“Keep your area clean.” You’ve been hearing it all your life. First, no doubt from your mom or dad, and then from your teachers. You’ve probably heard it throughout your professional career, and possibly offered it as guidance yourself to others. Regardless of how tidy you are in your physical space, I’ve only encountered a lonely few who also keep their digital space clean. Cheap, large hard drives and superfast searching have allowed us to sprawl digitally all over the place, and just like Nature abhors a vacuum, cyberspace will expand to fill all empty gigabytes when you aren’t watching. In one extreme case (that will probably go down in my personal record books!) I encountered a client whose nearly full one-terabyte hard drive (1000 gigabytes) was over half full with junk and temporary files. That’s nearly 500 gigabytes of wasted space! Aside from the lost storage space, there was another, even more critical issue caused by all those useless files.
What this means for you:
Well written and properly configured internet programs, such as web browsers, will regularly keep their areas (browser and history caches) containing those temporary files clean, but sometimes they don’t. In the case of the above client, the 500 gigabytes of junk was created over time by a browser and operating system malfunction, and then exacerbated by a virus infection. The result was tens of millions of small files that the antimalware software had to scan everytime it was checking for viruses. If you thought a regular anti-virus scan was painfully slow, multiply that by 100 and that’s what was happening on the machine in question. As you can imagine, the antimalware software (and the computer in general) just gave up and stopped working properly, leading to further infections and actual damage to the filesystem. How can you avoid this?
- Make sure your web browsers are keeping their caches tidy. Here’s an all-encompassing guide on how to do that.
- Always keep an eye on your available hard drive space. A good rule of thumb is to keep a minimum of 20-30GB free at any given time. If you suddenly start running low, there might be a problem.
- Know the approximate size of your document space and evaulate whether it makes sense for what you do, and what you are required to maintain. Office documents typically aren’t very large on average (thousands of them can easily fit on a 16GB thumb drive), but high-res photos can easily be several hundred megabytes easily. If your document space seems unexpectedly large, you might have a problem.
- Don’t interrupt your anti-malware scans. If they are taking too long, note where it’s getting stuck, pause the scan, clean out the affected area (usually temp files as mentioned above) and see if scan times improve. They should, even if the total space cleared doesn’t seem to be much. Browsers create thousands of tiny temp files everyday, and if they aren’t cleared properly, they add up really fast.
In a worst-case scenario, where millions of files have built up in a temporary folder, removing them could take hours, even days, as was the aforementioned case. Luckily for the client, I didn’t bill straight hourly, otherwise the cure would have been worse than the disease. Savvy technicians will have tools at their disposal to help clean up cluttered and infected drives, but when there are millions of useless files there are only two ways to clean it up – delete those files one at a time (via scripts, of course), or nuke the whole drive from orbit, ie. re-format. There are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches, so make sure you discuss which option makes the most sense for your data and your budget.