Backup and Archive

Strategy and Policy Statements

The Department's IT strategy states that "The Department promotes the use of the University's backup system to prevent data loss in the event of a failure. Backup and archive are the responsibility of individuals. The Department does not provide a Departmental backup or archive service."

Relevant policy statements are:

  • All staff are STRONGLY advised to have a regular (e.g. weekly) computer backup strategy and a regular (e.g. annual) computer archive strategy.
  • Research staff should develop their computer backup and archive strategies in parallel with their research data management strategy (e.g. notebooks, specimens etc.).
  • Supervisors are advised to implement a group-wide archive strategy, with a clear procedures for when research staff and students leave the group.

Computer Backups

IT services provides a central computer backup facility with easy to use software which can be configured to work automatically. Please read the full instructions available on-line at The necessary actions can be summarised as follows:

  • Register your computer for the backup services to set a nodename and password 
  • Download and install the client software appropriate for your computer operating system
  • Identify the files needing backup, perform the initial backup manually
  • Test that you know how to restore a deleted folder/file from the backup system
  • Ensure automatic backups are configured or set a calendar reminder to perform backups manually

Note: The Department of Materials’ weekly automatic backup is scheduled to start after 18:00 on Wednesdays. Your computer will only backup automatically at this time if the scheduler software is running and if the computer is turned on. Node owners receive email notification on Thursday lunchtime if the overnight backup misses (e.g. computer turned off) or fails (e.g. one or more open files failed to backup).

In addition to weekly automatic backup of files and data, bitter experience says that staff and students should have further manual backup routines for important documents (especially theses!). A simple method of manual backup is to run the backup software at the end of each day. Alternatively use cloud storage with continuous synchronisation and version control such as OneDrive to backup important documents. Keeping multiple version and multiple copies on different systems reduces risk of data loss in case of disaster (e.g. hardware failure, theft, fire).

In addition to backup of computers, staff and students should also have a backup routine for all portable media such as external hard disks and memory sticks. The university backup service can  backup removable media but users need to consistently mount media at the same location.and also need to consider daily file transfer limits when performing initial backup of external media.

Computer Archives

The University of Oxford policy on the management of research data mandates the preservation of research data and records for a minimum of 3 years after publication.  Many funders specify longer time-frames (e.g. EPSRC 10yrs).  Preservation means the storage of a project’s digital outputs in such a way that they remain usable, understandable, and accessible – beyond the end of funding, and ideally for the long term.  In practice, therefore, preservation is often achieved by depositing the digital material in an archive/repository during the project, or shortly afterwards.

There are a variety of centrally recommended archive options. Research data associated with a specific research publication should be deposited in ORA-data  along with the publication, however for a data-intensive subject like Materials Science the majority of your research data will need archiving within the Department. The university also offers a paid professional digital archive service called DigiSafe but usage of this new service by Materials is likely to remain low due to the high cost per terabyte.

Several research groups have bought dedicated storage arrays for keeping all their group data in one location (e.g. a pair of 30-100Tb storage arrays located in two different buildings). Smaller group archive requirements can be satisfied by a pair of external hard drives (e.g. 12Tb). Finally, remember that media and file formats become defunct over time ("can anyone read my 5.5" floppy?"). Users wishing to maintain a long term archive should expect to migrate their data to new storage media every 5-10 years and should ensure that copies of the programs necessary to read the files are also kept within  the archive.

Overall the whole topic of archiving is an issue of process and procedure within research groups rather than technology, and group leaders need to ensure that departing researchers collate and organise and archive their files and data before departure.


The Department IT staff can provide advice of developing backup and archive strategies and can help if you encounter problems installing and configuring the HFS backup software.