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Hidden Gold for the Enterprise

  Article published in DM Direct Newsletter
September 1, 2000 Issue
  By Steve Widen and Chris Christiansen

Editor's Note: This article summarizes an extensive white paper developed by International Data Corporation (IDC), a provider of technology intelligence, industry analysis, market data and strategic and tactical guidance to builders, providers and users of information technology For more information about the full report, please visit www.idc.com.

IDC undertook an extensive analysis of the performance implications of file fragmentation and its impact on total cost of ownership (TCO) in the enterprise/network environment. At the heart of the report was the question, "Can a fragmented disk on a Windows NT/2000 system cost an enterprise in more ways than lost performance?"

In the analysis, IDC reviewed performance tests that measured the impact of fragmentation on the performance of Windows NT and 2000 networks. Additionally, IDC incorporated extensive research on costs associated with the running, maintenance and replacement of an enterprise network.

Creating real-world scenarios, IDC reviewed several key areas with respect to the defragmentation process and documented its resulting effect on the overall TCO in the enterprise.


IDC analysts thoroughly reviewed tests conducted by the National Software Testing Lab (NSTL), which were the first tests to scientifically measure fragmentation's impact on system performance. The NSTL tests were conducted on two commonly used server and workstation configurations, as determined by independent survey.

In the analysis, IDC made the following observations:

  • Test results clearly demonstrate that a defragmented system performs significantly faster than a fragmented system.
  • An NT 4.0 workstation running Excel and Outlook showed an average increase in performance of 80.6 percent after defragmentation. Average gains of 219.6 percent were produced on Windows 2000.
  • Similarly, for the NT 4.0 server running Exchange and SQL Server 7.0, NSTL recorded an average increase in performance of 56.1 percent after defragmentation. Average gains of 83.5 percent were produced for Windows 2000.

IDC's concluded that excessive disk fragmentation can create substantial performance degradation on both servers and workstations across a site. In addition, in order to maintain optimal system performance, it is desirable for enterprises to schedule disk defragmentation on a regular basis for all servers and workstations.

Manual versus Network Defragmentation

Having established the value of defragmenting Windows NT/2000 networks, IDC then examined the two primary means of accomplishing this. IDC felt it important to determine the cost-effectiveness of manual defragmentaters versus a network-capable, third-party defragmenters for an enterprise system. After a thorough analysis of both methods, IDC came to the following conclusions:

  • It is both impractical and cost- ineffective for IT support groups to manually run defragmentation box by box across an enterprise. While TCO benefits are realized by centralized defragmentation of even a handful of machines, in mid-sized and large companies, manual defragmentation quickly becomes cost prohibitive.
  • Due to its labor-intensive nature, manual defragmentation would create such problems that many of the benefits available from defragmentation would be lost.
  • 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. Not only does this offer dramatic IT staff cost savings, it allows for a more proactive and regular approach to disk defragmentation.

The bottom line? While actual numbers may vary from customer to customer, when considering the significant impact on TCO, it is difficult to find any argument to position manual over network defragmentation.

Hardware versus Software

IDC analyzed the two primary means of increasing system performance - hardware upgrades versus a networkable defragmentation software. IDC considered typical upgrade schedules and those costs associated with using hardware upgrades versus employing a defragmenter to improve system performance. What they found was:

  • With fragmentation exerting such a severe toll on system performance, it's likely that many organizations have initiated hardware upgrades unnecessarily.
  • By using a defragmentation utility, it is possible to achieve performance gains that meet or exceed many hardware upgrades. From a cost standpoint, this is an attractive proposition.
  • In many cases, the performance gains anticipated from hardware upgrades may be realizable through defragmentation of existing systems.
  • The cost comparison of a hardware upgrade versus a defragmentation software solution is clearly in favor of defragmentation software.
  • Defragmentation software realizes several magnitudes in costs savings when compared to hardware upgrade expenses. As the level of server and workstation deployment increases, the cost- effectiveness of defragmentation exponentially increases.

Frequency of Hardware Upgrades

IDC noted that based on current research, companies tend to upgrade or replace their hardware on a three-year cycle in order to improve network performance. They calculated the costs associated with replacing hardware and the costs of defragmenting to determine if any savings could be realized without sacrificing performance.

  • It is estimated that enterprises can add up to two additional years of life to the normal three-year usable life cycle of workstations as a result of gaining lost performance back from disk fragmentation.
  • By extending hardware life cycles with defragmentation, there is a cost savings of almost $350 a year per workstation during the five-year period. This totals a savings of $1,750 per workstation.
  • In a network which has 1,000 workstations, the cost savings is $350,000 per year. Over five years, that translates into a total of $1,750,000 saved using defragmentation software to increase performance, as compared to exclusively using hardware upgrades as a solution.

Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)

Finally, IDC weighed each of the previous areas against the impact they had on the TCO of an enterprise system and concluded:

  • While many acknowledge that file fragmentation is a fact of life on most modern distributed systems, few companies are aware of just how much it is costing the bottom line in terms of lost performance and, as a result, unnecessary hardware upgrades.
  • An enterprise can decrease IT TCO by instituting defragmentation across the network rather than relying exclusively on more costly hardware upgrades to increase system performance.
  • TCO will be dramatically lowered when a network defragmenter is implemented, as opposed to a manual utility. This is due to the fact that every server and workstation should be regularly defragmented. Therefore, the decision to defragment the enterprise automatically versus manually will save companies thousands, if not millions, of dollars.


IDC noted that even for those companies that have determined that more frequent upgrade schedules are needed or desired, defragmentation still plays a key role.

Some companies, unaware of the impact of fragmentation, are likely to resolve such a performance impact with more expensive acquisitions of higher performance hardware. Since this process will only mask the performance problem momentarily, it is just a matter of time before fragmentation impacts the new machines.

There are a number of reasons to upgrade/replace hardware. Therefore, it is important to note that many companies may continue to choose a more frequent hardware upgrade schedule. However, it is important to note that new hardware performance will also degrade as a result of fragmentation. Therefore, in such cases, the payback of a regular defragmentation regimen will shift to protecting the company's significant hardware investments.


For more information on related topics visit the following related portals...
DW Administration, Mgmt., Performance and Data Analysis.

Steve Widen is research director in International Data Corporation's (IDC) software research group and directs the research for storage software. Before his return to IDC, Widen was manager of competitive response and analysis in Compaq Computer Corporationís storage product division. Prior to Compaq Computer, he held senior marketing positions with Data General, where he spent more than 13 years. In addition, he was program director of UNIX and PC research at WorkGroup Technologies. He previously managed IDCís DEC Advisory Service.

Chris Christiansen is the program director for International Data Corporation's (IDC) Internet security and research director for IDC's infrastrucutre software program. In both programs, he manages the research schedules, executes primary research projects and analyzes markets for both vendor and user customers. In his previous positions with IDC, Christiansen was director of IDC's asset management service and research director for IDC's worldwide commercial systems. Before IDC, he founded Meta Groupís Midrange Service, and he held senior positions with Data General, Wang Laboratories, Yankee Group and Creative Strategies International. Christiansen speaks at industry conferences in the U.S., Europe, Latin America, Africa and Asia/Pacific.

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