Data Management Planning: Storage, Backup, and Security, Part 3

Are you taking the appropriate steps to store, backup, and secure your data files? Does your research group have formal policies in place that are detailed in your data management plan? If you answered no, or maybe…read on!

The lifespan of storage media such as servers, hard drives, CD/DVDs, and flash drives varies depending on the use, location, and maintenance of the media. It is important to know the limitations, lifespan, and maintenance needs of the selected media. Don’t forget—all media, no matter how reliable, must be backed up. Creation of multiple backups and use of off-site storage provide the best protection. Consider whether to back up particular files or the entire computer system, the frequency needed, data backup location (i.e., off-site server), and persons responsible.

If you do not have the staff or expertise to implement a data management plan, consider consulting with one of these University of Pittsburgh departments: Computing Services and Systems Development (CSSD), the Center for Research on Health Care (CRHC) Data Center, Epidemiology Data Center, or the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (fees may apply).

Are all of the members in your lab using a consistent file naming convention to increase efficiency? The contents of data files should be described in brief but meaningful ways for quick retrieval. Other tips:

  • Avoid symbols such as “  /  \  :  *  ?  ”  <  >  #  [  ]  &  $ in file names.
  • Do not use spaces to separate words.
  • Follow the date format recommended by ISO 8601: YYYY-MM-DD.
  • When using sequential numbering, make sure to use leading zeros so files stay in order when sorting by file name (i.e., RatajeskiSurvey01).

Finally, safeguard the integrity of your data by restricting access to sensitive data. Each computer in your lab should have updated anti-virus protection, firewalls, and intrusion detection in place, especially if your system is connected to the Internet. Do not store confidential data on servers or computers connected to an external network or send personal or confidential data via e-mail. Safeguard your physical space as well. Control access to rooms and computers where data is stored and log the removal of, and access to, media or hardcopy material.

More information about sensitive data, security, and backing up your data, is available at

Part 1 of this series appeared in the February 2013 HSLS Update and explored various aspects of data management planning; while Part 2, in the March 2013 issue, examined metadata.

~ Melissa Ratajeski