Backing up your data

Where do you store you work? I wrote a post earlier this year on how do you organize your research, where I mentioned that I have work scattered everywhere. I have it in notebooks, on laptops, external hard drives, online wikis, and under my account space on the university network.

I’m not advocating for my method here, because it usually means that I have to track down stuff over and over again when I need it. It also means, if my laptop ever decides to crash, I may be in some serious trouble. I do back up my laptop at least every 10 days (as that’s when time machine reminds me). I do it more often if I’m working on something, and have made significant progress.

I was talking with a friend about version control systems, like git/svn/cvs. These solutions allow you to have multiple versions of your work, and so if something goes terribly wrong, you can backtrack to an earlier version. Which can be really nice, especially if you’re working on a system that has lots of files, or that may go through multiple versions (like a paper). The problem with these solutions, is you need to have the system installed somewhere.

My department does provide svn repositories for students. So, if I want to use svn, that’s a possibility. However, if I wanted to use cvs or git, I’d have to either host it myself or find somewhere online to host it. Hosting it myself means running and maintaining a server. And, I’m much less likely to do as good of a job backing up that server, then a university department is, or an online hosting service.

On the other hand, an online hosting service costs money. And, you need to know how to set it up, and connect to it, while not having access to any face-to-face technical support. So if you’re computer savvy, it’s probably okay, but if you’re not, there’s another headache waiting to happen.

Google Code offers a free svn type service. However, it is all publicly accessible, and so you really don’t want to be storing anything private or personal on it. It’s also suppose to be for code, so not ideal for writing papers. Or storing lab notes. I’m not quite sure of the license agreement if you choose to use it, but the model behind it is not ideal for academic use.

I know I have stuff that would be better off it it was under a version control system, so using the departments svn system is something I need to seriously consider. However, that needs to be weighed against the question of will I actually follow through and continually submit updated versions of the files? Knowing me, not likely. I, personally, find these systems a pain to use. When they’re used well, they’re really worth it, but the actual mechanism for using them leaves something to be desired. I’m pretty sure that us computer scientists enjoy, just a little too much, making useful systems that seem to be purposefully designed to have a frustrating learning curve or difficult/annoying user interface.

I’m not sure what the correct course of action is here. Although I’m quite sure that most people will require a different solution. For now, I’m backing up to my external harddrive and emailing myself copies of my papers. As with most things, while being proactive and making preventative changes would be the better course of action, I’m likely to continue my same course until something goes wrong. Fingers crossed that doesn’t happen anytime soon.


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