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Last Friday, IT staff at Victoria University of Wellington started a maintenance procedure to reclaim storage space on the university network. In theory, the profiles of students who no longer attend university have been removed. The real impact was sadly much greater – it affected students, faculties, and staff across the university.
The Critic – the student magazine of the Otago University Students' Association – reported on the topic fairly thoroughly this Wednesday, but from a non-IT perspective. It sounds like an overzealous Active Directory policy has exceeded its limits. The university's digital solutions division (what is referred to in most places as information technology or IT) stated that files stored on the university's network drives or in Microsoft's OneDrive cloud storage were "fully protected".
One student reported that not only were "files missing on the desktop", but "my entire computer was reset", which would be consistent with an AD operation that completely removed her user profile from the computer – in one such case, a The user could log on to the PC, but in a completely "clean" profile that looks brand new.
The same student reported hearing that some PhD students lost a year worth of data, stored only on their local computers, and erased through the faulty maintenance procedure. For those Arsians who don't work in IT themselves, here's a lesson – be careful about where and how you store your data.
It is unclear whether the university accidentally deleted users' files on their network drives – but even if they did, there is a very strong and reasonable expectation that those drives will be regularly and fully backed up. There is no such expectation for the local drive on a user's PC or laptop. If the only place you've saved it is your own C: drive, this is almost certainly the only place it exists.
For routine data, it is sufficient to understand the company policy on what will or will not be backed up and store your data accordingly. For items of significant personal importance, such as If you are working on a doctoral thesis, it is unwise to rely solely on the IT department to protect your data in the first place. There is no substitute for taking responsibility for your own data and making your own, tested backups on a regular basis.