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Data Management

Storing, Backing Up, and Versioning Data

This page is designed to help you:

  •     Securely store and backup your files
  •     Keep track of different versions of files and changes made to your project

Below you'll find a series of possible scenarios and best practices for addressing each scenario.

Storing Files


You are collaborating with several students on a project and you lose time by having to write and send emails to team members to ask them to send you the files you need. You are worried that you are collecting and creating so many files for the project that you may end up exceeding the storage capacity on your laptop.

Best Practice

  • Create a shared project online and integrate one or more of these free storage options into the project’s workspace:
    • Cloud storage solution such as Google Drive, DropBox, GitHub, and OneDrive.
    • Shared folder on a network drive - Provides each team member with shared online access to all the project files.
    • Open Science Framework (OSF) - Created by the Center for Open Science, this free online project collaboration space allows you to create a shared project online.
  • Supplement storage on your computer with external hard drives so that you do not have to worry about exceeding its storage.

Securing Files


You recorded some interviews for an oral history project, but some people you interviewed wanted to remain anonymous. You often worry that you may forget your computer on the bus and that someone might access this sensitive data before you have time to transcribe and delete the audio files.

Best Practice

There are several ways you can secure files on your computer.

  •  Use strong passwords.
  •  Use built-in encryption software such as BitLocker for Windows and Filevault for Mac.
  •  Transfer files to an external drive that you can keep locked in a secure location, and back up a copy on a Brown University managed server. Delete sensitive files stored on your computer. 

Versioning Files


You are working on a shared document with a team. You realize someone made and saved changes that overwrote data you need. No one can access an earlier version, and you fear the information is now lost.

Best Practice

  • Keep track of versions of files. There are several free tools that can offer version control by allowing you to save and document changes made to files.
  • Create a free public project repository using GitHub. Used mainly by coders to version software, GitHub can offer you the ability to track updates made to a project, including what changes were made, when they were made, and by whom. Further, it offers users the ability to consult an earlier version of a file as well as revert back to an earlier version. The robust versioning system it uses, called git, is also integrated into resources available through Brown that offer private project repositories, including Overleaf, which is used for collaborative writing, and LabArchives, an electronic research notebook.
  • Include date (YYYYMMDD) and version number in a file name.
  • Create an "archive" or "attic" folder for your project and keep older versions of the files no longer needed in that folder instead of deleting them.

Backing Up Files


Last summer your computer crashed and you lost all the data from a summer research project. You are worried it could happen again because all the files for a current project are stored only on your computer.

Best Practice

  • Create at least two separate back ups of your files. A rule of thumb for backing up data is called the 3-2-1 rule. The name comes from having three copies of data on three separate storage options. Two are local copies, such as one stored on your computer and one on an external hard drive or flash drive. (Note that having two copies of the same file on your computer is not a back up). The third copy is accessed remotely online and stored in the cloud through Google Drive or on a University-managed network. This way, if a local drive fails or you lose access to the copy in the cloud, you still have a backup.
  • Use third-party or built-in backup software, such as Time Machine on Macs, to create a regular backup of files at a specific time interval. This will enable you to restore files created on or before a certain date.

Learning Outcomes

This page was designed to help you:

  • Securely store and backup your files
  • Keep track of different versions of files and changes made to your project

Did this page help you meet these objectives?
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