    • Follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer for care and handling, including environmental conditions and labeling.
    • Regularly check the media to make sure that they are not failing, and periodically 'refresh' the data (that is, copy to a new disk or new USB flash drive).

    Remote or online back-up services

    These provide users with an online system for storing and backing-up computer files e.g. Dropbox or Mozy/

    Typically, they:

    • Allow users to store and synchronize data files online and between computers.
    • Employ cloud computing storage facilities (e.g. Amazon S3).
    • Provide the first few gigabytes free and users pay for more facilities, including space.

    Advantages

    • No user intervention required (change tapes, label CDs, perform manual tasks).
    • Remote backup maintains data offsite.
    • Most provide versioning and encryption.
    • Multi-platform.

    Disadvantages

    • Restoration of data may be slow (dependent upon network bandwidth).
    • Stored data may not be entirely private (thus pre-encryption).
    • Service provider may go out of business.
    • Other legal seizures of actual physical server, making data access unavailable
    • Protracted intellectual property rights/copyright/data protection licenses.
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