Defrag Manager

Reviewed by: Howard Carson
Published by: Winternals Software
Requires: Windows 2000, XP or Vista; Microsoft Task Scheduler (included with off-line browsing in Internet Explorer 5 or higher); Administrator share enabled on client computers
MSRP: Priced according to licensing needs (you have to contact Winternals for enterprise prices)

Fragmented hard drives aren't the horror they used to be. In fact, with the advent of the NTFS file system (available under Windows NT, 2000 and XP) combined with Pentium 4 processors and 7500 rpm hard drives, it's debatable whether defragmentation is ever required more often than a few times per year on most newer systems. Nevertheless, thrashing hard drives searching for heavily fragmented and otherwise inefficiently stored data eventually take their toll on computer system performance, particularly data read and write times.

What's fragmentation? Simply put, saving a file uses a certain amount of track and sector area on a hard drive. Open the same file and add information. As long as there is room on the original track and sector at the end of the original file location to store the new information, no fragmentation occurs. But if other data has been written there, the additional data for your current file has to be stored elsewhere on the hard drive. Sometimes the next available location on the hard drive is not large enough for your current data. In that case only some of the data is written and yet another fragment of the file is placed in yet another location. And so on. All this used to be a huge problem because of the time it took the old, slow drives to read and write data. If you didn't defragment your hard drives on a regular basis, systems could slow to a crawl. The worst of the problems seem to be a thing of the past.

Large networks with hundreds of computers are another matter. Individual computers on large networks may only slow down due to fragmentation by a percentage point or two - hardly noticable. But if you add up all of the tiny slowdowns on each of several hundred computers, significant inefficiencies appear - the overall effect is much larger and clearly measurable. That's where Defrag Manager comes in.

Winternals Software has designed Defrag Manager to simplify the defragmentation of large enterprise networks. The software appears to work as advertised. It doesn't have to be installed on each computer on the network and allows systems administrators to defragment entire Windows domains or Active Directory Organizational Units through a drag-and-drop interface. The software automatically deploys a small agent program on each computer as scheduled defrag jobs begin. The agent program automatically removes itself after the defrag process is complete.

So how well does it work? We installed Defrag Manager on a utility computer used by our IT manager. That's about all there is to it - no client software is supplied or required. Using the wizard, he set up schedules - mostly unattended, overnight - for different sets of computers on our network. The scheduler is very versatile, allowing you to select (drag & drop if you like) any computer, anywhere on a network to include in a custom group. We also tried the client computer control option during the work day. This option, which is accessed through a system tray icon, allows someone who is still using a computer being defragged to view, pause or stop the defrag session. Its a nice feature which also gives systems administrators more control over the performance and visibility of the defragmenter as it runs on remote systems.

Cons: The product is overkill for home networks unless you're running a major SOHO - not a Con actually; just a warning before you buy. After setting up several clients on the network, running Defrag Manager resulted in an error message caused because we had setup the wrong username and passwords for two of the clients. it's better to use the Administrator share approach. Good security, but the Defrag Manager Schedule dialog did not automatically clear the 'operation failed' message after we input the correct data and ran the 'Defrag Now' option, which in turn meant we had only the drive thrashing as an indicator that the defragmentation process was actually taking place.

Pros: Nice product. Fast enough. Network managers will like its versatility - it also supports Active Directory, non-NetBIOS networks and legacy Windows networks. We liked the dual pane pre-defrag/post-defrag comparisons in the reporting dialog. Defrag Manager is very stable too - unattended defragmentation works flawlessly and we never experienced any error or halt dialogs. The software produces clear, detailed reports that will help IT managers determine how heavily individual machines are being used. Recommended.




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