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Got data?

The Education Office of Information Technology recommends that all users, offices and projects formulate a long-term strategy for backing up your mission critical data and documents.

If you have created intellectual property that is stored electronically, we recommend that you create a strategic backup plan.  We do not recommend relying solely on automated server backups as a long-term backup plan.  Even servers crash or malfunction, and sometimes server backups fail.  So the best policy is to personally initiate your own backup plan.  Be proactive about backups because no one else understands the value of your intellectual property as much as you do.  If a file server or email server contains the only copy of your intellectual property, your data is at risk.  Server backups are generally short term backup solutions.  If you have produced intellectual property over a period of years, you should think about a long-term backup and security strategy that supersedes any particular workplace storage system or single point of failure.  You never know when "life will happen" and access to data on XYZ server or account is lost.  Make sure a backup of your intellectual property is in your possession at all times.  Responsibility for backing up data and documents rests with the owner of the data.

Burned computer imageWhat needs to be backed up?

You, or your office, may own data that resides in several places.  So it is important to initially locate all your important data when formulating a backup strategy.  A backup should include data and documents located on: office computers, home computers, departmental file servers, web servers, email accounts, clouds storage services, external storage devices, etc.  There are many kinds of data & documents.  At minimum, you probably have lots of Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents.  You may also have: research data stes; SPSS or SAS data; digital audio / video / photo data; programming projects, web browser bookmarks/favorites; email archives; etc.

How do you do it?

We recommend that all users become familiar with encrypted external hard drive technology.  Encrypted portable hard drives are useful for backing up large amounts of data, combined with free incremental copying software such as RoboCopy for Windows. If you don't have hardware capable of performing a backup, feel free to consult with the Education IT team.  We can give you specs and advice for backup hardware/software.  We recommend more than one drive for redundancy because all hard drives fail.  Additionally, some people use multiple cloud storage systems to store redndant data.  That way, if access to one cloud storage system is lost, another is likely to be operational (like having a backup email account).  When using cloud storage, you will still be in control of your own data if you have a local backup on encrypted drives.

A backup "foundation"

Burned computers imageAfter an initial backup of documents takes place, you have a foundation on which to build.  You may not need to perform full weekly backups of data that does not change.  Your initial backups of critical static data should be set aside in safe places (multiple copies) where no single disaster or event can cause them to be lost.  Once a backup foundation is established, additional backups can be created and added to your backup collection as you work on new projects/data/documents.

A well organized folder structure is very important to the safety of your data.  If your documents are haphazardly scattered around your hard drive, your data is at risk.  It is important to create a deliberate organizational structure and understand how folders and files are organized, and how to measure the size of folders.  It is also important to know the difference between "shortcuts" and the actual data they point to.  Backing up a shortcut will not back up your data.  To make backups easy and painless, we recommend that data & documents be organized within in a single master folder such as the "My Documents" folder (with lots of sub folders for your individual projects).  If all your data & documents are in one folder + sub-folders, you only need point your backup software to a single folder to perform comprehensive incremental backups. It is generally not necessary to back up application programs since installers are usually readily available, and new versions and patches will make archives obsolete.  Copying files to a server is not an adequate long-term backup.  A backup needs to be in your personal possession, out of the building, and redundant.

Burning keyboard imageHow often should I back up?

The answer to the "how often" question really depends on how often you are generating important and valuable data, and what it would cost (in time and money) to re-create the data if it is lost.  Or...what it would cost to NOT have immediate access to the data.  If you have a backup "foundation", then you at least have something to fall back on when all else fails.  If your foundation is very old, however, it may be of limited use after a data disaster.  For mission critical data that is (a) generated in large volumes, (b) cannot be recreated, or (c) must be immediately available seven days a week, a nightly backup may be needed.  However, for general office documents, a weekly backup, or even a monthly backup, may be fine.  For very low priority documents/data you may decide to back them up once a year, or just not back them up at all.  Scheduling backup reminders is a good use of recurring events in your Microsoft Outlook Calendar.

The bottom line is this: If your documents/data are lost this evening in any kind of catastrophic event, what will happen in the morning? Will your business, your livelihood, your research, your lifetime of work be irrevocably destroyed?  Or will you be able to pick up and move on with a reasonably recent backup of your data?  No one knows the answers to these questions but you.

How can data be lost?

burning monitor imageWhile no one anticipates that a particular computer, hard drive or storage device will crash any time soon, we know from experience that all storage media eventually fails or becomes obsolete and all data is at risk unless secured, redundantly backed up, and in your possession -- a sober fact of the darker side of life in the digital age. 

Data can be lost in several ways:

Therefore it is important to:

(1) have a personal lifetime backup strategy in place before data is lost

(2) ensure that your data will remain in your possession

(3) make multiple copies of valuable data/documents

(4) remove at least one backup from the location where your primary computer/data/documents exist

(5) refresh your backup media from time to time

Etch a sketch cartoon imageNeed to consult?

We're always happy to consult with faculty and staff in the College of Education to help you determine what kind of backup strategy you need to create, how much data you own, and/or what kind of hardware+software you needed to protect your data & documents. 

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact Education IT at edit@purdue.edu.

Thank you and happy computing ! ! !

The Education Office of Information Technology (Education IT / EdIT)