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Stay organized with 6 file storage best practices

File storage can quickly become disorganized without organizational planning. Use best practices like retention policies and naming conventions to easily manage file storage.

Many organizations use file storage to share and manage unstructured data. It's a good option for users who regularly collaborate employing files such as text documents, PDFs and spreadsheets. It's also one of the most widely used types of storage because it's user-friendly.

However, users who don't organize or categorize files can waste time looking for certain items, take up unnecessary file storage resources and potentially lose file data. Admins may also have a hard time managing file storage without a plan in place for users to follow, which may lead to problems when running routing jobs like scheduling backups for file systems.

The following six file storage best practices ensure files are where they need to be and easy to locate. This will help prevent data loss, make it easy to locate files for business or legal purposes, and promote better use of file storage and consistency across users.

1. Implement consistent naming conventions

Organizations with a defined organization-wide naming convention for file stores can locate data much faster than those without a system. Naming conventions should be encouraged and team members should be advised to follow them so multiple users can find and access files via search.

Naming conventions can also encourage users to include other information to improve file search visibility. For example, some organizations may opt for a structure such as "01_01_2022_ProjectName" to indicate the month, day, year and project or file name in one label.

Through a consistent naming structure, organizations using a shared file system to collaborate on files can easily locate them when they're needed. Users who store files on their own device or local storage can also benefit from a consistent naming structure.

2. Use retention policies

Retention policies automatically delete data after a certain date, or if no one has accessed the data during a designated period. Organizations commonly use retention policies if they're required to delete data regularly due to regulatory, privacy and security requirements such as HIPAA and GDPR.

Retention policies are useful for a regulatory file deletion and retention strategy, but organizations can also use them to prevent wasted storage space. Admins can advise users to create folders with retention policies so they can store certain files in them. Just ensure the files are truly no longer needed before using retention policies this way.

For example, if a team is unsure if it will need a file or group of files soon -- and there aren't any compliance, business or legal constraints on deleting or retaining the data -- they should dedicate a folder for the files and set a retention policy. If files are regularly deleted, this should prevent storage from becoming too crowded.

3. Avoid saving unnecessary files

Organizations and users need to hold onto a lot of data, including files such as tax documents or client data, but they don't have to save items such as old project files and duplicate files not including backup versions.

Attempting to save everything "just in case" can lead to wasteful use of storage resources and increase storage costs. Admins should also advise users to only retain data their teams need, or may need, for active, past or future projects.

4. Build a strategy for file grouping and folder structures

Many folder structures are based on what users can easily navigate based on their day-to-day duties. Choose a folder structure based on the organization's or team's typical workflows to encourage users to store files and organize folder hierarchies in the same way.

Admins should document the shared folder structure and share it with employees and stakeholders so everyone using the file system stores files by the same rules. Organizations that work mainly with clients might organize folders by client name, for example, or by date if their workflows are tied to timeframes.

If necessary, develop separate file hierarchies for different teams. For example, the finance department might structure their folder hierarchies based on dates, while the sales team might structure theirs based on client names.

No matter what strategy the organization chooses, document the structure to be followed.

5. Metadata makes for easy searching

Many file-based storage systems come with metadata capabilities. Searching for files that contain text is simple, but data that doesn't contain text may be harder to find.

To mitigate this issue, users can add metadata to files like PNGs, JPEGs and MP4s for easier search. Metadata enables users to add keywords or descriptions, and informs users when files were created. Encourage users to add tags or keywords in the metadata of their non-text files to make them easier to find.

6. Be aware of version history

Collaborating with files often means overwriting or editing documents, but it's important to be mindful of version history.

Sending the wrong version of a file to a coworker for internal use may not be problematic, but failing to store or retain a final version of a document can become a bigger problem if it's a final client deliverable or a document needed for legal reasons, for example.

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