Defragging disks: A simpler solution

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

the study.

"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

time.

"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

machine upgrade."

Olpin said he gets about four requests per week from other people at

the Salt Lake City campus asking to borrow the software.

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