Search Docs by Keyword

Table of Contents

Data Management Best Practices


The FASRC Compute Cluster is a complex place. There are many different compute partitions and storage options to choose from, and this is even before you add your own complexity of your code, data, and other computational work. Some of this complexity is necessary, but some is not. We hope that the following guide will help you organize your data on a cluster in a way that is easy to manage and locate. This best practices guide will not necessarily work for every workflow, but rather is intended as a simple starting point.

Storage Types

First, it will be helpful to classify the different types of storage you will be using on the cluster. Knowing about the different types of storage and their architecture will help you better adjudicate where to put different types of data. Understanding the basic cluster workflow is also helpful. Later we will provide specific suggestions for the different classes of storage.

Broadly speaking the cluster can be organized in to four classes of storage:

  1. Home Directories: Home directories are those folders that you start in when you log in. They contain all the necessary system files needed to customize your specific environment. These home directories are small and resilient (e.g. have snapshots and backups).
  2. Lab Directories/Tiered Storage (Tier 0-2): Lab directories and Tiered Storage are storage space for a specific lab. This storage varies in type and style but is built for long term storage for a lab. For the sake of the below discussion we will refer to this generally as Lab Storage.
  3. Scratch Directories: Scratch directories are those folders which are intended for temporary data storage on the cluster. There are two types of scratch, global scratch which is available on every node on the cluster and local scratch which is tied to the specific node. Global scratch is subject to our scratch policy, while local scratch is only extant for the duration of your job. This space is not backed up or snapshotted. The global scratch has a very large amount of space and is built for performance, while local scratch is more limited but has the best performance on the cluster.
  4. Tier 3 Storage: Tier 3 storage is storage that the Lab has purchased which is intended for data that needs to be kept around but is not actively needed now.

When you use the cluster the commonly expected workflow is shown in the diagram below and described as follows:

Schematic Cluster Workflow

  1. Your initial scripts go into your home directory.
  2. Your data and software go into your lab storage.
  3. When you are ready to run on the cluster you move the data, scripts, and executables you need to scratch.
  4. You compute against scratch.
  5. You transfer the data you want to save back to lab storage.
  6. You move any inactive data to Tier 3 storage.

Naturally workflows can get more complex but this schematic generally illustrates where different classes of data should go. Namely:

  • Scripts: Home directory
  • Software: Lab storage
  • Data: Lab storage
  • Data necessary for computation: Scratch
  • Inactive Data:  Tier 3

In the next section we will discuss how best to organize your data in these various general classes of storage.

Home Directory

Since home directories are small in size but highly resilient one should only put in them the data you absolutely cannot lose. This includes things like important scripts and custom software, as well as essential data necessary for your work. As a general rule all scripts and custom written code should be under version control using a software like git, and that repository should have an external copy at either github or

One should be careful what they put in their home directory as if you fill up your home directory you will not be able to login and various other applications (like Open OnDemand) will not work. Also while the home directories are resilient they are not performant. Thus anything requiring speed should not be kept in the home directory, or at least what is in the home directory is a redundant copy of an active copy on other storage. Home directories are also locked down to a specific user so things that are intended to be shared with other users must go in other locations.

In terms of basic organization it is recommended that you make several basic folders for various classes of data. Some suggested directories are:

  • software: For software installs to your home directory
  • code: For source code repositories
  • papers: For papers you’ve written or are relevant to your work
  • scripts: For various utility scripts you have put together or find useful

Lab Storage

Most of your data will live in your lab storage by fact of its size and scope. To start we have provided a basic initial organization, this is both for security and also to enable Globus data transfers. The initial organization is as follows:

  • Users: These directories are locked down to the specific user and cannot be opened to other users.
  • Lab: These directories are visible to anyone in the lab.
  • Everyone: These directories are visible to anyone on the cluster.

In general you want to operate out of the Lab directory as it makes it easier to collaborate and utilize your data after you leave the group.  Users should only be used for things you do not want the rest of your lab to see. For cross lab collaboration the Everyone directory should be used.

Similar to the Home directories you should make basic folders for various classes of data. Some suggested directories are:

  • software: For software installs common to the lab.
  • scripts: For various utility scripts common to the lab.
  • <projectname>: For specific lab projects.
  • <username>: For specific user code or data.

General rules to follow:

  1. Avoid file or directory names with spaces or special characters (including but not limited to: (<{[!@#$%^&*?|\]}>)).
  2. Avoid camel casing (ExAmPle) or capslock in filenames and directory names. Simply use all lower case.
  3. Keep number of files in a single directory under 10,000. If you need have more you should shard your data into subdirectories.
  4. Keep redundant copies of important data or scripts on other filesystems. This is especially important for storage that has no snapshots.
  5. Do not duplicate data on the storage needlessly. For large datasets have a single copy commonly used by the lab set to read only.
  6. Compress, move, or remove old and unused data. Only active data should be on Lab storage.


Scratch is intended for users to compute against. Speed and capacity is of primary concern. As such users should not keep important data on scratch but rather only keep that data you need to do your calculations and then move any data you want to save back to your Lab space.

Many of the same rules and organization should be followed as the Lab Storage.

Tier 3

This storage should be used for inactive data. For best practices see the Tier 3 documentation.

© The President and Fellows of Harvard College
Except where otherwise noted, this content is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International license.