Data storage and preservation are key elements in the research data lifecycle.
For this reason it is important to think at the beginning of your research project how and where you are planning to store and preserve the research data you collect.
Deciding early on which data to keep, which to discard and in which file format will also inform your decision on where to store your data and to estimate the costs of preserving it, in the long and short term. Storage and preservation costs should be included in your funding proposal. Planning ahead means that the unique data you have collected will be easily found, accessed and re-used by you and other researchers (if appropriate).
In this guide you will find information about storage, security, long-term preservation, retention and disposal of data as well as information on sensitive and personal data.
Below is a description of the options available to store your research data during your research project (i.e. what is sometimes called "live data"). We recommend to use UCL infrastructure whenever possible. A table comparing data storage options is availble to help.
- Use UCL infrastructure
UCL Research Data Storage Service (RDSS)
If you are about to start or are currently working on a research project, whether it externally funded or something you are working on in your own time, it is recommended that you use the Research Data Storage Service.
The RDSS provides an access-controlled, centrally-managed, resilient data storage facility that can cope with very large data volumes and files. Data is backed up to tape every night. It ensures compliance with both UCL’s Research Data Management Policy and funders’ policies. Up to 5TB of storage is available free of charge to any project registered by a member of UCL staff, with additional capacity available at cost. The RDSS user interface enables PIs and administrators to change project membership, edit project details, see their remaining allocations, and request more space if needed.
UCL Data Safe Haven
If you handle personal data as part of your research project you can use this infrastructure. Information and guidance is available.
UCL N Drive
Storing your data on a UCL networked drive (N: drive) will ensure daily backup and minimise risks of loss and security breaches. All students and staff receive 100GB of storage space. The N drive is not recommended for large amounts of research data - stored for the medium to longer-term - as it is not an archiving option.
Staff can also store non-personal data on their S: Drive to enable colleagues working on the same project to access the data.
- Cloud services (not recommended)
Many companies offer (relatively) low-cost networked online storage, known as 'cloud' services. Although they are convenient and easy to use, you should be cautious when considering using these services, for the following reasons:
- Providers do not accept responsibility for corruption, loss or damage to customers' data, and there is no guarantee of continuity of service. Providers also have different backup policies, varying from daily to monthly, and may or may not retain previous versions for a period, meaning that previous versions of documents may be overwritten by automatic synching. Files should therefore be backed up. This means using cloud services as a backup, or as additional file space, makes no sense.
- Accounts can be closed down without notification if providers believe they have been misused. Where some research data is concerned, this is perfectly possible, and in some cases likely, for example, data including images of children, or featuring nudity.
At all times you should follow the guidelines contained in the UCL Information Security Policy.
- Portable devices
- Hard copy records
You should keep paper records close at hand within your immediate office space while you are using them frequently and those you use occasionally off-site. Off-site storage is managed by the Records Office (third party storage services are not permitted) and you do not need to wait until your study is finished before sending infrequently-accessed records off site. Local filing rooms or 'archives' must not be used.
- NHS data
If you are accessing NHS patient data, you should contact the Information Governance Advisory service to discuss your storage and research ethics requirements.
As mentioned in previous sections, keeping your research data secure is very important. There is a number of methods that you can use, from the most common such as changing your passwords regularly and creating strong passwords for your devices, to more sophisticated ones such as using specialist software for encryption of flash-drives or laptops.
Passwords on individual documents, and saving data to hard drives (i.e. stand alone computers or laptops), are not recommended.
Information security is not limited to protecting existing files, it also includes data erasure. Deleting files is not enough as tools are available to retrieve deleted data. You need to make sure that the data you want to discard, especially in cases of "special category personal data", is completely wiped from hard-drives or portable drives. See secure disposal guidelines in the ISD's Information Security Knowledgebase.
Long-term preservation and 'archiving'
You should think about what will happen to the data after the end of your project, where it will be stored, for how long, and how to make it accessible in the long term. You will also, of course, need to decide what will be made available, from raw data to final outputs. All of this may be determined, wholly or in part, by your funder or research council.
- Formats & obsolescence
If you have followed the guidance on formats and on naming and version control, you will have chosen formats on the basis of the future use of the data. Formats will become obsolete over time, and you should plan for this. You should also bear in mind, however, that the risk of obsolescence will depend on the software.
If you have the choice, we recommend to use non-proprietary, open and well-documented formats.
- Options for long-term storage
You can store your data in the long term in the UCL environment, using:
- UCL Research Data Repository: In June 2019 UCL launched an institutional data repository available to all UCL researchers and PhD students, as supplied by FigShare. The repository enables UCL researchers to preserve research data of value long-term and make it available to others. See UCL Research Data Repository FAQs for more information.
- UCL Records Office: when research has ended, hard copy (non-electronic) records which must be retained should be sent to the UCL Records Office. This is the only approved place of deposit for such UCL's administrative and research records.
- departmental servers.
Funders and publishers might also have their own repository or might direct you to deposit your research data in their chosen repository.
External repositories can be used to preserve your data, for example re3data.org is a searchable registry of international research data repositories.
Personal data and "special category" personal data
Ethical and legal issues should always be considered when storing and preserving your research data. You will need to anticipate questions such as:
- should I encrypt my data?
- who will be able to access my sensitive data?
- do I have the right to store and preserve my data and for how long?
Retention and disposal of all records and data (whether electronic or not)
The UCL Retention Schedule prescribes how long records and data should be held. Section 2 deals specifically with research records, including clinical trials.
- Hard copy records
When research has ended, hard copy records which must be retained should be sent to the UCL Records Office. This is the only approved place of deposit for UCL's administrative and research records.
- Clinical trial records
Where clinical trial records are concerned, the Records Office accepts only:
- UCL Trial Master Files
- UCL Site Files
- Site Files from UCLH NHS Foundation Trust, Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust or Whittington Hospital NHS Trust where the Chief Investigator holds a substantive or honorary contract with UCL.
Storage of records which do not fit into these categories is controlled by local Standard Operation Procedure (SOPs) for UCLH and the Royal Free.
The Joint Research Office's SOPs for the content of trial files and archiving should be followed where applicable. Sponsors' requirements for retention take precedence over UCL's rules, in which case archiving costs should be included in the full economic costing early in the approval process.
- Confidential waste, CDs & DVDs
Hard copy confidential waste, CDs and DVDs, must be disposed of via UCL Estates.
Your funders may have their own policy regarding the preservation of data that were collected as part of a project that they funded. Check our list of links to funders' policies. Your funders' policies generally take precedence over UCL's policies.