Why you need a triple backup strategy (Merran Williams)

Image credit: Perspecsys Photos
A couple of weeks ago, a bushfire went through the property where I live.

While there was extensive damage, I was fortunate that most of my possessions survived. My study got very wet, courtesy of the water bomber (I’m not complaining, they helped save the house!), and my desktop computer and backup drive were wrecked.

When the fire started, we had to evacuate quickly and all I took were the dogs, my handbag, phone and laptop. Even if I hadn’t been able to get my laptop, I wasn’t worried about my PhD research. All my notes and writing are backed up in the cloud, together with important family photos and financial records.
The cloud provides online storage so your data is housed in a giant server somewhere in the world. Whichever cloud system you’re using automatically syncs selected folders on your computer, and are accessible on the computer when you’re not connected to the web - although you need to be connected to the internet to sync with the server. You can access your data on any computer via the web by logging into your account, and on smart phones and tablets via an app.

Cloud accounts include Dropbox, Google +, Box and iCloud. However, most of these have limited free storage and you generally have to fork out a monthly or yearly subscription fee to get more.

The good news is that, as a La Trobe graduate researcher or staff member, you have access to unlimited storage via the La Trobe “OneDrive for Business” cloud-based system. Go to the La Trobe OneDrive page for info on how to set it up. Its limitations are a 2GB maximum individual file size and a file/folder count limit of 20,000 files.

Cloud-based storage can also help researchers meet the data storage requirements outlined in the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research. This specifies that you must store your data for a minimum of five years from the date of publication.

A word of caution however: the cloud is not infallible. My emails are stored in Apple’s iCloud, and a couple of years ago, 10,000 sent emails disappeared. When I contacted Apple, they were unsure whether they could retrieve them. I then realised that my external hard drive backup held copies of my emails, so I was able to load them back into the cloud.

Now that I’ve lost my physical hard drive backup, my priority is backing up my research on a new external hard drive so I have an alternative to the cloud in case my online files are corrupted or lost. As I’ll be working exclusively from my laptop for a while, I’ve purchased a wireless hard drive that will automatically back up the laptop when it’s connected to my home wireless network. I know from experience that if I have to physically plug an external drive into the computer to back up, I tend to get slack and let days go by between backups - not ideal if you need to retrieve something important.

Based on my experiences and the options readily available, I recommend a three-pronged backup system.

Keep your research on your computer, back it up to an external hard drive and have a copy in the cloud that automatically syncs with your computer files. That way, if disaster strikes, whether it’s a fire or a spilled coffee on your keyboard, you will hopefully have an option to restore that precious work and get straight back into it.


Merran Williams is a PhD candidate at La Trobe University’s School of Humanities and Social Sciences. She's based at the Melbourne campus.

Merran's writing a creative thesis in the form of a novel about the true story of a convict escape from Hobart in 1833.

Her background is in journalism and filmmaking and she hopes to adapt the book into a television or film project when it’s finished.

She tweets at @mantis07, and runs a blog at vandemonianblog.wordpress.com.


Unknown said…
We often lose data simply because we do not have proper workflow procedures and backup strategies. More efficient procedures for saving our work and making backups regularly will definitely save a lot of time for us, like data room software.
Stan Kirchner said…
Interesting. There's actually an official strategy for reliable backup creation. You can check it here: 3-2-1 backup rule .