Google Drive at the Institute

Cloud storage can be very practical, both for research data and your personal files. One of the options you could consider is using the Institute’s Google Drive accounts. Guillaume Pasquier explains what they are good for, and when you should or should not use them.

Infinite drive

Did you know that your Graduate Institute Google Drive account is both free and unlimited in size? The individual file size limit even reaches 10 terabytes! That should be sufficient for anything you need to store online, and the best part is you get to keep your account when you finish your studies at the Institute.

What is the catch? Well, tests show that Google Drive synchronisation is slower than Dropbox’s. That would be because Drive synchronises whole files when you change them, while Dropbox only updates the parts of files that were actually changed.

Sync options

Synchronisation itself is pretty easy and transparent. There are two different applications you can install on your computer: “Backup and Sync”, and “Drive File Stream”. The first is quite traditional: a specific folder on your computer is synchronised with the contents of your cloud drive, and changes on each of them are reflected on the other.

Drive File Stream is a little different: your files are not stored locally, but you can work on them as though they were. Your Google drive simply becomes a virtual drive accessible from your computer. This can save you lots of space, but it also means some of your data could not be available depending on your connection and internet availability. This option is only available with institutional accounts such as the Graduate Institute’s.

Team drives

If you are part of an IHEID research team or a student initiative whose members change frequently, using the Team Drives option rather than sharing files from your personal IHEID Google Drive can make sense. You can invite other users, and attribute them roles such as Manager, content manager, contributor, commenter, or simply viewer.

The interesting aspect of Team Drives is that they can be managed by the Institute’s IT service and their ownership can be transferred when teams change and new researchers, staff, or students are put in charge without any risk of a lost team account password, for example.

Keep sensitive data away from the cloud

It should be obvious, but let’s mention it anyway: using cloud services exposes your data to security issues. When it comes to research, sensitive data can not be stored on such a service. Personal data storage is possible on services which respect RGPD requirements (such as Google Drive and Dropbox), but only with the informed consent of your research subjects.

When storing your own (non-research) files, you should also take a moment to think about what documents you are comfortable sharing with that company, and potentially with unwanted governmental or even criminal actors. Not everyone will agree with their tax or banking information being potentially hacked or surveilled.


Read more about research data storage on our research data management guide, or comment below with any questions you may have.

Header picture (cropped): Clouds, by Engin Akyurt (Pixabay license)

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