Raxco, Symantec Challenge Executive Software for Defragging Bragging Rights

Disk defragmentation in the Windows NT space has come a long way since the days when Executive Software (www.execusoft.com) was the top dog on the block. In the past two years, Executive Software’s two chief competitors -- Raxco Inc. (www.raxco.com) and Symantec Corp. (www.symantec.com) -- greatly improved the functionality and performance of their disk defragging products.

Defragmenting files stored in the Windows NT File System (NTFS) can present a number of problems. Because of NTFS restrictions, directories cannot be moved, system files cannot be altered, and neither Windows NT pagefiles nor the NTFS Master File Table (MFT) can be defragmented while the operating system is in use.

Executive Software was the first vendor to address these concerns, but now Raxco and Symantec also market NTFS defragmentation tools that address most if not all of the difficulties imposed by NTFS’s native security restrictions.

In the past Symantec and Raxco had trailed Executive Software in the areas of functionality and performance, but now Symantec's Speed Disk and Raxco's PerfectDisk 2000 boast technology called disk optimization, which market leader Executive Software has yet to incorporate into its Diskeeper tool.

Proponents of disk optimization say the technology can improve disk performance because it places files strategically on a disk subsystem.

Disk optimization is implemented in several different ways. In some disk optimization schemes, seldom-used files are moved to the physical center of a disk platter or partition; frequently used files are placed near the outside edge or perimeter. Other disk optimization schemes do the opposite: placing frequently accessed files at the physical center of a disk platter or partition.

The strategy behind both approaches is to reduce fragmentation by grouping frequently accessed files, which won’t have to compete for free storage space with less frequently accessed files.

Both Raxco and Symantec use specialized implementations of the disk optimization methodology.

"We use smart placement or optimization, not to move frequently accessed files -- because, effectively you don’t have to move those files that you’re not changing -- but to move older files that are probably never going to change through the life of the machine," explains Jim Williams, PerfectDisk 2000 product manager at Raxco.

What this does, Williams says, is increase the performance of the PerfectDisk engine on subsequent defragmentation passes because it no longer has to defragment the entire disk.

"It makes all of our passes much faster because you only have to defragment a smaller section of the disk," he explains.

At Symantec, Jim Millard, a product development architect with the Speed Disk development team, says his company’s product seeks only to position frequently accessed files for optimal file system performance.

Representatives from Executive Software traditionally pooh-pooh the importance of disk optimization as a performance-enhancing technology. They say that on disk subsystems with multiple logical partitions, there is no way to be sure where a file is placed on a physical disk when it is optimized.

Even with the performance-enhancing technology debate aside, both Raxco and Symantec offer value-added functions beyond the feature set of Diskeeper.

Raxco’s PerfectDisk 2000, for example, offers manageability features -- such as the ability to remotely shut-down workstations and servers to perform off-line directory, pagefile, and MFT defragmentation -- that Executive Software’s Diskeeper 5.0 does not support. PerfectDisk 2000 also supports Windows 2000 out of the box. Diskeeper and Symantec’s Speed Disk will provide Windows 2000 support in forthcoming releases.

In the final analysis, Stephane De Saint Albin, Speed Disk product manager for Symantec, says the real value-add of his company’s disk-optimization technology isn’t its claim to position files for faster access, but rather its ability to defragment previously restricted NTFS objects such as the MFT, Windows NT pagefiles, and NTFS directory structures while a system is in online. Neither Raxco nor Executive Software, De Saint Albin says, can claim to have such technology.