Keep your Windows servers running at top speed with Diskeeper Server 6.0

NTFS is resistant to the data fragmentation problems like older file systems, but it's not impervious to them. Troy Thompson gives you an overview of this practical tool for defragmenting and tuning the hard drives on your Windows 2000 servers.

You may remember in the good old days of DOS and Windows 9x, you had to regularly defragment the hard drives on your workstations and servers to keep them at peak performance. You probably thought with Windows 2000, you didn’t have to worry about defragmenting your Windows 2000 servers anymore. Wrong. Even though NTFS resists fragmentation, it’s not fragmentation-proof. Take a look at Executive Software’s Diskeeper Server 6.0 Second Edition, which helps defragment your Windows 2000 servers.

What’s Diskeeper?
Diskeeper was the first defragmenter to be fully certified by Microsoft for Windows 2000. There are two versions of Diskeeper: one for Servers and one for Workstations. You can also install and run the Server version on Windows 2000 Professional or Windows NT 4.0 Workstations. This allows you to control defragmentation of the hard disks on all the computers in your network from a single computer. Diskeeper can even be used to defragment Windows 95/98 systems on a schedule.

Disk fragmentation
To better understand why you need a product like Diskeeper, you should understand what it means for a disk to be fragmented. Fragmentation of files occurs as you create, delete, and modify files on your hard disk. Instead of a file being written to the drive contiguously, it can be broken into pieces and written in several different places. When such files are scattered around the drive, it takes longer to access them since all the pieces must be collected before you can access the entire file. File creation also takes longer because space for the file must be allocated in pieces. When you use Diskeeper to defragment your hard disk, it puts the files back in the correct order.

Diskeeper supports FAT16, FAT32, and NTFS file systems. It does not support 12-bit FAT file systems that are in use on FAT volumes smaller than 16 MB, such as floppy disks. It also will not support NTFS volumes that have been formatted with a cluster size larger than 4 KB. You can use Diskeeper on a wide range of SCSI and IDE disks, even if they have been included in a RAID or Volume set.

The Windows 2000 version of Diskeeper needs only about 3 MB of disk space and about 8 MB of free space to allow for temporary files during the installation. On systems other than Windows 2000, a new or updated version of Distributed Component Object (DCOM) may be required. DCOM is used for communication between the various components that make up Diskeeper.

If you want to use Diskeeper on computers running Windows NT 4.0, you’ll need to install Service Pack 3 or higher. To run on Windows 9x, you must be running Windows 95b or later.

Installing Diskeeper is really straightforward. The Diskeeper Setup process automatically installs DCOM and/or the Microsoft Management Console (MMC) on your computer, if needed. Install Diskeeper using the Add/Remove Programs applet in the Windows Control Panel.

Pre-defragmentation analysis
Before you run the defragmenter, you can let Diskeeper perform a comprehensive analysis of the fragmentation on your hard disk. The analysis is shown in either a graphic display (Figure A) or a text report view. If you compare the analysis from the graphics display before and after running the defragmenter, you will see a visual representation of the reduction of file fragmentation.

Figure A
Diskeeper Analyzer’s graphics display can show you how badly your disk is fragmented.

Once you run the analyzer, you can then defragment your hard disk. You can run it manually or schedule it to run at specific times. To run a manual defragmentation, launch the program and click the Defragment icon in the middle of the screen. You can run more than one manual defragmentation job at the same time. If you exit from Diskeeper or log off your computer while a manual defragmentation job is running, the job will continue running until it is complete.

Diskeeper maintains cache coherency, file security, permissions information, and file content integrity even if the files on the disk are severely fragmented. The data is never at risk even if the process stops unexpectedly.

Author’s note
You must be logged in to an account that is a member of the Administrators group to run Diskeeper on Windows NT/2000 Server and Windows 2000 Professional/NT 4.0 Workstation systems.

You can use the Exclusion List option with Diskeeper to specify files and directories that Diskeeper will not allow to be processed. You may want to exclude files that will be deleted soon. The Exclusion List option is available from the Action menu.

It is necessary for both the System and Administrator accounts to have full control over a file or the directory folder it resides in so that Diskeeper will have access to move the file. The Diskeeper service runs under the Administrator account, and System access is necessary to defragment files safely.

You can also choose to schedule your job with the Set It And Forget It Disk Volume Scheduler. This allows Diskeeper to run automatically in the background while users and other processes are active on the system.

Diskeeper also includes a feature called Smart Scheduling, shown in Figure B. This will schedule the defragmenter to run more frequently when the fragmentation level increases and less when the level decreases. The minimum wait between jobs is one hour; the maximum wait is one week. Diskeeper will also allow you to group any set of disks together under the same defragmentation schedule.

Figure B
You can use Set It And Forget It’s Smart Scheduling option to schedule when Diskeeper will defragment the disk.

You can also choose to set up a schedule based on specific times, or you can exclude certain days and times. Once a defragmentation schedule is created for a disk, Diskeeper will follow that schedule until you explicitly stop it.

By default, Set It And Forget It defragmentation jobs are run at the lowest Windows priority so as to have minimal impact on other tasks. In its online Set It And Forget It and Manual Defragmentation modes, Diskeeper does not defragment files on NTFS volumes with a cluster size greater than 4 Kb (4,096 bytes) in size. This is because there are limits built in to Windows NT/2000.

Boot-Time Defragmentation mode
The Boot-Time Defragmentation option is only available under Windows NT/2000. It sets Diskeeper to run when you start your server. Defragmenting Master File Table (MFT) and paging files are done at boot-time because these objects cannot be defragmented safely while other applications or users are accessing the volume. Since Boot-Time Defragmentation can take a long time, especially on very large disk volumes that are severely fragmented, you should use this option only when the computer will be unused for a long period of time.

Executive Software recommends you perform a full backup of the disk before running any Boot-Time operations; however, this may not always be practical. If you enable the Run CHKDSK before defragmentation option, it will help prevent vital files from being moved to bad disk sectors.

You should run the Diskeeper Boot-Time Defragmentation option shortly after the first time you use Diskeeper on a disk. After running Boot-Time Defragmentation, use either the Set It And Forget It or Manual Defragmentation modes to keep the volume defragmented.

Network Scheduler
The Network Scheduler is only available in the Server version of Diskeeper. With it, you can schedule Diskeeper to run on remote computers. You can use Set It And Forget It mode to schedule defragmentation for all the disks on one or more computers at a time. You can access the Network Scheduler from the icon on the tool bar or from the Set It And Forget It option in the Action menu, as shown in Figure C.

Figure C
You can use Network Scheduler to defragment remote computers.

On the computer to be scheduled, a file will be created that is named Diskeep.ctl. This file will control the schedule. The Diskeeper Service periodically checks the control file to determine whether or not to start the Diskeeper defragmentation engine on that computer. When using Network Scheduler, you don’t have to connect individually to each computer you want to schedule, which is great for when you have hundreds of computers you want to defrag. The Network Scheduling Engine performs the work of updating the Diskeeper control files on one or more remote computers.

Frag Guard
When the memory on a Windows NT computer fills up, the system utilizes the paging file as virtual memory. A fragmented paging file negatively impacts performance when it reads data back into system memory. Frag Guard, shown in Figure D, is a feature in Diskeeper that helps prevent MFT and paging file fragmentation by reducing the need for Boot-Time Defragmentation.

Figure D
Frag Guard helps prevent fragmentation in paging files.

It monitors the fragmentation level of the paging files and then sets the Boot-Time Defragmentation operation to run when either of these levels exceed a threshold value that you’ve set. When you enable Frag Guard, it ensures that the MFT and paging file can contiguously grow.

Diskeeper vs. Windows defragmenter
Unlike Windows NT, Windows 2000 has a built-in defragmenter. So why should you use a third-party defragmenter like Diskeeper?

Other than the powerful scheduling tools I mentioned, a good reason is speed. Independent tests conducted by the National Software Testing Laboratories (NSTL) that compared Diskeeper with the Windows 2000 defragmenter showed that Diskeeper was 300 to 500 percent faster. The tests conducted covered the areas of speed and effectiveness. To perform the tests, NSTL used single- and dual-processor systems with a variety of large drives that included software and hardware RAID arrays. In each case, Diskeeper outperformed the Windows 2000 defragmenter.

Diskeeper is also capable of some types of defragmentation that Windows 2000 is not capable of doing. For instance, in a 2 x 60 GB configuration, Windows 2000 Disk Defragmenter could not defragment both drives at the same time. Diskeeper was able to automatically defragment both drives in less time than it took Windows 2000 Disk Defragmenter to defragment just one of the disks. For more information on NSTL’s report, you can visit their Web site and download the PDF.

Pricing information
Diskeeper has a 30-day money back guarantee and 90-day free technical support and maintenance. You can purchase Diskeeper in license packs of one, five, and 10 in volumes of 20 or more. Table A and Table B list the pricing information.

Table A
Diskeeper 6.0 individual licenses Licenses per pack Price per pack
Workstation 1 $49.95
Workstation 5 $229.95
Workstation 10 $389.95
Server 1 $259.95
Server 5 $1,024.95
Server 10 $1,749.95
Prices for Diskeeper 6.0 Individual licenses

Table B
Diskeeper 6.0 volume licenses Min. number purchased Max. number purchased Price each
Workstation 20 99 $33.80
Workstation 100 499 $29.95
Workstation 500 999 $26.00
Workstation 1,000 2,999 $22.75
Server 20 49 $156.00
Server 50 99 $143.00
Server 100 199 $113.75
Server 200 299 $109.20
Volume prices for Diskeeper 6.0

Diskeeper is an ideal product if you need to defragment your Windows systems. It provides functionality that doesn’t exist in Windows NT and superior performance over the Windows 2000 defragmenter. With the ability to schedule the local computer and clients on your network, Diskeeper is a great program to keep your Windows systems running their best.

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