Thursday, August 18, 2011

Understanding Computer Performance Issues

The larger something is, the more components that go in to make it up, the more complex it will be seen. Think of a simple, one-family home—then compare it to a thousand-unit condo building. Just comprehending the single-family dwelling—its plumbing, electrical and other systems—is relatively easy as compared to the much larger building with miles of pipe and wires, with problems that could occur anywhere along the lines.

This is certainly true of a computer system. 20 servers, along with 500 associated desktop systems, cabling, routers and peripherals, is certainly going to be viewed as more complex than a simple desktop system by itself.

But just because there is a more complicated arrangement, it doesn’t mean that problems associated with performance also must be complex. True, there might be something like a bandwidth-based bottleneck between a couple of the servers that is, by trickle-down effect, minorly affecting the performance of the network, and it might take an IT person several hours to scope it out. But performance problems that are recurring and of a similar nature almost always have a rather simple cause.

If slow performance is occurring across a system, with daily helpdesk calls and complaints coming from all over the company, it’s a sure bet that there are issues with read and write I/Os down at the file system level. There is a substantial excess of reads and writes occurring, due to a condition known as fragmentation. Fragmentation is a natural occurrence in all computer systems; files and free spaces are broken into thousands or tens of thousands of pieces (fragments) in order to better utilize disk space. The uniform result, if fragmentation is not addressed, is impeded performance.

In the past, most enterprises used defragmentation technology to handle the problem. This technology re-assembles fragmented files so that less I/Os are required to access them. Some defrag solutions also consolidate free space so that files can be written in far fewer pieces. Some of these solutions are run manually, some are scheduled, and a few are actually automatic.

Today, however, there is performance software that goes beyond defrag—that actually prevents a majority of these kinds of performance problems before they ever occur. It operates fully automatically—which means that once it’s installed, site-wide slow performance is a thing of the past. Helpdesk calls drop off dramatically, processes complete far quicker, and employee productivity even improves. Best of all, a prime source of slow performance is totally eliminated.

Despite complex systems, it’s a simple problem with a simple solution. It should be addressed first, before spending hours tracing the myriad of other issues that can occur as a result.

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