Thing 03: File sharing (2014)

A detail of cloudy sky from a landscape painting by Aelbert Cuyp
Aelbert Cuyp, ‘River landscape with riders’, 1653-57 (detail).
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

Sometimes it’s good to spend a little time with one’s head in the clouds. It’s a good place to get some thinking done—’blue-sky thinking’ perhaps (yes, I’m stretching this analogy a bit too far…)—but it’s increasingly where we’re storing a lot of our data. This week’s Thing covers file sharing with a look at three popular cloud-based storage tools: CloudStor+, Google Drive and Dropbox. Thing 03 has been written by Andy Tseng, Data Infrastructure Architect Research Services, in collaboration with Hero Macdonald, Arts Librarian, Bernard Lyons, Electronic Services Librarian (Law Library), Craig Patterson, Client Services & Liaison Librarian (Science & Engineering), and Wil Villareal, Copyright Office.


Getting started

All three file sharing services are popular with university staff and students and are regularly used to organise and share documents and files with other researchers across multiple devices.

CloudStor+ is a free storage service provided by Australia’s Academic and Research Network (AARNet) to researchers at AARNet’s customer institutions (including the University of Melbourne). Each individual UniMelb staff and researcher has a 100GB of storage with their free CloudStor+ account (with a maximum of 2GB per file).

Google Drive
Google Drive is a file storage and synchronization service provided by Google, which enables cloud storage (15GB of free space), file sharing and collaborative editing. You can access Drive if you have a Gmail or Google account. University of Melbourne students also have access to Drive via their student email.

Dropbox is probably the most popular file hosting service that offers cloud storage and file synchronization. Dropbox synchronizes across multiple devices and is accessible through its website and many mobile applications.


Considerations and risks

CloudStor+, Google Drive, Dropbox and other file sharing services are fantastic ways to manage and share your files with others. However, unlike  CloudStor+, files stored on Google Drive and Dropbox will be on non-academic networks. Therefore, it is important to check if there are any restrictions that prevent you from uploading and sharing certain files with these external commercial services, i.e., copyright, privacy, ethics and security issues. For example, under copyright regulations, you will not necessarily be able to share copies of document, such as journal articles, unless you have the permission of the copyright holders.

Before sharing any material on these services, consider the following questions:

●     What kind of material are you sharing, and is it appropriate for your chosen platform?

Does the material you are sharing contain sensitive information? If so, is sharing it on any of these cloud-based services the best way to disseminate it? Consider security measures such as encryption to protect your data.

●     Are you allowed to share this material?

You must only share material in which you own copyright, or have the appropriate rights to do so. While there are limited provisions under copyright law that allow material to be shared online, sharing copyright material through these services without explicit or implicit permission from the copyright owner may infringe their copyright.

●     With whom are you sharing this material?

Only share material with individuals you trust. Use private folders to restrict access to this material, and if publishing or sharing links to these folders, make sure to only send them to their intended recipients.  Frequently review who has access to your shared folders, and update access to them regularly.

●     How are you sharing this material?

Only use cloud-based services on computers that are secure against online threats such as viruses and key-logging software. If using mobile devices, make sure you are connected to the internet using an encrypted WiFi network. If you cease using a particular device or computer, make sure you deauthorise any cloud-based services from these devices.

●     How long do these files need to be shared?

Make sure to remove files from these services once they have been shared. Do not keep files in shared folders for longer than necessary. These cloud-based services are not intended to be used as the sole repository for any University Record. You may want to consult Records Services for assistance with managing your electronic documents and records.

The Copyright Office has a useful blog post that provides some great advice on sharing your data in a copyright compliant manner. The University has also provided detailed guidelines on the use of Dropbox which you can read here. If you have any concerns about using any of these cloud-based services for your research, you might want to first consult with the University’s Office for Research Ethics and Integrity and Copyright Office.


Try this: CloudStor+

How to access:

  1. You can access CloudStor+ here. Click on the “Logon” icon and select “The University of Melbourne” as your identity provider.

  2. Insert your University of Melbourne username and password (the one that you use to log on to your UniMelb email system).
  3. Once you have logged in, you can upload a file by clicking on the arrow icon in the top left-hand corner. Select a file from your local computer to upload.

Share files with other users

  1. Once you have logged in, click on ‘up-pointing arrow’ icon and select a file from your local computer to upload.

  2. Move the mouse pointer to the file you just uploaded. A series of options will appear: ‘Rename’, ‘Download’, ‘Versions’, and ‘Share’. Click on ‘Share’ and then tick the box that appears with ‘Share with link’. A link to this file will appear just underneath.
  3. You also have the option of setting a password and/or an expiration date to this link. If an expiration date is set, the link will become inactive after the expiration date.
  4. Add, in the box provided, the email address of the person with whom you wish to share the file. Click ‘Send’ and—voila!—the file has been sent.


Reflection and integration into practice

Files are stored in Australia’s Academic and Research Network (AARNet) and the service is available for both university staff and students. Access is granted via the Australian Access Federation (AAF), which means that staff and students can use their University of Melbourne credentials without the need to create additional accounts.

Google Drive
University of Melbourne students (but NOT staff) have access to Google Drive via their Student Email. It can be used to share files with internal and external users. Details on student access to Google Drive can be found on the Student IT website.

The main strength of Dropbox is that it can sync files with others (as well as with yourself) across multiple devices. This is really helpful when you’re frequently swapping computers, and don’t want to worry about losing your USB flash drives.




Google Drive

Cost Free for members of AARNet’s customer institutions. Free, Pro and Business versions. Free and Premium versions.
File size limitations 2GB per file. Files uploaded to Dropbox via the desktop application or mobile apps have no file size limit.Files uploaded through website (by clicking the upload button) have a 10GB limit. Files uploaded but don’t convert to a Google Docs, Sheets, or Slides format can be up to 1TB each.[1]
Total storage limit 100GB for free but additional storage space can be purchased (costs around $30/month per TB). 2GB (Free version),100GB (Pro version) and Unlimited (Business version). 15GB (Free version) and 100GB, 1TB, 10TB, 20TB and 30TB (Premium version).
How long are files kept for? As long as the AARNet keeps running the service. 90 days of inactivity for free version users.[2] As long as you’ve got an account & Google decides to keep running the service.
Limit on file types? No. No. No.Google Drive is able to convert certain types of files to Google document format, e.g., Google Docs, Sheets or Slides.
Platforms There is a fully-featured website as well as desktop clients for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux.Mobile clients are available for Android and iOS. There is a fully-featured website as well as desktop clients for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux.Mobile clients are available for Android, iOS and BlackBerry. There is a fully-featured website as well as desktop clients for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux.Mobile clients are available for Android and iOS.




More tools…

CloudStor+, Dropbox and Google Drive are not the only services available that allow university staff and students to organise, share and synchronise the files online. Alternative choices, such as Microsoft OneDrive, Amazon Cloud Drive, SugarSync or Box, are also worth considering.

 Andy Tseng, with Hero Macdonald, Bernard Lyons, Craig Patterson and Wil Villareal.


As you can see, there’s quite a range of cloud-based services out there for online storage and sharing of data. Are you using any of these tools and, if so, which do you prefer? What has been your criteria for deciding which of the services to use? I predominantly use Dropbox, particularly as a way to back-up files and to sync and share them across my devices – mainly with myself rather than for collaborative work. However, I did use Google Drive at the weekend to access, update and share documents with others; I found it to be a very efficient and easy – perhaps more dynamic than Dropbox.

Academic-oriented services, such as CloudStor+ or the NeCTAR Research Cloud, specifically cater for researchers and for the storage and sharing of research data. Are you using either of these? Are they mandated for your particular research project? Do you use them in combination with non-academic tools, such as Dropbox? I tend to use the latter to store a range of data and files, some specifically relating to my PhD but also more general research material, as well as non-academic stuff: time to compartmentalise one’s place in the clouds?

Finally, have you had any problems with cloud storage? EndNote libraries, for example, can become corrupted if opened from within cloud storage such as Dropbox. The cloud can be  a great way to to keep a backup copy or to share your EndNote library but treat it like a USB and copy the files to another location on your computer before you open them (see here for more information). How concerned are you about the security and long-term storage of cloud-based data?

That’s it for this week’s Thing. Next week, social media and how it can help you to disseminate your research and reach out across and beyond the research community.

Mark Shepheard


One Response to “Thing 03: File sharing (2014)”

  1. paul g says:

    When sharing files to do with projects that have been approved by Human Research Ethics Committees, keep in mind all of your obligations in regards to anonymity, privacy, data storage, and file access. Consider putting in your preferred provider(s) and the people that will have access to those files. Keep in mind, too, that commercial providers may be able to ‘own’ the file (in some sense, as it is on their servers).

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