Keeping it all together

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The most important thing we do for you is taking care of your documents and data. You've spent years collecting data, writing articles and dissertations, and you might be one hard drive crash, or stolen laptop, away from losing substantial amounts of work. CLA-OIT's storage offerings provide you with convenient, high-performance storage that you can access from anywhere in the world, with reliable backups that will protect you from most disasters.

The core of our Unix infrastructure is a set of three high quality servers attached to large storage arrays, with 80TB of storage between them. Each account holder gets a home directory on one of these servers for storing anything work-related or personal. In addition, we provide shared directories for collaborative research projects, shared data collections, class materials, content for websites, and other non-personal purposes.

What Sets us Apart

Your home and shared directory storage is not restricted to one server (like it would be on your desktop or laptop) but is shared with all the other servers. What makes this useful are two services that we run on our servers:

Network File System (NFS). This protocol provides a method to share directories to trusted remote servers that run Unix and make them look like regular directories. We use this system to transparently "mount" your home directory when you log in to any trusted server. That way, you always get the same contents in your home directory regardless of which server you are using, and the contents are synchronized. This synchronization also applies to any shared directories you have access to.

Common Internet File System (CIFS). Also known as Samba, this protocol extends the same functionality to Windows and Mac computers. You can create a network drive on your computer with synchronized contents of your home directory or shared directories.

How it's Useful

Making use of NFS and CIFS, you can edit a Matlab program in your home directory directly on your own computer, save it, and then run it immediately on an application server. When your program is finished and saves its output, you can view and print the output file from your office printer. Working this way, you never need to worry about where you stored the latest version of your dissertation, or remember to send the right copy to the server.

Home Directories

Each account holder is allowed up to 25GB of storage in the home directory. CLA-OIT system engineers don't police your usage, or monitor what you store there (except in the case of a security breach or legal issue), so you are free to use that space for whatever you want. We prefer not to host your music collection or copies of YouTube videos, but we won't stop you unless you use a lot more than 25GB. If you need additional space, you can double your allocation to 50GB simply by emailing us at 4help@umn.edu. We will ask you why you need the extra space, and expect you to have a good reason, but we will almost always grant such requests.

Shared Directories

We provide shared directories for research projects with well-defined needs, class work, or other legitimate University business, so don't be surprised if we reject a request for space to share your personal movie collection with your classmates.

Private Data

We strongly discourage you from storing legally private data in either your home directory or any shared directories. While these systems are secure and well-protected, they are designed to facilitate sharing between our users, not to provide protection for highly sensitive data. If you are responsible for the safety of patient or student data, you should not use these systems. We offer alternatives that provide better security, and we would be happy to talk to you about your needs.

But wait, there's more...

Keeping your data on the server, rather than on your laptop that can be stolen from your car or die unexpectedly, is a good first step to keep your data safe. What can save you from a mistyped delete command, or the server itself crashing and burning? For added protection against disasters, CLA-OIT runs an extensive backup system.

Everything you keep on our systems is backed up nightly using three high-performance servers located a mile away from the data center our file servers are located in. The backups are kept on disks, for quick retrieval, and copied to tapes for longer term retention. The tapes are then moved from the location of the backup server to a different building for extra safety. We keep backups for a maximum of 90 days, giving you ample time to notice when something is amiss, and recover your files. For more information about backups, see our File Backup & Restore service.

What is I use Dropbox/iCloud/Crashplan?

In the last few years, many cloud-based storage solutions have provided free or low-cost methods for backups and synchronization. We know many of you use these solutions (even though the University prefers you don't). While each solution has its strengths, CLA-OIT's system is better in several ways.

Privacy. While even we rely on cloud services to store a lot of our data, there are certain things that you should think twice about storing outside the U. Dropbox, iCloud, and other companies have very little legal responsibility for your privacy, including private research data, student grades, and in the case of some of these services, your original intellectual property.

Cost. Most of these services charge a fee if you need more than 5GB of space and the costs can really add up.

Access. CLA-OIT servers do not connect with your Dropbox folders. Storing your research on our system keeps all of your materials in one place.

Backups. While many cloud-based storage offerings allow you to retrieve older versions of your documents, they do not really offer a proper backup option. There are some backup-oriented services that you can use for your personal backups, but they do not offer all the flexibility that you might want for your daily work.

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This page contains a single entry by College of Liberal Arts OIT published on May 2, 2012 11:12 AM.

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How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Server is the next entry in this blog.

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