5. Data storage

What to consider about your data storage

Digital storage is a growing sustainability challenge for the world. As the amount of content creation keeps skyrocketing, all of this content needs to be stored somewhere. This demand for storage comes with questions and confusion about how to best store this data. The option you choose depends on your personal or professional wants and needs.

Examples of different options:

  • computer hard drive
  • USB drive
  • CD
  • external hard drive
  • cloud.

The range of options means there is no ‘best’ pathway when it comes to where to store your files. Self-assessing what you require when it comes to data storage should always be the first step.

  1. How much space do I need? You may not know the answer to this straight away. If you like to keep everything, you might be looking for the biggest solution you can get. However, you may work better with a smaller limit to better organise your files and only keep those that are necessary.
  2. Do I want to pay or am I just after a free option?
  3. Do I need a simple solution or one with additional features and customisation?
  4. How concerned am I with privacy? Consider the sensitivity of the information and the accessibility of the storage platform.
  5. Do I require data creation or file sharing abilities in addition to just storage?
  6. Does it matter if I can’t access files while there is no internet? Access to cloud storage is impacted by internet outages and poor performance.
  7. Am I working with research data as part of my honours/master/PhD/higher degree? If you are, talk to your supervisor as the UQ Research Data Manager may be the solution for you. Note: UQ staff should check Where to store files and information to ensure you are meeting UQ requirements.

Local and online storage


UQ computer

The computers available for all to use at UQ allow you to plug in and use a USB drive or portable hard drive. UQ students also have access to a network hosted H:/ (Home) drive while using these computers. It has a capacity of 100Mb and can also be accessed online via the my.UQ dashboard.

USB drive

The advantages of using a USB drive are that it is simple to use and offers various storage sizes at a reasonable price. Many stores often have discount bins of cheap USB drives, however, it is often worth getting a good quality drive to ensure compatibility and reliability.

One of the largest disadvantages of a USB drive is the possibility of misplacing or damaging it and losing your files. You should store your files in more than one location so that a lost USB drive with your assignment on it is not the end of the world.


Cloud storage

There are a variety of cloud storage systems. The solutions listed below are free with no trial period and may be a good place to start. There are other providers that may offer more but have trial periods, charges or other concerns.


OneDrive is a service offered by Microsoft. It can be freely used on most modern devices. OneDrive is available to UQ students and staff via your UQ Microsoft 365 account. It is also available via a free, personal (non-UQ) Microsoft account.  Much like Google Drive, OneDrive has great features:

  • Easy link sharing
  • Personal accounts have 15GB of free storage
  • Useable on most devices
  • Can be used with Office365 apps to edit online

In regards to privacy, OneDrive has the best history among the big free services in Cloud storage. There have been no reports of large breaches in its history. However, there is still the risk.

Google Drive

Google Drive offers a lot of useful features for students:

  • Shareable links to your files or folders that allow different levels of access to one or more people
  • 15GB of free storage
  • Easy to access on most devices
  • Google apps may be a free replacement for Microsoft Office, depending on your customisation and compatibility needs

It does have disadvantages, including privacy concerns. Google services are also not available everywhere in the world.

Apple iCloud

iCloud is the storage service offered by Apple that comes built into all Apple devices by default. You can use iCloud to store files, photos, videos, contacts etc. It is free for anyone to get a basic iCloud account, and one of the benefits for Apple device owners is that it is quite easy and seamless to use iCloud for all storage. In the past iCloud has had data breaches. However, since then Apple has implemented two-factor authentication.


DropBox is a cloud storage solution that offers many of the same features as others with the exception of being able to create files and working collaboratively with others. It offers 2GB of storage with a free account but offers more storage for users who subscribe.

Storage capacity

To give you an idea of what the different storage solutions capacity actually means, the following table outlines how many documents each can hold. For this example, we used a 2000 word document with a few images and basic formatting in Microsoft Word 2016, which is 816KB in size.

Service Storage size Number of documents
H:/ (Home) drive 100MB 120 documents
USB drive 4GB 4900 documents
Google Drive 15GB 18, 000 documents


You know that backing up your files is really important, but do you really do it? Taking the steps to actually back up your files and data doesn’t need to be hard. You should develop a manageable backup plan that works for your needs so that you don’t end up having to post a sign at University, like this one:

If you found a laptop near here on Thursday night (o6/10/16), please hand it in to the Prenctice Building or contact me directly on ... I have my thesis on the laptop which is due at the end of the semester.
Example of someone who needed a backup plan

Backup plans

The basics of a backup plan are to keep copies of files in multiple locations. In practice, this means saving your file then copying that file to a different location, for example, USB drive, external hard drive or cloud storage, not just to a different folder on the same computer.

Not every file you possess requires an active and elaborate backup plan, as they are easily recreated or not important. Some applications or tools automatically backup. For instance, in the past, photos of family and friends required a safe and secure storage solution as they were irreplaceable memories. Nowadays most photos are taken with a smartphone.

Check your device

Apple, Microsoft and Google save a copy of your photos to your account that can be accessed from any computer or device. If you lose or replace your phone your photos are not lost. Check your device and account settings to ensure this is the case.

Automating backups

Backing up files to a USB stick, external hard drive and then to a cloud storage account after each update or change is a hassle and time-consuming process.

Cloud storage solutions often have a desktop application you can download, that can backup files locally and on the cloud. There are also a number of options for USB stick and external hard drive syncing, these types of solutions allow you to set up schedules and rules so that your folders on your computer backup to your desired device. One option is  Apple Time Machine.

While automated backups are time-saving, they require setting up and may not be as effective or reassuring as manually backing up files yourself.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

Work with Data and Files Copyright © 2023 by The University of Queensland is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book