Now that you have a lot of experimental data, how do you store it safely so you can reuse it? You may need test results again if you test products for government agencies, test products that require an official approval or manufacture products that could have liability issues. And if your hard drive dies, it helps to have backup data. How you save data can make a difference. If you have legacy data on 5-inch floppy disks, for example, you’re pretty much at a dead end.
A printout may provide the best bet because it requires no technology to read it and with proper care, paper can last a long time. You should use acid-free paper that will not deteriorate. This type of paper costs much more than cheap copier paper, but it’s worth the cost. Acid-free permalife buffered paper, for example, costs about $20/ream. Also, a laser printer usually produces better originals than an ink-jet printer.
Store archival papers in a cool, dark, dry place and use acid-free folders and boxes. Recently, a friend cleaned out a ground-floor office. What looked like a pile of papers on a low shelf had turned into a termite nest. Thankfully, the papers, which looked like Swiss cheese, had no value. Take pains to preserve paper records.
For advice on computer-data backup, I rely on my brother, Bill, the registrar and IT expert at an art museum. He stresses three key points: backup, replicate and migrate.
Automatically backup files to an external hard drive or to a network-attached storage device. Some Web-based storage services might prove more economical. In any case, ensure the security of your data, which you could encrypt.
Theft, fire, flood or other disasters may destroy local storage media. Use CDs, DVDs, a second external hard drive or Web services to make additional copies of your data to keep in remote locations. The trick here is to keep everything current, not just the local copy.
Never let a new backup or storage technology completely supplant your existing backup technologies and products. Doing so will “orphan” backed-up data. Web-based storage services have an advantage in this regard. As long as you and your colleagues can get to the Web server, people can view, download, copy and print the data. But do not rely solely on a Web-service for backup.
No matter what backup strategy you adopt, always ensure others know where to find backup copies of files. Trusted colleagues should have log-on and password information.
Lastly, store data in a general format that does not rely on specific software to read it. The comma-separated-value (CSV) and tab-separated-value (TSV) formats have stood the test of time, although the Extensible Markup Language (XML) may offer more flexibility because you can better define information types. Standard formats such as the tagged image file format (TIFF or TIF), the Joint Photographic Experts Group (JPEG or JPG) format and the bit-map format, handle images. But, what do you do with architectural, engineering and CAD drawings that have version-to-version or program-to-program compatibility problems? I’m open to your ideas.