Disk fragmentation may be your network

While network administrators and managers have many issues to deal with throughout their day, what they may not realize is that a lot of them could be solved by dealing with one single issue: defragmentation.

According to Steve Widen, a research manager at IDC in Framingham, Mass., administrators know fragmentation is a problem. They just don’t realize how great of a problem it really is.

“A lot of enterprises don’t understand the impact or in fact that that is a problem out there today, so in some cases they don’t do anything about it,” he explained. “As a result, performance degrades and that means getting a lot of questions like ‘Why is the network so slow?’ and ‘Why don’t you upgrade the network?’ when in fact you don’t even have to do that.”

All that is necessary, he explained, is to set up a consistent policy approach to defragmenting all the Windows-based servers and workstations on the network.

“What you need to do is set up an ongoing mechanism to, on a regular basis, go in and defrag,” he said. “A lot of people don’t do that. A lot of times it’s a reactive thing.”

Andrew Mathenge is the systems administrator for the Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology (CAAT) Pension Plan in Mississauga, Ont. He had been using Windows NT 3.51 for about two years before he discovered a tool from Glendale, Calif.-based Executive Software, called Diskeeper.

“At the time that we did find out about it, the network…had come to a point where it was almost crawling. So, up to that point we weren’t doing anything. We were just trying to troubleshoot the network and trying to figure out what was going wrong.”

Mathenge said a defragmentation tool is now included in Windows 2000, but the difference between that tool and the one that’s provided by Executive Software is that you can actually distribute Diskeeper across the enterprise.

“The one that comes with Windows 2000, you essentially have to run it manually, which means that you would have to go to each desktop to actually run it,” he explained. “The other product allows you to set it and forget it. So you can schedule it to run at certain times, and can actually control it either from one point on the network or a number of points on the network…which definitely, depending on the number of PCs you have to take care of, would reduce the amount of time you have to spend doing that job.”

The amount of time he spent running around to check fragmentation levels has virtually disappeared, he said, adding jokingly that he isn’t even sure if he remembers how to do it anymore.

Mathenge’s approach is exactly what other network administrators should be doing, IDC’s Widen said. If they use a network version of a defrag tool, policies can be created to automatically monitor the network. What it simply comes down to, he said, is using the software that is available to do it.

He compared defragmentation to the issue of virus protection software. When a new virus hits, or there is a lot of publicity about it, that is when people start to take action and do something. They start to buy virus protection products and set up policies and procedures to ensure nothing happens to their networks.

“I think it’s the same thing with fragmentation,” Widen said. “There really hasn’t been a lot of talk about it, but it is a problem that is really – I hate to use the

word, but – it’s pretty rampant in enterprises today.”

In Disk Defragmentation for Windows NT/2000: Hidden Gold for the Enterprise, a white paper co-authored by Widen, he noted that a lot of organizations unnecessarily implement hardware upgrades to potentially increase the performance of their networks. But by adding a “defragmentation utility, it is possible to achieve performance gains that meet or exceed many hardware upgrades. From a cost standpoint alone, this is an attractive proposition.”

The white paper also indicated that IT staff costs for manual defragmentation could be reduced through the use of a network defrag tool. For example, the IDC report showed that for a network with 10 servers and 1,000 workstations, the number of staff hours spent on defragmentation would be 52,520 annually, with a cost of US$2,100,800. But with a network defragmentation tool, the number of staff hours would be reduced to about 24 annually, and the cost would be approximately US$960.