Storing research data during a project

Storing data during a research project has to be a flexible proces. Data should be easy reachable but at the same time safe and robust. Broadly spoken the choice can be made between local storage and network storage.

Local storage

Local storage refers to any physical storage device to which you have direct access (i.e. your PC, laptop, external drive, USB-stick). Local storage is the standard way of working with research data. However, because storing data on local devices can be risky in terms of data loss and privacy protection, the use of network storage gained a lot of attraction lately.

Network shares

Network storage on shares refers to storing your data on UGent servers connected to your local computer over the UGent network.

Ghent University offers shared network drives to its staff especially for project related storage of data. DICT is in charge of the security, maintenance and the back-up of the server. While the 'basic' version is limited in capacity, quota can be increased upon simple request. This is a safe option for confidential data because data stored on a shared network drive do not leave the walls of the university.

Types of network shares

Two types of network shares are provided by DICT:

  1. Bulk shares are intended for projects needing basic sharing capacities (e.g. for a PhD-student wanting to share data with promotor). Bulk shares can easily be requested online (request page). They have a default capacity of 5GB which can be extended upon simple request.
  2. ACL shares are intended for research groups or complex projects in need for more fine-grained control over read/write permissions to files and folders.  This type of share requires more specialist knowledge for configuration and maintenance. To request ACL shares contact DICT.

Before requesting network shares discuss within your research group which strategy to use, e.g.:

  • Each phd-student has a basic share shared with the promoter. After finalizing the PhD, all data are transferred to the share of the promotor.
  • An ACL share is set up within the research group and folders are created for each person with well-defined permissions. Someone has to be appointed to configure and maintain the access control list.

Using a network share

How do you use network shares? Two workflow scenario's are recommended:

  1. Use it as your primary workplace. This means that no data is stored locally and all work is done directly on the network share. The advantage is that security and backups are taken care of by DICT. Also in terms of security this is good, since there is no local copy. Disadvantages are that collaboration is only possible within UGent and that you have to be online to reach the data.
  2. Use it to keep a synchronized copy of the data. Store data on your local device (e.g. desktop computer) and use the network share for syncing. In comparison with the first option this has the advantage that the data are available off-line. However, keep in mind that syncing your local folder with the network share needs to be configured. Also, since a local copy remains on your hard drive, this poses risks for confidential data.
    Note: Syncing is not the same as making a backup. You should not make a backup from your local data to the network share as the network share is already backed up. Instructions how to set up syncing can be found here (p. 97).

What if shares are not an option?

Sometimes storing research data on a network share for daily work is not an option. For instance, if you are processing very large data sets for analysis (e.g. fMRI data or video material), working online would be to slow to be practicable. In such situations, storing data locally is inevitable but some best practices can be kept in mind:

  • Do not forget to backup. A possibility is to sync your local copy with a copy on a UGent network share from time to time.
  • If you work with confidential data, take the privacy of your participant serious. If possible encrypt the data.
  • For complex setups, contact Jan Lammertyn or talk to your local IT staff.

Cloud Storage

Cloud storage refers to online services like Dropbox, OneDrive, and Google Drive. Storing (research) data in the cloud is very convenient (accessible anywhere, syncs automatically with local storage, facilitating off-line use). However, in some situations it should be used with caution. Especially when sensitive and personal data are involved using cloud services should be avoided according to the UGent information security policy. This is also the case for the OneDrive for Business service provided at UGent. If using a cloud service is inevitable for storing sensitive data, encryption should be used. 


For advice and assistance with defining and setting up storage and data transfer strategies, please contact Jan Lammertyn.