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Rising to the defrag challenge

The revamped Windows Disk Defragmenter can pose a challenge if you need to administer many machines or need to automate the defragmenting process. There are three options to meet this challenge.

Second of two parts. Click here to read Part 1.

While it may be true that paying attention to "routine" server maintenance isn't the kind of thing that can get your pulse racing or earn you a spot on the latest reality show, it's nevertheless the kind of thing that can separate the outstanding administrator from a simply average one.

An oft-overlooked maintenance task in Windows Server is that of defragmenting disk drives. This is no doubt rooted in historical precedent, since Windows NT4 did not offer a native disk defragmenter. In those days, your only option for defragmenting was to purchase a third-party add-on. But as I discussed in a previous article on this topic, newer versions of the Windows Server family offer the ability to perform this key task right from within the operating system itself.

But like many tools within the Windows GUI, the Disk Defragmenter can pose a challenge if you need to administer many machines or need to automate the defragmenting process. To make this work, you need to do a bit of a dance with command-line scheduling or Windows scripting, or upgrade to a third-party add-on for centralized management from a GUI interface.

Two of the more popular choices for third-party defragmenting tools include:

  • Winternals Software Defrag Manager, available at I'm a big believer in the Winternals product line if you have the budget for them, and Defrag Manager is no exception. It includes Active Directory integration that allows you to centrally schedule defrag jobs by browsing the directory structure, as well as down-level support for NT4, 2000 and XP client workstations. Pricing for Defrag Manager is handled on a per-node basis.
  • Executive Software's Diskeeper, available at The built-in defragmenter began its life as a stripped-down version of this package so the learning curve is pretty low. And it also allows for central scheduling of defrag jobs from a single management console.

However, if you don't have the budget for a third-party solution, Windows Server 2003 lets you work command-line and scripting utilities to accomplish largely the same thing. This is a big improvement over the defragmenter in Windows 2000, since 2003 offers the option to run "defrag.exe" from the command line. The corresponding executable in Windows 2000 could not run from the command line, which allows 2003 administrators to create and schedule defrag tasks for multiple computers without spending a dime. You can also do this through WMI, since the Win32_Volume class includes the Defrag method.

If you are new to scripting, you can check out the TechNet Scripting Center, where you'll find scripting tutorials and a wealth of sample scripts to perform many tasks, including disk defragmenting.

Laura E. Hunter is a Microsoft MVP and site expert.

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