File sharing

Collaborative research brings with it the need for the sharing of information, documents and data, in a controlled, organised and managed way, often across several organisations or institutions. This can be challenging if it is not properly managed. The requirements of researchers for a collaborative environment are typically:

  • storage and sharing of documents and data files
  • the ability to organise documents and data files into folders
  • an access control system which allows authentication and authorisation to be easily managed
  • version control of documents and data files
  • file locking to prevent users from simultaneously working on the same file
  • ideally, a discussion platform utilising a forum or wiki format

Available options for setting up a collaborative research environment are:

  • an institutional or departmental drive where secure access can be provided to external researchers, for example, a share accessed via a virtual private network (VPN)
  • Advantages: one institution responsible for setup, storage, backup and access control. Disadvantages: access control is difficult to manage and there may be resistance to allowing people external to the organisation access.
  • a secure file transfer (SFTP) server
  • Advantages: one institution responsible for setup, storage, backup and access control. Integrated access control independent of the institutions Active Directory. Disadvantages: possible reluctance to allowing external people access.
  • a Virtual Research Environment (VRE) or portal environment, such as Basecamp, Huddle, Clinked or MS Sharepoint
  • Advantages: secure workspace, with customisable content management system. Disadvantages: Basecamp, Huddle and Clinked are web based.
  • cloud-based file sharing services such as Dropbox, GoogleDocs, Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, SpiderOak, Mega.nz or Tresorit
  • Advantages: easy to set up and use. Disadvantages: limited storage, security concerns over where the files and backups are kept.
  • a data repository such as DSpace, Fedora, Eprints, CKAN or cloud-based figshare
  • Advantages: one institution responsible for setup, storage, backup and access control. Disadvantages: lacks full customisation.

For file transmission, the UK Data Service uses a locally hosted SFTP server. Files containing sensitive or personal information should be encrypted before upload, ideally using PGP.

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