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Data Management @ NAU

Short-term data storage

Think about how much storage space will you need for this project, both at the start and in later phases of the project. Remember that you can include line item funding requests for data management activities in your grant proposal.

Storage options: When to use: Details:
Servers (networks) The preferred option, because servers provide storage, backup, and recovery.
Your department can purchase extra storage space from NAU ITS -- see the NAUShares page for information about pricing and requesting storage. NAUShares is designed to share documents across a department, but you can work with ITS to set access permissions for your files.
Desktop and laptop computers If you need to save your files to the computer's hard drive, create a backup copy as soon as you can. While you'll most likely be entering data on a desktop or laptop, save the files to a server whenever possible.
Cloud storage Use only for data backups and never for sensitive data. Be sure to read the terms and conditions before purchasing commercial cloud storage -- avoid services that will claim ownership of your data as soon as you upload it.
Removable media (CDs, DVDs, flash drives, etc) Generally not recommended because they fail frequently. If you choose to keep a third or fourth copy of your data on removable media, be sure to check these media frequently and replace them as needed.

Backing up data

Create a plan for backing up your data and determine where these backups will be stored.

Back up data at regular intervals or after every notable change to your data
  • Choose the interval time by comparing the cost/time spent creating a backup versus the cost/time it would take you to re-create data collected or changed since the last backup.
  • Create a backup schedule that specifies who will backup the data and when they will perform backups.
  • Test your backup system at regular intervals to ensure that data are still accessible.

Keep at least 3 copies that are geographically distributed

  • Think "Here, Near, and Far" (e.g. original copy + external copy in local area + external copy in remote location).
    • The local copy helps you recover data if you accidentally delete the wrong file or if your hard drive crashes.
    • The remote copy helps you recover data if there's a flood in your building (or if a forest fire burns down the entire town of Flagstaff -- which sadly is not outside the realm of possibilities...).
  • Keep your backups secure (keep laptops and removable media in a secure location, and keep desktops up-to-date with anti-virus software and strong passwords).
  • If you are pressed for space, you can compress your third copy, but your data are more likely to remain accessible if you store them in an uncompressed format.

Security and access

Even if you're not working with sensitive data that could be linked to a particular person, you still want to consider:

Computer security
  • Be sure your anti-virus software is up-to-date and running at all times.
  • Install operating system and software updates automatically or as soon as possible.
  • Use strong passwords for your user accounts.
NAU ITS can provide assistance if needed.
Access Know who has access to your lab area, your computers, and your data. Ideally, you want to restrict access to only your research group or your collaborators on a particular project.


Recommendations are based on:

  • the MIT Libraries Data Management Guides about backing up data
  • Andrea Horne Denton and Sherry Lake's "Workshop on the Best Practices in Data Collection and Management," presented at the National Network of Libraries of Medicine, Middle Atlantic Region's Symposium: "Doing It Your Way: Approaches to Research Data Management for Libraries" (April 2014)