Physical space is often a primary consideration for many companies shifting from an in-house data center to an offsite colocation center. As the company grows and the need for additional servers and equipment increases, many small businesses discover that the dedicated closet or back storage room is no longer adequate.
The question then becomes “How much additional space do we really need?” One of the advantages of colocation is that you can set up your space in accordance with your current needs, with flexibility for future changes. However, you do not want to over or underestimate your future needs, as that increases costs — in some cases significantly. In today’s business environment, capacity planning isn’t just about looking ahead to determine future hardware needs. That’s certainly part of it, but capacity planning is also about controlling expenses and getting the most for your money.
So how do you plan for data center capacity? There are a number of important factors to consider, which taken together allow you to develop a plan that will allow you to effectively meet your company’s data capacity needs now and into the future.
The first step to developing any plan is a thorough analysis of where you currently are. It doesn’t make sense to invest in additional equipment or space without first thoroughly analyzing what you already have available. This involves two important steps: First, listing everything that is required for a particular service, and their specific configurations, capabilities, and requirements, and second, performing a cost/benefit analysis of each component.
This analysis allows for an objective measurement of how much certain process and services cost in terms of their value to the organization and the number of users, and perhaps more importantly, identifies areas in which the costs are not in line with the benefits and where other alternatives may be more appropriate, thereby freeing up resources.
Projected growth falls into two categories: Normal growth and expected growth. The distinction is important, because basing your current usage on numbers that have been skewed by short-term influences can affect the accuracy of your planning projections. Normal growth is the average amount of growth that your company has experienced in previous years. It’s important when looking at the normal growth rate to account for outliers; for example, a media blitz or new product launch could lead to a short-term spike in growth, only to level off again afterwards. Unless those spikes are consistent (as in you count on them occurring regularly — such as a boost in traffic during the holidays) including them in your calculations will skew the results.
Expected growth is your best reasonable projection as to how your needs will grow in the short and long term. This is where looking at past trends in your company, as well as future trends in your industry and your company’s strategic plan come into play. For example, if you know that there will be a new product launch next year, use the data from previous product launches and market research to project the growth in traffic that will result in the future. By comparing your normal and expected growth rates to your current usage, you will have a better idea of what your needs will be in the future.
Headroom, or the excess capacity that’s available as a matter of course, is another vital consideration. You never want to run your resources to the limit all the time. Should an unexpected spike occur — a popular blogger mentions your company and drives an unexpected surge in traffic, for example — without any headroom to manage it, there could be slowdowns or service interruptions. Your normal growth rates can help you determine how much headroom you really need; looking at your downtime reports can also help you pinpoint where problems start and how often. Headroom is often the most difficult part of planning, because unused resources often equates to unnecessary spending, but a solid and thorough analysis will prevent that waste.
Moving data centers offsite and relying on cloud computing can increase performance and save money, but only if the proper steps are taken to ensure effective capacity planning. By looking at all of the factors and taking into account the past, present, and future, your business is more likely to avoid capacity problems and have the agility required to adjust effectively, no matter what happens outside of the data center.