PC hard drives have data written to them on spaces called clusters that get reused after data is deleted. As files continue to be deleted and spaces are reused, the data in files tends to get scattered haphazardly in noncontiguous clusters. It's like splitting up the chapters of a book and placing them in different files throughout a file cabinet. Pretty soon, it takes longer to access the information and put it all back together.
What to do? Defrag-that is, put all the data for each file back into neat rows of contiguous clusters, which greatly improves system performance. IDC recently released a white paper on the subject titled "Disk Defragmentation for Windows NT/2000." The subtitle, "Hidden Gold for the Enterprise," points to the most relevant findings.
IDC's test results showed a 20 to 80 percent increase in performance when hard drives of Windows NT systems were defragmented and even higher gains for Windows 2000. The report estimates that improved system performance from regular defragmentation can extend the normal three-year life cycle of workstations to five years.
While defrag tasks can be done at each computer, IDC warns, "It is both impractical and cost-ineffective for IT support groups to manually run defragmentation box by box across an enterprise." The recommended alternative for networks large and small is a network defragmentation program like Executive Software International's Diskeeper or Raxco Software's PerfectDisk 2000.
"The advantage of a network defragmentation solution is that the scheduling, monitoring and controlling of defragmentation tasks can be handled for an enterprise from one console," IDC reports. Diskeeper costs $45 (street) per workstation and $250 per NT server, while PerfectDisk 2000 runs $44 (street) per workstation or $219 per server. Either program saves you money by helping you avoid unnecessary hardware upgrades.