What are your options for saving files? From the Hard Drive to the Cloud – an introduction to storage and back-up

It wasn’t long ago that file storage options were limited to your PC’s minuscule hard drive or, if you could manage to keep files under 1.44MB in size, the legendary floppy disk. Then along came rewritable CDs, and subsequently DVDs, which massively expanded the potential of external storage and back-up to 700MB and 4.7GB respectively. But as we moved into an age of digital photos, downloading films and music (legally, of course!), and creating massive files for course work, this technology was never going to last long as a solution to backing up work or transferring files between different computers.

Remember the floppy disk? By the-difference, Flickr

Today we can make use of a wide range of storage options depending on our particular needs, in both physical (such as USB drives) and virtual (like Cloud storage) formats. We all know that it’s important to back-up work regularly, especially when a major assignment is nearing its completion as this is inevitably the time when your PC blows up or you spill coffee on your laptop. But we are also increasingly finding a need to create, view and edit files on multiple machines such as at home, uni or on the move. Different storage options each have their strengths and weaknesses depending on factors such as how you want to back-up your files, whether you want to share them, and your internet usage limits. The following list gives a quick introduction to some of the options out there at the moment, in order to help you choose what’s right for you.

The inner workings of the PC hard drive. By walknboston, Flickr.

PC Hard Drive 

We all save files to our PC or Mac without thinking about it; this is the ideal way to keep and organise files you’re working on in order to be able to access and save them quickly. With many computers you can add additional internal storage when the need arises, although this would be more difficult with a laptop (and probably impossible with the impenetrable fortress that is an iMac!). Also, issues arise when you don’t want to take your computer with you wherever you go, and you suddenly need to get access to a particular file. As well as this, it’s probably not the safest option for keeping files backed up long term – just imagine if your computer gave up the ghost right now. Would you be able to get your assignment in on time? And would you be worried about never getting back your treasured photos? If so, it’s a good idea to think of another storage solution.

SHU Computers – Homespace (F-Drive)

If you don’t have your own computer or just prefer to work on campus, you might use the SHU F-Drive, or Homespace. This can be accessed remotely so could be an ideal way of keeping your files in one place while making them available from different locations. However capacity is limited to 100MB and you will need to consider whether you want to keep the files after you complete your course, in which case you will need to transfer them to another device.

For more information check out the university’s guide on checking your homespace capacity or to find out how to access the homespace remotely read our blog post on the subject. 

Lego USB Memory sticks by nozomiiqel, Flickr

USB Memory Sticks

As technology moves on and files get larger and more complex, data storage is getting smaller and smaller and you can now store a whopping 64GB on a gadget that is smaller than your thumb. Available in a huge range of designs from pandas and clown fish to Lego, the USB Memory stick can be a highly portable and personalisable solution for keeping your files with you at all times. However, as most people know they are also easy to lose or break and as a flash drive can become corrupted, so may be only suitable as a short-term backup option and for transferring files between machines.

For more information read the USB Good Practice Guide created by IT Help at SHU.

Burning to CD or DVD

If you have files which you want to keep safe for a long time, consider burning these to CDs or DVDs and keeping in a fireproof box (preferably storing duplicates in a second location like your parents’ house, for those most important files). By investing in Archival Grade disks, it is likely that your treasured photos and documents will outlive your computer and potentially even your student house!

CD and DVD-Rs can also be used like a USB, with the option to add more files later on, if the disk is not finalised when burning. However, it’s a bulky and outdated alternative to the USB so perhaps no longer ideal for this use.

When burning disks at SHU, always search for CD Burner XP rather than using the Windows default software. For more information search for CDs in shuspace.

Portable/External Hard Drive

When you’re looking for a back-up device that will keep your files safe should your computer fail, an external hard drive may be the answer. These can be rather bulky, being desk-based and requiring a plug power source, but are made from robust components with disk (rather than flash) drives which should reduce the chance of corruption. Alternatively, if you do a lot of work which needs to be viewed on multiple computers (like large files to be printed at uni) you may wish to invest in a lightweight portable hard drive which does not require an external power supply and can fit into a bag or pocket. Always remember to carry the device in a protective case, and make sure to select the ‘Safety Remove Hardware’ icon before pulling it out from the USB socket.

Clouds by Kevin Dooley, Flickr


Cloud storage is the latest system to join the array of file back-up and sharing options; essentially it refers to the storage of files online by a host provider such as Dropbox or Microsoft SkyDrive, and could be considered as the evolution of emailing important files to yourself. Companies offer limited storage, such as 2-5GB, for free, with a subscription service for those who need a larger capacity. Some providers offer an automatic back-up service, which means you don’t have to manually add files to the online drive. You may also have the ability to share files with individuals or groups. A system such as Dropbox can be an ideal way to protect files against hardware malfunction, and also access them anywhere in the world. However, it is important to remember that regularly uploading data to the internet may eat into your broadband limit.

Google Drive

Google Drive

Google Drive is Sheffield Hallam’s answer to cloud storage. Accessed via the tabs above your SHU Google Mail account, the service allows you to upload, store, share files from any programme as well as create and edit documents within Google Docs itself. The drive can be accessed from anywhere with an internet connection, via shuspace and SHU Google Mail, and offers 5GB of storage for every student at the university. You can create groups of contacts to share files with, and allow others to work on your Google Documents, making remote group working and planning simple, especially as the Drive sits alongside your university email account and online chat facility. For more information on Google Drive and other Google Apps available at SHU, read our article, Did you know… Google Apps are now available through your SHU email account?

3 thoughts on “What are your options for saving files? From the Hard Drive to the Cloud – an introduction to storage and back-up

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