Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Enterprise-Level Fragmentation Solutions

File fragmentation has been a plague on modern computers since their inception. In one form or another—from backup-and-restore to various levels of defragmenters—fragmentation has always been fought.

Today, however, with computers at the very center of business operations, and with technology having risen to such amazing heights as Network Attached Storage and virtual servers, it really does matter what fragmentation technology is applied to deal with the problem. It truly does take enterprise-level solutions to deal with enterprise-level issues.

There are three primary factors that should be evaluated when assessing the effectiveness of a defragmentation solution.

The first of these would be, how robust is the solution in dealing with your particular levels of fragmentation? Today’s fragmentation levels are higher than ever, and additionally file and drive sizes are many times that of yesterday. Some fragmentation solutions have limits as to the amount of fragmentation they can effectively handle; after a point, they simply grind on and on and the result of a defragmented drive is never actually achieved. It is therefore beneficial to seek out a solution that you know will be able to actually deal with and eliminate the fragmentation on your systems.

Second would be the toll the solution takes on system resources. Many fragmentation solutions  require that no users be on the system while the solution is running, because user processes are severely interfered with while the solution is operating. The best solutions available today operate invisibly in the background, with otherwise-idle resources, while users are active on the system. This type of operation eliminates the need for maintenance “time windows” which have virtually disappeared in today’s environments.

Third would be the impact the solution has upon the resources of your organization. That is, how much human interference does it take for the solution to run? Especially today, IT resources come at a premium. If an IT person must take the time to run the fragmentation solution, or even to find the time to schedule it, it can take a serious toll on an already overburdened staff. A fully automatic solution that requires no manual running or scheduling leaves the IT personnel free to attend to their actual jobs.

One other factor to examine would also be resource-related. Today, there are solutions available that actually prevent a majority of fragmentation from occurring in the first place. In addition to the elimination of the need to defragment after files have been written, write performance is also substantially improved.

To sum up, an enterprise solution would be one which effectively eliminated fragmentation as a problem for the organization, that never negatively impacted system resources, and also that required no human intervention after the fact of installation. Organizations would do well to expect at least these benefits from any fragmentation solution.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Fragmentation: Beware the Mysterious Symptoms

Keeping a computer system up and running is no small matter. It usually involves a whole staff of personnel, committed more than full time to functionality of all applications, operational capacity of hardware, maintaining operating systems in their latest incarnations, and much more. From a user’s viewpoint, it may seem easy. If IT is doing its job, it should—the user simply comes to work, logs on, performs his or her functions, and goes home.

Within the IT department, though, it’s a wholly other view. The help desk phone is ringing off the hook with a full range of issues: lagging performance, PCs or notebooks that won’t start up, applications that aren’t functioning properly, forgotten logins, and much more. For IT staff, the job often becomes handling the fires as they flare up—to the point they can’t step back and assess what may be a single cause for many of their problems.

File fragmentation can certainly be like this. A help desk call comes in about database access being slow, another about an unexpected crash, and yet another about processes that keep  hanging. On top of that, the backup failed last night. Various system staff go scrambling off to address each of these issues—never thinking for a moment that fragmentation might be behind each and every one of them.

Fragmentation severely taxes a system, simply because the file system is trying to access files in thousands or tens of thousands of pieces, instead of one or just a few. The toll is taken on performance (slow access, hangs and crashes) as well as on hardware.

The fragmentation issue might also be overlooked because “a fragmentation solution is in place.” This makes it even worse, because now the problem is considered solved, and for that reason is never taken into account. A closer look will reveal that the “solution” is not one at all. It could be that it needs to be scheduled—something that is rarely possible with today’s requirement of constant uptime. Or, it could be that it needs to be run manually. Again, this is almost impossible to do on today’s systems. Or worst of all it could be that the solution just isn’t adequate to the task of handling high rates of fragmentation---which is a given with today’s operating environments.

Today a solution must be fully automatic—addressing fragmentation consistently in the background. It must also be “enterprise-worthy” and fully tackle the fragmentation generated at a site. The best solution now available actually prevents a majority of fragmentation before it occurs—making fragmentation a thing of the past.

If these symptoms are occurring in your company, there is a better than decent chance that fragmentation is behind them. Research and pick a solution that will eliminate it forever.