Take proactive steps to avoid 'storage abuse'

Need help managing your company's storage? Here is some advice and a couple of recommended tools that can help you manage your storage space.

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Consider this situation: A Windows network administrator contracts with an external vendor to provide off-site backups, and that vendor charges by the gigabyte for any files that are stored at its location.

The administrator (it wasn't me, I swear) was in the midst of migrating user home directories onto a new file server, when suddenly she noticed something disturbing. "What are all of these music files doing out there? And, more importantly, what are they doing in directories that are covered by the offsite backups that my company is paying for?"

Situations like this and others related to "storage abuse" can overtake even the best network administrators if we don't take some proactive steps to manage the ever-increasing storage needs on corporate networks.

The good news is that there are a number of tools -- some freeware and some paid -- that can assist you in managing storage space on your file servers and network-attached storage (NAS) devices.

The problem: Disk space usage runs amok
The solution: Disk quotas

Windows server operating systems since Windows 2000 have all offered administrators the ability to assign disk quotas to a server drive. The advantage to this is that it's free (built into the server OS). The disadvantage is that disk quotas can sometimes be a bit kludgey to work with, especially in Windows 2000.

Disk quotas must be managed on a drive-by-drive basis -- if your server has a "D:\," "E:\" and "F:\" drive to store user files, then set up quotas separately for each drive. If you're running Windows XP and Windows Server 2003, management has become a lot easier since you can now use VBScript and the Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) to automate disk quota management across an enterprise. (For an in-depth tutorial on scripting the quota management process, see the following article located on the TechNet Script Center: http://www.microsoft.com/technet/scriptcenter/topics/win2003/quotas.mspx).

The problem: Response time from the file server is slowing to a crawl
The solution: Time to defragment!

A physical hard drive organizes its storage capacity into blocks that can range from 32K to 4MB in size. When you save a file to disk, the server will provide the first available section of free space that is large enough to store your file. But as time goes by and as files are added and removed from a particular disk, you'll often wind up with numerous gaps on the disk that are too small to store most large files. If these gaps become too numerous, performance on your file servers can decrease as they need to work harder to locate free space to store files. At this point, the drive is considered fragmented. (If you've ever tried to save a file to a nearly full hard drive only to hear the disk start to "thrash," you've seen this particular phenomenon at work.)

To resolve this situation, you should periodically defragment both your server and workstations' hard drives. The defragmentation process will optimize the amount of available free space on your hard drive so that files can be stored more efficiently. Starting in Windows 2000, all Microsoft operating systems have contained a built-in disk defragmenter. You can also use a third-party tool like Executive Software's Diskeeper (http://www.diskeeper.com/defrag/defrag.asp), which offers a more manageable solution for defragmenting numerous computers across an enterprise network.

Now let's go back to our original problem: Where did all those music files come from? The answer isn't quite so simple. Let me explain why.

The built-in disk quota functionality in 2000 and 2003 does not allow you to create quotas based on particular file extensions. To do this, you'll need to use a third-party add-on such as NTP Software's Quota & File Sentinel (http://www.ntpsoftware.com/default.asp). Using an add-on like this one, you can prevent users from saving files to local or network drives that have extensions such as .MP3 or .WMA. (The NTP offering also has a similar product that controls space usage on your NAS devices.)

Depending on the corporate climate of your office, though, this drastic of a solution can create a political landmine. In the case of our distraught network administrator in this article, the powers-that-be decided to continue to allow music files to be stored in home directories but to exclude them from nightly backups. That way, the company was not being charged to store these nonmission-critical files.

I have only scratched the surface of the kinds of tasks and concerns that face a network administrator in managing disk storage on a corporate network.

In future articles I'll drill down into these and other topics in more detail. If you have a comment or suggestion for a particular disk management task that's troubling you, drop me a line at editor@winsystems.com.


Laura E. Hunter (CISSP, MCSE: Security, MCDBA, Microsoft MVP) is a senior IT specialist with the University of Pennsylvania, where she provides network planning, implementation and troubleshooting services for various business units and schools within the university. She is the server management expert for SearchWinSystems.com.
This was first published in June 2005

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