Wednesday, April 6, 2011

True Efficiency in Computing

Efficiency has always been a key factor in running a business venture. But since the industrial revolution and the amazing cost reductions that accompanied it, efficiency has become a fine art. This was made even more true with the advent of computers—now it wasn't just manual labor that could be mechanized, but also tasks that actually required thinking. Add to that innovations such as lean manufacturing, and efficiency has been moved into whole new realms.

In today’s economy, focus on efficiency is as much of an issue as it ever was, perhaps even more. Equipment is kept in repair and made to last as long as possible. Business processes are scrutinized for waste of time and resources. Job performance is paid careful attention to for the same reasons.

In the area of computers, efficiency has always played a major role. Probably the most obvious advances have been in the realm of form factor: how much computing could be done with how little physical material? Chips became smaller and lightning-fast; storage capacity grew enormously while media steadily shrank; cabinets became rack-mounts, and then came virtual machines which occupy no physical space at all.

There is an area of computer efficiency that can be overlooked, however, and that is the waste of I/O resources. Such waste has a heavy impact throughout an enterprise: Drive space is wasted;  hardware becomes overworked and fails before its time; processes hang; backups fail; and worst of all performance is drastically slowed down, affecting production at every quarter.

One of the primary causes of I/O resource waste is file fragmentation. Unless it is specifically addressed, fragmentation is a natural function of a file system. It is the splitting of files into pieces (fragments) in order to better utilize drive space. It is not uncommon for a file to be split into thousands or tens of thousands of fragments. It is the fact that each and every one of those fragments must be obtained whenever that file is accessed that wreaks such havoc on performance and resources.

For many years, defragmentation was the only method of addressing fragmentation. But because of today’s complex technical innovations, enormous volume and file sizes and unheard-of rates of fragmentation, defrag has now itself become inefficient at tackling the issue. Efficiency now comes in the form of optimization technology, which both maximizes performance and eliminates wasted disk I/O activity. The majority of fragmentation is now prevented, while file optimization and other innovations are combined to round out the solution.

It is by these methods that true computer efficiency, in all aspects, is fully brought to reality.

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