Disk Partitioning: The Good, The Bad, and The Techy

A photo of a drawer separated into four compartments, as a metaphor for disk partitioning

August 24, 2017 Disaster Recovery News Blog

Disk partitioning is a useful, yet often overlooked tool for optimizing system storage, performance, and even security. Conceptually akin to taking one whole pie and cutting it into slices, partitioning means taking your system and dividing it into subsystems that run independently on the same hardware. That being said, users need to be careful that they’re not doing more harm than good when partitioning their systems. See why.


The Good

Disk partitioning allows your system to run as if it were actually multiple independent systems – even though it’s all on the same hardware.

Think of this like having a plastic storage bin, three feet tall and one foot wide. By putting drawers in the bin you optimize the space, so that you can group and access items separately instead of going through everything all at once. In the same way, disk partitioning compartmentalizes your system so that each region can run and be utilized independently, without affecting one another.

Some benefits of disk partitioning include:

  • Running more than one OS on your system 
  • Separating valuable files to minimize corruption risk  
  • Allocating specific system space, applications, and data for specific uses 
  • Storing frequently used programs and accessed data nearby to improve performance 

Disk partitioning isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when people think of system security, but it can be a surprisingly useful safety measure. For instance, if you have files on different partitions and one becomes corrupted, the files on the other partition(s) should go unharmed. Similarly, if you run different operating systems (OS) on separate partitions and one becomes damaged, you could boot your computer from the other (this is commonly done with Windows and Linux). This allows you to minimize the impact of data corruption, viruses, and crashes.


The Bad

Partitioning can sometimes do more harm than good, which is why it’s important that your partitions are set up effectively.

If done incorrectly, partitioning can unintentionally reduce total storage space. Multiple partitions require the system to duplicate certain file administration areas, and having the same (duplicate) files on different partitions will also take up more space than normal. Duplicated files on the same partition just require the system to update the metadata, but on separate partitions you will need to copy the entirety of the file, essentially doubling the space used.

Depending on how you allocate space among each partition, you might also prevent yourself from using your whole disk capacity. For instance, if you have 6 gigabytes (GB) of disk space partitioned into two sectors of 3 GB, and then try downloading a file that is 4 GB, you won’t be able to, despite the fact that your system technically has enough space for it. If you are accessing data from multiple partitions, this will also reduce system performance since you will have to move back and forth on the disk to access, maintain and update data on each partition.


The Techy

Not all partitions are created equal.

Primary partitions contain a single file system. With Windows, this partition includes all of the boot files. In contrast, extended partitions can be further divided into multiple logical partitions (LPARs). Although a hard disk drive (HDD) can contain multiple primary partitions, it may contain only one extended partition. Each LPAR can then be treated by the computer as distinct entities with their own OS instance and applications.

Partitioning schemes also vary from system to system. For instance, with DOS, Windows, and OS/2, it’s common to use one primary partition for the file system in active use, which contains the OS, user data, all applications, etc. With Unix-like systems, multiple partitions can be used on a disk, each formatted with its own file system or as a swap partition. Having multiple partitions like this is advantageous for the reasons previously mentioned, namely securing files from viruses on other partitions and having the ability to boot from the OS you choose.

That being said, these safety measures only go to a point – they won’t keep your systems available and avoid downtime, or secure in the face of a disaster.


For more information on how to optimize your system security, contact us today at 317-707-3941.


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