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Researchers often complain about their “drowning in data” but what happens if it is your actual data that is doing the drowning?

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina it was estimated that “approximately 300 federally funded projects at New Orleans colleges and universities, cumulatively valued at more than $150 million, worth of research data was destroyed.” The Australian floods have so far caused billions of dollars worth of ‘general damage’ but among all of this devastation will be stories of equally devastated students and researchers who have lost months if not years of irreplaceable data.

Picture the scenario. You are a month or so away from submitting your masters or doctor thesis. You have just completed all of your data collection and analysis for your nationally funded research study. You have just put the finishing touches to the book manuscript that was due at the publishers next week. You have now been flooded and everything that you own, including your computer and home office are under 6 meters of water or are now just part of a huge mud flat.

What is going through your mind? Pray that it is not: Have I got a backup?

Such disasters drive home the importance of backups and why thinking of “worst case scenarios” is prudence, not paranoia. What kind of backup strategy do you have, and I don’t mean in principle but as Fatboy would say: “Right here, Right now”.

You have a folder called ‘Vital Files’ on your computer and that’s it: you have no backup strategy.

You have a copy of the folder on the same computer disk: you have no backup strategy.

You have a copy on an external disk but it’s in the same room, house or office : you have something of a backup strategy but it won’t save you if the flood, fire or other disaster strikes.

You have a copy ‘off-site’ for example a work and home copy or you regularly give your supervisor or colleague an updated copy to keep: much better, but you could still be in trouble if a disaster strikes a whole town, city or area and their copies go the way of yours.

You also have a ‘cloud’ copy of all of your vital files: now you can begin to heave a sigh of relief and dare to think that whatever has happened to your computer, office and physical data, you know that you can download and recover all of your files with a mouse click.

As you might guess, I’m a bit of a backup paranoid. Yes, I have external backup disks and clones but by far the most reassuring is having all my vital files in Cloudland. Even without disasters cloud storage is ultra-useful. With anywhere access you will no longer be stuck at home or work while the files you need are ‘on your other computer’. A quick login from any computer anywhere and there you have them.

Numerous companies such as Dropbox, Sugarsync, Mobileme and more offer cloud storage at costs ranging from free to a hundred odd dollars. Peanuts! Talk to the research student, chief investigator, author or business who has just lost absolutely everything they have worked on for the past few years. Ask them how much they would pay at this moment to have all of that data, all of those photographs, all of those files back safely in their hands. The answer is probably: anything at all.

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