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The benefits of defragmenting disk drives

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I like different technologies for different reasons. Lots of examples come immediately to mind. For example: I am learning to like storage virtualization because I see it offering tremendous potential to increase an IT manager's ability to control the storage environment. For me it was worth coming to grips with the various definitions, complexities and often-unsupported claims of vendors and to see if they can deliver on their promises. I now believe several of them can.

I like RAID - Redundant Array of Independent/Inexpensive Disk - technology, probably because I have worked with it for years and I am comfortable with it. And we know it almost always works, certainly a useful aspect of anything we sink our budgets into. (I am willing to bet my friend Anne Skamarock's advocacy of tape technology is pretty much for the same reason. I find this devotion to tape inexplicable, but I cut her some slack on the issue because she certainly understands tape better than anyone else in the business.)

I like it when the next generation of hardware manufacturers' products is blade-based. Blade-based technology is more than just a card cage. Properly handled, it offers a potential to mix-and match or otherwise expand componentry within a single box. For example, some day we could see a single switch - with a single management tool - serving Ethernet, Fibre Channel and InfiniBand (if and when). Ease of management and protecting current investments always tug at my heartstrings.

And some technologies I like because they are easy for everyone, even me, to understand, and because they answer a basic need. I found one of these this afternoon.

I have spent too much of my life defragmenting disk drives. I've done this on more operating systems than I care to remember, but now am pretty much limited to Windows. Now it's a fact of life that most end users never defrag the disks on their desktop machines, and it is a good bet that few IT workers understand the value of having file blocks assigned contiguously and of putting blocks in intelligent order. Suffice it to say that a badly fragmented disk adds to seek time, slows down applications and access to data, and in particularly bad situations can cause applications to halt altogether.

A defragging tool is often available with Microsoft operating platforms, but its multipass (and thus slow) approach and unintelligent allocation of data does little to win it friends. It certainly didn't win me over this morning with the following message: " Volume MKARP (C:) has 10% free space but ...To run effectively, Disk Defragmenter requires at least 15% usable free space...Before running Disk Defragmenter, you should delete some files or move files to another disk or storage device to increase usable free space. " Uh-huh. Move the programs off the c: drive and let the Registry figure it all out for itself. Now there is a one-way trip to Palookaville!

Never mind why I wound up using a drive that some bozo (not me) had divided up into partitions of 3G bytes each. That's a story for another time.

The point here is this: that very afternoon, along comes PerfectDisk 2000 by Raxco Software (www.raxco.com/). It is an application that:

* Defragments all the disks in the shop remotely.

* Defrags quickly while sucking few cycles from the CPU.

* Works on open files.

* Allows network scheduling.

* Defrags the page file, directories and the Master File Table.

* Works across several of the most recent flavors of Windows.

How many help desk calls might this sort of thing reduce? I have no idea. If many of your calls are from desktop users with disk problems, however, perhaps you do.

I NEVER endorse products in this newsletter, and I am not changing that rule now. But I do often suggest that if my readers suffer from certain IT problems, some technologies are definitely worth a long hard look.

In the final analysis, disk defragmentation is pretty mundane stuff. But it's also crucial. Companies looking to increase productivity by making the disks themselves run more efficiently can certainly benefit from the sort of thing that the disk defragmenting software from Raxco does. I think it's worth a look.

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Mike Karp is senior analyst with Enterprise Management Associates, focusing on storage, storage management and the methodology that brings these issues into the marketplace. He has spent more than 20 years in storage, systems management and telecommunications. Mike can be reached via e-mail.

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