Data Storage options
Every research project has a different set of data storage needs and these must be matched with the feature sets of data storage platforms to find the best platform for the data.
Needs can include:
- Large storage requirements – with regular increases
- Sensitive data storage
- Computation/analysis needs
To find a place to store your data, check out our Research Data Storage Finder, an interactive tool that lists various data storage and backup providers recommended by the Research Data Management team at McMaster. Or watch our webinar: "Strategies for research data storage and backup."
We can separate data storage platforms into 3 major categories to discuss their pros and cons:
- These are storage devices that are built in to your computer or that you directly connect to your computer. This includes laptop or desktop hard drives or SSDs, external hard drives, USB flash drives, DVDs or other storage media, etc. Local has a few strong advantages:
- it’s easy to use – external drives can be simply plugged in and data transferred to them with no need to sign up for services or set up programs.
- Data transfer is fast
- The cost can be low for moderate amounts of storage (up to 10 TB or so),
- External storage devices are easily portable
- Data can be accessed when internet is not available.
- Access to the data is limited to only those who physically are given access to the drive.
- These are storage devices that are connected to your local network – typically the university network. They can be run by IT units on campus or independently by a researcher. These include departmental servers, RHPCS servers, faculty servers, and smaller NAS devices. NAS stands for “network-attached storage”. These are small data storage devices that can connect to your network rather than directly to your computer via a cable. Network storage is great when you need:
- Secure access – storage is limited only to those authorized to join the server and join the network.
- Centralized storage and access – Network storage devices can be used by multiple members of a research project or research group to store data that can then be easily accessed by all team members.
- Backups – network storage devices are a good choice for automated backups – there are several software applications that can back up your computer to a networked storage device.
- Online storage platforms that you access over the internet. They are typically run by third parties including corporate entities or non profits. Cloud storage platforms include Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, and open source platforms like SeaFile, OwnCloud, and NextCloud that may be run by research organizations or institutions. Cloud storage has some extremely compelling features which make it amazing for research like:
- Version control and file recovery – most cloud platforms track changes to individual files and those changes (including file deletion) can be reverted.
- File sharing – files can easily be shared with collaborators and worked on together.
- Access from anywhere – no matter where you are or what computer you’re using, you can access your files as long as you have internet.
- It comes with some tradeoffs as well though:
- Speed of access – data stored only in the cloud can be slower to access and analyze since it may have to be downloaded before it can be worked with.
- Security – like other online platforms, you must create a strong unique password and be diligent about protecting your cloud storage account from hostile actors. There is a risk of the platform being compromised and your data being accessed by a hacker or deleted.