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Case study: Defrag for less hang time

Tony Conte's recent decision-making process on a third-party defrag utility went smoothly, and his company, Racine, Wis.-based Horizon Retail Construction, Inc. is now reaping the benefits. Horizon's seven Windows servers and 150 workstations are defragmented regularly and performance has improved by 20%, said Conte, Horizon's director of information and business systems.

Horizon Retail Construction, Inc.'s four Windows NT servers were hogging CPU speed and Tony Conte's time. The servers' twice-a-week crashes and poor CPU utilization sapped the performance of the Racine, WI-based company's 150 workstations. A frustrated Conte, Horizon's director of information and business systems, spent four hours each week rebooting the servers.

Knowing operating systems can store files inefficiently, Conte said he has always defragmented his systems. That is how he knew why his current problems were occurring: Windows NT has no built-in defragmentation utility. Further, Horizon's three Windows 2000 Advanced Servers were not equipped with a way to schedule defragmentations.

So, Conte's first step was to meet with some fellow administrators to collaborate on a solution for the workstation problems. They researched utilities to automate and schedule maintenance. Burbank, Calif.-based Executive Software's Diskeeper, O & O Software GmbH's Defrag 2000 Professional Edition and Gaithersburg, MD-based Raxco Software's PerfectDisk became the top three contenders.

After downloading all three products, Conte set each one up on test machines on identical hardware. After a week, he rolled the software into production on his system's heaviest users. He scheduled the software to defrag the computers each day at lunchtime. Then, Conte monitored the performance of those computers compared to similar users who didn't have the defrag software installed.

After ten days of that schedule, Conte knew Berlin, Germany-based O & O's defragger had the easiest interface to use and provided the most defrag functionality. Only then did he investigate the pricing and find that it was also the cheapest per seat of all three vendors, he said.

Defrag 2000 Pro was the only software that defragged the Windows master file table (MFT), according to Conte. The MFT in Windows NT is a file that is permanently on the hard drive and used to swap files in and out of memory, he said. When the MFT is highly fragmented, machines can blue screen. The hard drive cannot find the correct files needed to run the OS, Conte said. More importantly, the MFT can only be defragged when machines are booted up.

"When the MFT is defragmented, the speed of the OS improves," said Conte. Defrag 2000 Pro accomplished that where the others didn't.

Defrag 2000 Pro defragments the MFT file every time a computer is rebooted. It also can be scheduled to defrag the other files at any time. If the scheduled defrag is missed because a computer is not turned on, the software will know and will run it within 72 hours of the missed date. Conte receives a report that the failure has occurred.

A cutback in help desk calls, better end-user performance and more system reliability are the top benefits to running Defrag 2000, Conte said. He's seen a 17-23% increase in workstation performance. The defragger could add two years to the life of laptops used by Horizon's 85-member mobile workforce, Conte estimates.

Other O & O products complement Defrag 2000 Pro on Horizon's network. Conte has also been running O & O's network defrag version, Defrag 2000 Network Edition, since October. Defrag 2000 Network allows him to monitor each server's status or initiate a defragmentation if one scheduled doesn't run. Running the two defrag products concurrently is essential, he said, because defragging both workstations and servers frees ample storage space. He has implemented O & O's Clever Cache software to manage workstation memory usage, too.

Finding a way to eliminate the need for constant server rebooting was a relief for Conte. He admits, however, that he's happiest when a product satisfies his need for speed. "I like to tweak things to get the system running as fast as it can," he said. When his tweaking results in double-digit performance increases, he's a happy man. Now, Conte only reboots Horizon's servers after installing Microsoft security updates.


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