Defragging disks: A simpler solution
- By Dan Caterinicchia, Dan Caterinicchia
- Nov 12, 2000
Federal agencies and corporate America are wasting billions of dollars a
year on unnecessary hardware upgrades in an attempt to alleviate degraded
performance on their networks when the real problem can be cheaply fixed
without new equipment.
Disk fragmentation — the process whereby large files are broken up into
smaller parts and saved to noncontiguous space on a disk — is the real cause
of the slowdowns, but it can be easily overcome, according to a recent International
Data Corp. study.
"Disk Defragmentation for Windows NT/2000: Hidden Gold for the Enterprise"
estimates that network defragmenters can save corporations $6 billion per
year in unnecessary hardware upgrades, and the government could save a great
deal as well.
Files that once took a second or two to open have been reported as taking
10 to 15 times longer to access due to heavy fragmentation, according to
the study. Boot time has been tripled in some cases, and nightly backups
have been extended by hours.
In the case of Windows NT/2000-based systems, excessive disk fragmentation
can create substantial network slowdowns on both servers and workstations.
Some companies and agencies are likely to resolve such issues by buying
more expensive, higher-performance hardware.
But that process will only mask the problem, and it's just a matter
of when, not if, fragmentation will affect the new machines, according to
"Defragmentation has always been a problem," said Charles Seyer, a computer
analyst at the U.S. Customs Service. "It slows down computers immensely.
Defragging [can] take a long time, but it's well worth it because the system
performs much, much faster."
Seyer said he has seen it take anywhere from a few minutes to many hours
to defragment one machine, depending on how the unit is used. If a computer
is frequently used for Internet work, task-heavy jobs such as compiling
reports or charts, and frequent downloads, it should be defragmented daily.
"Those things leave a lot of holes in the hard drive," Seyer said. "I
do it on a daily basis, especially if I've been on the Internet because
that makes temporary files and then deletes some of them, which leaves holes
on the hard drive."
Dale Olpin, a telecommunications specialist at the Federal Aviation
Administration, said he has been using defragmentation software for the
last five years. He echoed Seyer's sentiments about the remarkable results
that regular defragmentation can bring to a single machine or network.
Olpin runs the defrag software on all his machines, and he hasn't had
to replace any except two older 486s, "but that was just because the technology
had passed them by," he said. "I have some old Pentium IIs that are running
circles around Pentium 800s that don't use the software."
Olpin said the FAA's Salt Lake City campus does not have a formal policy
requiring that defragmentation software be used on its more than 400 workstations
and laptops, but he has been lobbying for site licensing approval for some
"I have no troubles, no crashes or lockups. It's very low maintenance,"
Olpin said. "Some machines here are very maintenance-intensive...but this
takes no time at all. The software has schedulers built in, and [it] runs
during nonadministration hours."
He has set the program to run every night but only to defragment if
there is more than 2 percent fragmentation on a machine. If there is less
than 2 percent, the program waits until the next scheduled check and only
runs when that threshold is exceeded.
Both Seyer and Olpin use defragmenter software from Executive Software
International Inc. Olpin said it costs about $50 per machine for the 15
computers he maintains, making the total cost for a year "less than one
Olpin said he gets about four requests per week from other people at
the Salt Lake City campus asking to borrow the software.