How important is system reliability? So important that entire industries have sprung up over the years to insure it. RAID systems are installed so that if one disk in a system fails, the data still exists on others. For years, failover technology has been used for mission-critical systems so that one server or network would take up when another fails without interruption. And of course backup technology has become state of the art so that if a system error occurs near-current data can be quickly recovered.
But one very persistent enemy can undermine system reliability–and no matter the “safeguards” in place, by its very nature this enemy will work against you anyway. That enemy is the disease known as file fragmentation.
File fragmentation is native to a hard drive, invented long ago to make the most of disk drive space. Hence, any disk drive used anywhere for any purpose–including RAID, mirrored systems, or backups–will be subject to fragmentation.
In the IT world, the fact that fragmentation slows down performance is an “everyone knows.” But what might not be so well known is fragmentation’s impact on system reliability. From bootup to shutdown, a fragmented drive can cause problems with almost any system-level action in Windows. A prime example is the fact that the Windows operating system constantly uses the disk-based page file–hence, reliable disk operation is critical to reliable system operation. Fragmentation issues with the page file can cause “out of virtual memory” errors and can also cause data loss. Elsewhere, a heavily fragmented Master File Table (the file allocation table used by NTFS, the Windows file system) can slow the already extended boot process of a Windows computer.
File fragmentation also takes a serious physical toll on hard drives. Disk head movement is increased by the need to access data contained in fragmented files. The more disk head movement, the less mean time between failure (MTBF) will be experienced, shortening the life of the hard drive.
Fragmentation doesn’t get better on its own–it worsens as the disk stores more data. As a result, the associated problems also continue to get worse. The answer, of course, is defragmentation; regular defragmentation increases the reliability of your hard drives by keeping the page file and MFT defragmented, and also extends the life of a hard drive by lessoning disk head movement.
Due to evolving disk technologies and greatly elevated system uses (due to globalization many sites are now 24X7), mention should also be made of the specific defragmentation technology in use. Most sites utilize scheduled defragmentation, so fragmentation can be regularly addressed and so that drives can be defragmented when use is lowest. But today’s enormous disk capacities, larger file sizes and increased activity are now leaving scheduled fragmentation behind. In between scheduled runs, fragmentation continues to build and impact performance. There are also many instances in which scheduled defragmentation are not touching fragmentation at all.
The true solution to today’s problems of system reliability is a completely automatic defragmentation solution–one which works consistently, automatically and transparently in the background. Fortunately, such solutions are now appearing on the market.