An introduction to the University's HFS backup service

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Your work and data are valuable.  The HFS backup service exists to provide a campus-wide backup of data on desktop machines, laptops and servers to an off-site location.

Oxford University staff, senior members and postgraduates can use the service, but not undergraduates.

The service only keeps two versions of any file you backup, the most recent and the version immediately preceding that.  In this way the service differs from other consumer products like Dropbox or Time Machine, which keep multiple backup versions of files.  The practical consequence of this is that the HFS backup service is a 'disaster recovery' service that allows you to recover files from your system which have been erroneously deleted or overwritten, or from a machine that has been lost, stolen or damaged in some way.

It does not offer a 'point-in-time' recovery of your data like services such as Time Machine on a Mac, but it has the advantage of creating an offsite backup which safeguards against fire and theft.

To use the service you will need:

  • a desktop or laptop computer running a modern version of Windows, macOS or Unix/Linux.
  • some work related data worth backing up (not a home photo collection).
  • a University SSO login.
  • access to the University network, using a physical connection, eduroam or remotely over VPN.

To access the service you will need to register your desktop or laptop computer, create an account name for the machine and set a password for the account.  You will then need to download and install some pre-configured software, providing the account name and password you set at the registration process.

You will then be able to run backups manually any time, 24/7.  if your computer is on and connected to the network overnight you can fall back on an automatic weekly scheduled backup.  You can also set up your own schedules to run a backup, such as at the end of the morning and the end of the afternoon, Monday to Friday.

The backup software on your local machine connects to one of our central backup servers, compares the list of files which the server has in the relevant account with what exists on the local machine, and sends those that have changed or are new across the network to the HFS server.

Once a day the backups from several thousand accounts are the copied to three tapes, two of which are placed in fireproof safes while the third remains in an online tape library.  This latter copy means that you are able to restore any of your files at any time 24/7, using the same software that you use to backup.

Because the backup is 'file-based', this means that it cannot back up a file that is open in another application.  If you have a spreadsheet open in Excel or a live database for example, you will need to close Excel, or dump the database to file, in order for the backup of such a file to succeed.

Yes, lots, see our best practice page and our acceptable use guidelines which will also outline the limits and give a fair use statement.  There is an archive service too, but this is for a specific need (you probably want backup).

If you have a multi-user machine, then we ask that to be registered for a server account.  You, or someone like your local IT Support, need to be ITSS registered in order to do that.

If you have further queries, try searching our FAQ pages before contacting your local IT Support.

When you feel like diving in, go to our getting started page.

Get support

Local IT support provide your first line of on-the-spot help



Common requests and fault reports can be logged using self-service




The central Service Desk is available 24x7 on +44 1865 6 12345


If you do not have an SSO account you can use this form to contact the Service Desk