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Case study: Ending the remote defrag drag

How can you be sure defragging is taking place regularly on all the PCs in your network? The Catch-22 is that unless you centrally manage them, you can't. Find out how one IT administrator found a way to gain control.

"If it's not broken, don't fix it." That could be the slogan for many businesses' IT shops, said Momentum HealthWare Information Systems IT manager Paul Beaudry. With that attitude, he would have simply zipped past an ad for a disk defragmentation tool that could improve his system's performance. After all, his existing defrag tool wasn't broken.

"It's easy to get complacent, stick with the vendor you know and not keep your eyes and ears open," said Beaudry. Often, this approach results in so-so performance and higher total cost of ownership in systems worth tens of thousands of dollars. Making poor use of large system investments is not acceptable for Beaudry. "If I see a way to get a percentage point improvement in my system, I'm going to go for it," he said.

The fact that MHIS has many remote workers poses a tough management problem for an efficiency-focused IT manager. Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada-based MHIS creates financial, clinical, client and dietary Information software for the health care industry. Working as salespeople or implementation specialists, MHIS employees travel with laptops running Microsoft Windows NT or Windows 2000 and Microsoft's SQL Server database. Disk fragmentation is a common occurrence in Windows-based computers. As fragmented files pile up in one system, performance deteriorates.

"Unless you can centrally manage PCs, you don't know if they're being defragged regularly," said Beaudry. Defragging may not be taking place for various reasons, ranging from lack of disk space to the power being off for long periods to software errors.

Unfortunately, MHIS' legacy defrag tool -- Diskeeper from Burbank, Calif.-based Executive Software -- requires that each "disk be managed individually." Beaudry couldn't keep tabs on laptops that remained out of the main office for weeks at a time. Users would return after long absences and complain that their laptops were running slowly. Often, the cause was disk fragmentation.

With this problem in mind, Beaudry was drawn to an ad for Defrag Commander. The ad said the tool could be managed from one computer. Also, Defrag Commander -- created by Austin, Tex.-based Winternals Software -- doesn't require manual installations on desktops.

Intrigued, Beaudry ordered a demo copy and ran a test on a Windows 2000-based server. He found that Defrag Commander defragged quickly in a single-pass. Also, it offered daily reports detailing activities on each computer on the defrag schedule.

With Defrag Commander, defrags run on a schedule set the IT manager. "If someone's machine isn't on when the defrag is scheduled, the defrag happens automatically when they power up again," Beaudry said. Less user support is needed, because users aren't involved in the process. In fact, they don't necessarily even need to know about it.

"We ran trials on machines that had Diskeeper installed," said Beaudry. "In all cases, we were able to defrag beyond what Diskeeper could do." Also, he added, "Diskeeper is significantly more expensive." In fact, he couldn't find any other add-ons that, for the same money, could match Defrag Commander's performance.

Rather than scrapping Diskeeper, Beaudry decided to use Defrag Commander as a complementary solution and for upgrades. The initial investment of $1,100 gave him central management capabilities for over 150 desktops.

Beaudry installed Defrag Commander on a Windows 2000 server in November, 2001."It's running so smoothly I can practically forget about it," he said. "From an IT management and TCO perspective, it doesn't get any better than this."


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