Slow disk access: A fragment of your imagination

By Linda Gail Christie

When the Windows NT file System (NTFS) debuted, it was thought that the problem of disk fragmentation would be eliminated forever. Wrong! Benchmark tests conducted by NSTL, the leading independent hardware and software testing organization in the microcomputer industry, indicated that disk fragmentation in a Windows NT environment can significantly impede performance, create bottlenecks, and slow I/O.

"When a volume contains a lot of fragmented files and folders, it takes longer to access them because Windows requires several disk drive reads to collect the various pieces," said Wayne Fountain, Chief Technical Officer of Planet Computer (http://www.planetuplink.com), a Denver, Colo.-based ASP. "To maintain optimal system performance, disk defragmentation should be scheduled on a regular basis."

How often to defragment a volume, though, is a judgment call. "Before you defragment a disk, use a disk defragmenter to analyze the volumes and follow its recommendations," Fountain said. "Since volumes can become highly fragmented when users delete a large number of files or folders, it's a good idea to analyze your disk after this type of operation. Generally, volumes on busy file servers will need to be defragmented more often than those on single-user workstations."

"It's impractical for IT departments to manually analyze and defragment disks from box to box across the enterprise, so network administrators should

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look for a defragmentation software solution that has a friendly, intuitive graphical user interface (GUI), can be deployed and monitored via the network to all clients and servers (FAT, FAT32, NTFS disks), and provides automatic and unattended scheduling during off hours," Fountain added. "Also, make sure the software defragments the Master File Table, Paging files, and directories--without the need for rebooting a server after the process is complete."

If you need to defragment disks working at the limit of their capacity, check to see how much free disk space is required. "Unused space requirements can range upwards from 3-5 percent of the disk volume," Fountain said.

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Storage management tips are written by Linda Gail Christie, a contributing editor based in Tulsa, Okla.

This was first published in September 2000

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