Consultant pilot fish is hired to help debug a company's homegrown purchase-order system.

“The way the system worked, it would go to a secure FTP site and retrieve order information,” fish says.

“Then it would create a file for each page of an order. Some orders could be 15 pages long, thus creating 15 separate files, which used a specific naming convention that was recognized by the client program that ran at each user's desk.”

The employee who built the system is long gone, but fish does have the source code. And he knows the system worked well when it was installed three years before, but it started slowing down since -- and the company has replaced the server and client workstations, but it still keeps getting slower.

Fish has been hired to see if the problem is in the software. But nothing in the code looks seriously wrong, so he decides to look in the folder that the system retrieves files from.

Each user's PC has a drive letter mapped to the central file share. Fish clicks on the drive letter, and the PC he's using locks up for several minutes before it finally responds.

“I became suspicious, so I went to a command prompt, switched to the drive letter and did a DIR command,” says fish.

“Several minutes later, my command was finished. There were thousands of files from orders dating back several years!”

But that alone shouldn't make the system crawl. Fish goes hunting for the server, and it turns out to be a PC running Windows XP.

It's only when he checks what processes are actually running on the PC that the answer comes clear. It turns out that the Microsoft indexing agent is running constantly, trying to index an ever-growing mountain of files.

Everything is working as designed: The orders are being added automatically and retrieved by the client programs. The only thing wrong is that nothing is ever being deleted.

“The easiest solution was to write a simple script to archive data older than three months, since they never needed files for more than that time,” fish says. “I wrote the script in an hour, and after the script ran one time, the little homegrown system worked very well.

“I felt good that I was able to resolve the problem without having to rewrite someone else's code.”

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Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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