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Network File Space and Cloud Storage

The following page will detail all of the options available for sharing and storing files. To learn about Remote Desktop or VPN (Virtual Private Networking), refer to the sidebar.

All Ross faculty, staff, and PhD students have network storage space available on our own servers, commonly referred to as the "U-drive," and "S-drive" (available only to faculty and staff). Secondly, Google provides everyone with a certain amount of cloud-storage space referred to as Google Drive (formerly Google Docs), included in your Google Apps account. Lastly, U-M recently signed an agreement with the Box service, which can almost be thought of as a combination of the first two.

Ross Network Storage (the U:, S:, and R: drives)

Space allotted on the Ross file servers to store data show up on pre-configured Ross Windows machines as the U:, S:, and R: drives.

The U: drive belongs to each individual user, and files stored in that location can only be accessed and retrieved by that person. This takes the place of the "My Documents" folder. Use this space to store important documents, research data sets, confidential files, and documents that have long, historical value to the Ross community, with the knowledge that in the event of a computer failure or disk error, the files themselves aren't actually stored locally on the hard drive and can be safely retrieved from the network.

Ross departments, programs, centers and institutes have shared network space for collaborative work (the S: drive). This shared network space allows multiple people within the same department to work on, share and save documents that pertain to groups within a department. It is possible for people outside of the department to be granted permission into specific file folders at the request of the department director or chair.  As with individual file space, use this space to organize, share and protect information that pertains to the entire organization, i.e. strategy, policy, budget, HR, etc.

The R: drive is where everything above is stored, and more.  In that respect, the U: and S: drive serve as shortcuts to somewhere on the R: drive.  The R: drive also contains a public space where anyone can log in to store or retrieve a file. Do not store sensitive files on this drive. It is meant to make collaboration easier between different departments or even outside contacts (click GuestFTP in the side-bar, for more information).

U-M Network Storage

All U-M students, faculty, and staff are allocated space on the Andrew File System (AFS) provided by the central University IT group (ITS). AFS is a central file storage, sharing, and retrieval system that you can access from Macintosh, Windows, and Unix computers. AFS provides a convenient way to store, share, publish and protect documents using a 'Public', 'Shared' and 'Private' folder structure. There is a quota for this storage. You can also easily publish information to the Web by placing documents in a special folder under your 'Public' folder.  Find out more by visiting the AFS web site.

Cloud Based Storage (Google Drive and Box)

Google Apps gives our community (and the University as a whole) a plethora of tools for collaboration.  Among them is Google Drive. Google Drive will allow the creation of word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation documents, and allows other files to be uploaded and saved in the Google Drive. You can work on them right from within your browser, and changes are saved automatically. By default, files are restricted so only you can access them, but clicking the "Share" button makes sharing them out to others very easy. You can access Google Drive by logging into your UM-Gmail account, and clicking "Drive," or "Documents," among the list of apps along the top.

Box is a document syncing service, similar to products like Dropbox. Upon installation, you can point it to a folder on your computer, and the Box program will upload the contents of that folder "to the cloud." You can run Box on more than one computer, and doing so will sync those files across each computer or device. Everyone at the University can get a Box account for free at this link.

Benefits of Network and Cloud File Space

You've likely heard the mantra before:  "save early, save often," and "backup, backup, backup." If you only store your files locally on one hard drive, and that hard drive happens to crash, sending it to a repair facility to try and read the data can cost thousands of dollars. So, pretty soon you are buying external hard drives and complicated software to backup your local computer. Keeping files on the network, where they are regularly backed up by us, or keeping them in the cloud, makes backing up less mandatory.

Sharing is easier, too, if you choose to store your files on the network or in the cloud. Currently, most of us are used to sending documents through email in order to share them. This can result in many copies of the same file, often with more than one version, which can get pretty confusing. In addition, lots of mail services have restrictions on file size attachments. When you utilize the sharing capabilities of network and cloud based storage, only one version of that file will exist, and you aren't subject to email attachment restrictions.

Lastly, the files are accessible wherever you go. Working on the network or in the cloud means you'll never run into the situation where you're miles away, remembering you forgot to bring that important file with you. If you're in that situation, you can simply log in to the network or cloud service from any computer, no matter where you are, and have access to what you need.

Network Storage Quotas and Limits

Network and cloud storage isn't unlimited, but for the average person the allocated space is way more than you'll likely need.

  • You can store 20gb of data on the U: drive.
  • Google Drive allows for an unlimited amount of file storage under the U-M agreement.
  • Box offers 50gb of file storage space.

Alternate Storage Locations

On those occasions when you do need to store files and other forms of data outside of the Ross Network or other cloud services, consider these options:

  • Portable Hard Drive - Most portable (external) hard drives on the market today connect to a compatible computer's USB port, Firewire port or both. Some require a software installation for a local access client on your computer. The manufacturer is not as important as the amount of storage, the size of the drive and the cost to meet your needs. The size of these drives can range from a few pounds to the size of a deck of cards. The disadvantages of external hard drives are that they are vulnerable to damage from dropping, electric shock (i.e. static electricity), loss, theft, and can become infected with viruses.
  • USB Flash RAM Drive ("Thumb Drive") - These are nonvolatile RAM chips that connect to the USB port of your computer and are recognized as a drive by your computer. Most RAM chips do not require any additional software installation on your computer to function. In other words, you can walk up to any computer with a USB port, plug your RAM drive in, and use the drive. These store much less data than a comparable hard drive, but are much more portable. The advantages of this option are that drives are very small (pocket size), hold a large amount of data, and can be used on virtually any computer with a USB port without having to install software. These drives are susceptible to electric shock (i.e. static electricity) and like all other options, can become infected with viruses.
  • Recordable CD (CD-R/RW) - Compact Disc Read/Write drives are produced as internal or external models (external models plug into the computer's USB port). A single CD can store up to 700MB of data. There are two varieties:

    CD Recordable (CD-R) discs allow you to write a file to the disc only once and you can continue to write to the disc until you close the session. If you have changes to a file that is already stored to the CD, you need to save the changes under a different name or to a different disc. Also, files cannot be deleted off of a CD-R disk. Once the disk is full, or the session closed, by, for example, removing the disc from the device, it can never be written to again.

    CD Read/Write (CDRW) discs function much like a hard drive in that files can be updated and deleted. CD-RW drives can read both CD-RW and CD-R disks; however, they require a CD- RW disk when writing. Note that some older CD-R drives cannot read CD-RW disks.

    The disadvantages of CDs are that they are easily scratched if not handled properly and they can warp is exposed to direct sunlight.

CAUTION: If you lose an external drive, you permanently lose the information unless you have backed-up the drive to some other device. If you lose a portable drive, you assume the risk of the loss of any of the confidential data that was on the drive at the time. This might have very severe negative consequences to the University of Michigan. Any loss must be reported to the Director of Computing Services immediately.

Alternate File Backup Software

Most storage devices intended as a backup option come with their own backup software. Microsoft and Apple provide a data backup program that comes standard with the operating system, called "Backup and Restore Center" and "Time Machine" respectively. Backup software usually allows you to select what you want to archive (data, programs, whole drives, OS, or folders) and choose one of the media types (see Alternate Storage Locations above). Backup procedures can usually be scheduled to be performed automatically. While it's always a good idea to "plan for the worst," cloud computing is quickly making backing-up less mandatory than it once was. Use all of your options wisely, and consult with ITS Service Center if you're ever in doubt about the best option for your particular need.