Friday, 8 April 2016

Backing up and storing data

I had an interesting conversation recently with some fellow PhD scholars, about backing up data, and what everyone did about it.

One had set up an extra webmail account for their own writing, and each time she created a new version of any document, she emailed a copy to that account.

I thought about that system, and figured that would become useful if (a) you first did a 'save as' of the file with a new version number in the file name and (b) you then emailed the file from within the particular software, as the file name automatically becomes the subject line. Then you could easily find the appropriate file in your webmail account. Otherwise it would become a click-fest.

One person had all the items on her home PC, but had also backed everything up onto a memory stick. Only one memory stick, mind. And the memory stick was also at home.

One had only one copy of everything on her PC, and no back ups of anything, anywhere.

A range of approaches, and not one of them covering their readings, articles or books, nor grandfathering their backups.

Have a think about what you do with your data. Ensure you have a regular system which, if disaster strikes, is not all at home as your house burns down, or all on a company server, like some websites in Christchurch, which, when the power failed during the earthquakes and the back up generators finally ran out of juice, disappeared.

I will be following the storage system I set up for my Masters study.
  1. Books, readings and research materials are scanned, OCRed and are saved into one folder. I have a naming convention, which I follow rigorously and consistently: "Author - File title, year" so items are easy to find (read more about this here). That means even if the house burns down, I still have a copy of the material. I have a spreadsheet index of the files in the folder, which I can sort by name, by bibliography, by the date added, by author, by keywords, by publication date, by publisher etc.
  2. All my writing - spreadsheets, word documents, forms, models, images, data, PowerPoints, text files, emails etc -  are stored in my PhD folder, using just a few sub-folders with VERY sensible names. I use the same naming convention as above, and add version numbers onto the end of the file titles so items sit in order. If a file is in draft, then I ensure that draft is within the title, along with the draft number.
  3. Documents to be shared with my supervisors - such as meeting minutes, my current reading list, key readings, and the latest version of the files I am working on - are all in the cloud storage, in a shared folder. When I email, I direct them to the cloud folder. Older versions of the cloud shared files I archive by dropping them into a sub-folder entitled "Archive".
When it comes to backing up my data, I synchronise my existing PC files to those already stored on set of removable harddrives which I have, using a piece of software called FreeFileSync, which I explain in another article, here.

I keep one numbered harddrive in my car, one in my PO Box, and one with my PC. I cycle them all one place onwards each week.

I back up my PC's data each Monday at 5pm, as I check my PO Box on Tuesday morning first thing, using the most out of date harddrive that I have.

On Tuesday morning, I drop off the just-completed back up into my PO Box, pick up the (now) oldest harddrive, put it in the boot, and when I get home that night, I bring the harddrive that was in the boot of my car up to my office, and put it on my PC, ready for next Monday.

I have three harddrives so that if one of them fails when I need it, I have another, albeit older, one. Or, if there is a worm that has infected one HDD, hopefully it hasn't infected all three, as well as my PC.

I also have a 128Gb memory stick of teaching files (which includes all my research) for transporting my files when I go into NMIT to teach. This too is software-synchronised with my PC each time I go out of the office so that I have my most recent files with me when on the move.

Don't lose your data. Build a plan and be diligent about it.


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