Network Capacity Planning – The Way Ahead

If you’re looking at implementing capacity planning or hiring someone to do capacity planning there are a few things you should consider.

Performance Management

Capacity Management Program

Capacity planning should be an ongoing part of the lifecycle of any network (or any IT service for that matter).  The network was designed to meet a certain capacity knowing that may grow as the network gets larger and/or support more users and services.  There are several way to go about this and the best approach is dependent on your situation.  There should be some fairly specific plans on how to measure utilization, forecast, report, make decisions, and increase or decrease capacity.  There are also many aspects to capacity.  Link utilization is one obvious capacity limitation, but processor utilization may not be so obvious, and where VPNs are involved there are logical limits to the volume of traffic that can be handled by each device.  There are also physical limitations such as port and patch panel connections, power consumption, UPS capacity, etc. These should all be addressed as an integral part of the network design, and if it has been overlooked, the design needs to be re-evaluated in light of the capacity management program.  There are also the programatic aspects – frequency of evaluation, control gates, decision points, who to involve where, etc.  This is all part of the lifecycle.

Capacity Management Tools

There are a wide variety of tools available for capacity planning and analysis.  Which are selected will be determined by the approach you’re taking to manage capacity, how the data is to be manipulated, reported, and consumed, as well as architectural factors such as hardware capabilities, available data, and other network management systems in use.  One simple approach is to measure utilization through SNMP and use linear forecasting to predict future capacity requirements.  This is very easy to set up, but doesn’t provide the most reliable results.  A much better approach is to collect traffic data, overlay it on a dynamic model of the network, then use failure analysis to predict capacity changes as a result of limited failures.  This can be combined with linear forecasting; however, failure scenarios will almost always be the determining factor.  Many organizations use QoS to prioritize certain classes of traffic over others.  This adds yet another dimension to the workflow.  There is also traffic engineering design, third party and carrier capabilities, and the behavior of the services supported by the network.  It can become more complicated than it might appear at first glance.

Evaluating Data and Producing Reports

Some understanding of the technologies is necessary to evaluate the data and make recommendations on any changes.  If dynamic modeling is a tool used to forecast, there are another set of skills.  The tools may produce much of the reporting; however, there will need to be some analysis captured in a report that will be evaluated by other elements in the organization requiring communication and presentation skills.

 Personnel

It’s highly unlikely that the personnel responsible for defining the program, gathering requirements, selecting COTS tools, writing middleware, and implementing all this will be the same as those that use the tools or produce the reports or maybe even read the reports and evaluate them.  The idea of “hiring a capacity management person” to do all this isn’t really feasible.  Those with the skills and motivation to define the program and/or design and implement it will not likely be interested in operating the system or creating the reports.  One approach to this is to bring in someone with the expertise to define the approach, design and implement the tools, then train the personnel who will be using them.  These engagements are usually relatively short and provide a great value.

 

Contact us if you’d like some help developing a capacity management program or designing and installing capacity management tools

 

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