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Capacity Planning: A Smarter Approach

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Picture this. Your organization is hosting a major charity event.  IT has been through this before and knows what to expect. Everything is in place to handle ticket sales and registration.

Things will go down a bit different this year, however. An opportunity comes up to feature a big-name celebrity at the function. Marketing jumps into action to get the word out. The press efforts and online promotions are successful; an unprecedented number of people flock to the web site to purchase tickets.

Unfortunately no one told IT about the potential for extra web traffic, and the site crashes.  Ticket sales are lost, along with much-needed donations. Prospective guests are frustrated. A few take to social media venues to vent, and your organization’s reputation is suddenly at risk too.

It’s a scenario that organizations across numerous industries have experienced. A discount code creates a surge of runners who want to sign up for a marathon, tying up online registration. A last-minute online promotion from a retailer brings a crush of shoppers to a web site, overwhelming servers and bringing down the site.  In most cases, the crises could have been avoided had IT and the business side of their organizations been more in sync.

It’s a matter of smart capacity planning, and it’s something that cannot solely be the responsibility of IT.

A Collaborative Approach

IT departments regularly employ capacity planning, a process that helps them to provide the necessary IT infrastructure to support business need. Many base resource allocation on historical data, adding just enough extra capacity to accommodate expected growth.  Without input from the business, it’s basically a guessing game.

Others simply overbuild to ensure the necessary resources are always available no matter what. It’s not a cost-effective or efficient approach, but it does help IT ensure that it can cover unexpected demand.

A smarter strategy is for IT and the business side of their organizations to work together to understand how various initiatives impact resource utilization, to determine resource requirements for various scenarios and to put an agile capacity plan in place ─ agile meaning that the plan can readily accommodate changing needs.  Open lines of communication between IT and the business are a must. In the examples cited, had the IT departments been kept apprised of the last minute promotions, they could have had the necessary resources to handle demand.

Tips for Smarter Capacity Planning

Here are a few ways to engage in smarter capacity planning:

  • Make sure the right people in your organization understand how business plans and initiatives affect the various IT processes, applications and infrastructure needed to support them. IT and the lines of business should frequently get together to review business plans and volume projections, and agree upon capacity requirements and timelines. It’s particularly important to make sure processes are in place to ensure that IT is always aware of any and all marketing initiatives and other business activities that may change IT resource usage.
  • Employ modeling tools or software to help model application or service performance and associated resource needs.  (The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) offers a free Linux-based modeling tool known as NIST Net that operates at the IP level to model a wide variety of wide-area networking behaviors and technologies.)

    Modeling is also essential for predicting usage requirements under various scenarios. Share the modeling results with the lines of business to reinforce their understanding of how their activities can affect resource usage.
  • Develop a capacity plan that takes into account capacity requirements and constraints for various business processes and initiatives. Incorporate processes that allow for scaling up or down as needed and determine how much time would be required to adjust resource allocation. Plug in costs and share the results so everyone can weigh the need for additional resources against costs.
  • If you haven’t already moved some or all of your applications to the cloud, consider doing so to take advantage of the cloud’s scaling capabilities. (Capacity planning is still required in the cloud, but the automatic scaling makes it much more agile and cost effective.) Some cloud service providers, such as Peak 10, offer self-provisioning models that include built-in rightsizing recommendations to help users optimize resource consumption.  Cloud users can define limits, and the system will let them know when they are running out of resources and even justify additional hardware purchases.

    Hybrid cloud strategies, which involve any combination of private and public cloud services and/or colocation, can be particularly beneficial. If your company has growing compute and storage needs, hybrid cloud models allow you to purchase capacity as needed, ensuring that cost efficiency is maximized and the issues associated with over-and under-capacity situations are avoided. If your company has spikes in capacity – like during a widely-viewed event – a hybrid cloud solution allows you to purchase capacity on a temporary basis to ensure the continuity of services.
  • Even outsourcing to a third-party data center can help with capacity planning as the data center operator can monitor its entire network for trouble spots, enabling you to scale up storage or network to meet occasional high-capacity demand.

Bottom line: options are available for smarter capacity planning to help ensure you have the IT resources available to efficiently and cost effectively meet your company’s needs today, tomorrow and whenever they change.

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About Peak 10

"Our values are the foundation for everything we do at Peak 10, and are ultimately what enable us to earn our customers' business and their trust."
David H. Jones,
Board Member, Peak 10 + ViaWest