3 Steps for better datacentre capacity planning

Capacity planning is no longer just a process aimed at forecasting hardware needs; it's the key to understanding and optimizing the cost of running business services through platform selection.

In the coming years, the flexibility and cost alternatives provided by new technologies such as virtualization, internal and external cloud computing, and different types of cloud-based solutions will offer IT infrastructure and operations (I&O) professionals a choice of platforms for running an application or business service. This changes the scope of capacity planning and consequently the process of planning capacities. Capacity planning is no longer just a process aimed at forecasting hardware needs; it's the key to understanding and optimizing the cost of running business services through platform selection.

The traditional capacity planning process was a four-phased affair. Step 1: Create a baseline to understand how your server, storage, or network infrastructure are used by capturing secondary indicators such as CPU load or global network traffic. Steps 2 and 3: Evaluate changes from new applications that are going to run on the infrastructure and the "drift" or workload due to increased activity in a given business services. And step 4: Analyze the data from the previous steps to forecast future infrastructure requirements and decide how to satisfy these requirements. The traditional approach is no longer acceptable because it is component and not business service-oriented, it doesn't take costs and value into consideration, and it doesn't place enough emphasis on emerging data center costs and constraints. The simple fact that a choice of placements exists for a given business service implies that we must consider all the elements that support the decision, especially from a cost and value standpoint, before making an informed decision on where a specific service should run.

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The capacity planning of tomorrow supports internal as well as external choices, virtual as well as physical alternatives. Furthermore, the new capacity planning organization is no longer part of the I&O department -- it has to be part of an overall management group reporting to the CIO. To offer competitive IT services into the future, Forrester recommends that I&O professionals update today's capacity planning process with three new steps to account for cost-value analysis, governance, and global planning.

1. A Cost-Value Analysis is Added to Evaluate Where the Service Should be Located

This is a decision support step with a foundation in activity-based costing (ABC), which takes all the real costs into consideration in its analysis. For example, a business process may have a critical value yet have a total capital and operating cost that is far superior to what it should, considering the number of users or the frequency at which it is used. Such a service is a clear candidate for an alternative placement with a lower cost overhead. Going forward, it's critical for I&O professionals to understand the cost-value of business services, especially as facilities and energy costs consume a more significant portion of total IT capital and operating costs.

2. A Governance Step Keeps Recommendations in Line with Overarching Enterprise Policies

This is a modifier that could override the cost-value analysis. Governance is needed to keep any decision in line with the enterprise policies regarding security, outsourcing, or audit and confidentiality. Thus, while a lower-cost solution such as public cloud computing may be more profitable for some low-volume applications such as personnel files, I&O professionals have to include security and data privacy requirements in their platform selection, clouds or internal.

3. A Global, ITIL-defined Capacity Plan Becomes the End Result

Unlike the old method, the new capacity planning process concerns all technologies across the data center and is cross-referenced with critical business service and technology type. The new capacity planning process still has a network plan, a storage plan, a compute plan, and so on, but it also shows the relationship between these technology silos, facilities, and critical business services on a global scale. As a result, it is now aligned with the notion of business capacity management, service capacity management, and technology capacity management found in ITIL.

IT leaders place a lot of emphasis on the capital-saving benefits of cloud computing -- but they're missing the point. What's important in cloud technologies is that it gives IT a choice of delivery platforms that didn't exist before. Software-as-a-service, infrastructure-as-a-service, internal clouds, and virtualized infrastructures offer a variety of capabilities and costs. As with all choices, we need a rationale to exercise it -- and this is what capacity planning is all about. Capacity planning will let IT leaders make the most of their cloud investments by understanding how much or how little they need to source to deliver the quality-of-service expected by the business users.

Jean-Pierre Garbani is a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, where he serves Infrastructure & Operation Professionals in predicting and quantifying IT disruptions.

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