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Defragmentation a Boon to Healthcare IT Performance?

December 19, 2010
by Joe Marion
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In a virtualized world, small efficiency gains may be important

A decade and a half ago in the early days of speech recognition applications, I became aware of the impact of hard disk fragmentation. Because speech recognition applications tend to generate excessive amounts of image writes, there tends to be a lot of resulting hard disk fragmentation that can eventually impact the application’s performance. Using the built-in disk defragmentation utility in Microsoft’s Windows NT was a laborious task, and hence many users ignored it.

That is when I struck on a 3rd party application from Diskeeper Corporation that offered a much more efficient application for hard disk defragmentation. I offered this application to all of my speech recognition clients as it was a more efficient means of defragmentation over the standard Microsoft tool. Over the years I have been a loyal Diskeeper user (as I am a heavy speech recognition user!), and have followed the technologies evolution. In recent years, Diskeeper has introduced some nifty new features that further enhance disk defragmentation, most notably, IntelliWrite, which prevents up to 85 percent of all disk fragmentation before it occurs.

My experience has been with single PC applications, but Diskeeper also offers enterprise-scale applications. In some recent discussions with Diskeeper, it dawned on me that disk fragmentation is also likely a performance issue within PACS and image and document management systems. When PACS tended to be departmental, it is likely that vendors did not worry much about disk fragmentation, or left it to the facility’s IT department. As PACS technology has expanded to an enterprise perspective, there is likely more IT involvement in the decision making and operation of PACS technology. Consequently, there should be greater emphasis on performance improvement.

With departmental solutions, there very likely was less emphasis on system tools such as defragmentation applications. Now that PACS technology is becoming more intertwined with the rest of IT, there should be greater emphasis on inclusion of these tools. In addition, server virtualization can mean that previously independent applications are now part of a virtual server farm. Tools such as Diskeeper’s V-locity application can bring the same benefits of preventative defragmentation to the world of virtualization. (http://www.diskeeper.com/business/v-locity/)

In a virtualized world, small efficiency gains may be important. The addition of disk-intensive applications such as speech recognition and imaging could potentially impact the overall performance of these applications. As data storage requirements within healthcare grow, the problem will potentially get worse. Think of the consequence of managing multiple 3000-slice CT studies and performing multiple 3D analyses. As more advanced visualization applications go the client-server route, the performance of a central server doing the 3D processing could be significantly impacted.

I wonder how many healthcare IT organizations are sensitive to this issue. Do they routinely perform disk defragmentation? Do they have an enterprise strategy for handling defragmentation? An what about solution providers? Have they examined the performance consequences of a fragmented disk, and do their system administration/preventative maintenance services address disk fragmentation?

I’d be curious to hear the viewpoints of both vendors and IT organizations on their viewpoint with respect to disk fragmentation, and how they are addressing it. In the words of Albert Einstein, "If a cluttered desk signs a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign." In the case of computer technology, a cluttered or fragmented storage device might very well be a sign of indifference to system performance. An effective defragmentation strategy may very well be the clean desk!

As always, your thoughts are welcome.

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