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Virtualization and Beyond: Capacity Planning - Art, Science or Both?

Virtualization and Beyond

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Capacity Planning - Art, Science or Both?

Written by James Honey, Sr. Product Marketing Manager, SolarWinds

For most of us, September is a crazy month. With school starting, football season in full swing, the final stretch of baseball season and Fall coming on, it can go by in a blur. One other thing that made it particularly crazy for me this year was the rush of events I was able to attend-VMWorld, Microsoft Ignite and our very own THWACKCamp.

I really enjoy events like these, even though when I get home I feel like I've climbed Mount Everest. There's nothing like connecting with old friends, meeting new ones and talking to fellow IT professionals. And being the "storage guy" here at SolarWinds at these events usually means I get to have steady conversations around storage and all things related to it.

In all my storage-related conversations over the past month, capacity planning always seemed to enter the picture. Oh sure, we talked performance, new technologies, cloud, software-defined and even hyperconvergence, but through all this, capacity requirements, constraints and how to plan for it kept popping up. I suppose this shouldn't have come as a surprise to me, after all, as we know, one of the key rules of storage is to always have enough space to grow, but minimize wasted resources.

Capacity planning "is the science and art of estimating the space, computer hardware, software and connection infrastructure resources that will be needed over some future period of time." (source)

I prefer this definition for two reasons-"science" and "art." Most organizations I encounter get at least one out of these right, but usually miss on the other, which ever it may be.

The Science of Capacity Planning

Obviously, science is in everything we do in IT. So, of course, it should be part of any capacity planning exercise. There has to be a scientific method/process to collecting the data, analyzing the data and using the data to develop a model to estimate the future.

Tools are a key part of this side of the process, and are an area that I see a lot of companies fail at. For many, spreadsheets are still the preferred way to collect, analyze and model capacity planning data.  Now, I have created and used some wicked cool spreadsheet models in my day, and I know some true "wizards" of Excel, but there is an inherent problem with this method-the data represents a single point in time and has to be manually updated on a regular basis (what "regular" means is also open to interpretation). And unless this happens (and quite often, it does not), the data is not nearly as effective as it could and should be. This is why having a proper tool to help with the storage capacity planning process is so important. Such a tool can also help automate the collecting and reporting process, which is another time saver.

The Art of Capacity Planning

Whether you realize it or not, art is also in everything we do in IT. Understanding how your company functions is a critical component to any capacity plan and is where art comes into play. This can involve understanding when your company generates the most business, how organizations work across your company, what the key goals for the company are and IT consumption differences from department to department; all of which should go into a capacity plan.

There will always be differing views on how much capacity is needed between consumers and owners, so being able to navigate the viewpoints is critical to avoiding the too little or too much capacity trap.  Having this "tribal" knowledge is a very important part of any capacity planning exercise. Unfortunately, some companies lean to heavily on art at times, which can lead to capacity issues because a variable change was not tracked scientifically beforehand.


In short, both science and art are critical to sound capacity planning. It's when companies lean too heavily on one or the other that they run into trouble. Finding the right balance between the two will help you make sure you don't run out of capacity, but also ensure that said capacity is properly utilized.


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About the Author 

James Honey is a sr. product marketing manager for IT performance management software provider SolarWinds. He has more than 15 years of experience in the IT industry focused specifically on storage technologies and virtualization solutions for SMBs to enterprise environments. His current role includes responsibility for all storage monitoring and management-related product marketing initiatives, including SolarWinds Storage Resource Monitor.

Published Monday, October 17, 2016 7:01 AM by David Marshall
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