How much network capacity does your business have? And how much is it going to need in the future? These are important yet difficult questions to answer. Better network capacity planning can help you better manage your IT infrastructure and ultimately make your business more productive and efficient.
But what are the best practices to follow for network capacity planning?
The Basics of Network Capacity Planning
Let’s start with some of the basics of network capacity planning. Essentially, your goal is to utilize better hardware, better software, and better practices so that you can avoid critical inefficiencies and keep your networks operational. You can use this reactively, to diagnose and fix network capacity issues, but it’s usually better as a proactive strategy, allowing you to plan and execute a network that will serve you well many years into the future.
Your primary objectives will be to:
- Predict and avoid bottlenecks. Bottlenecks will slow down your network and impede performance. For the most part, bottlenecks are predictable, so you should work actively to predict and avoid these issues.
- End performance lags and spikes. Lags and spikes can ruin the consistency of your network performance, so it’s important to avoid these however you can.
- Resolve availability issues within your infrastructure. Are there specific nodes of your network that are being underserved? Are there other availability issues that you notice? Ideally, network capacity planning can help you prevent or resolve these.
With things like routers, switches, firewalls, load balancers, servers, and storage hardware, networks become incredibly complex.
Network Capacity Planning Best Practices to Follow
These are some of the best practices that can help you through your network capacity planning objectives:
- Choose the right partner. It’s perfectly fine to practice network capacity planning within your own organization, especially if you have an experienced internal IT team. However, if you’re dealing with performance issues you can’t quite diagnose, or if you just want a seasoned third party to give their perspective, it’s a good idea to work with a managed IT services provider. Finding the right partner can make network capacity planning a breeze and save you money in the long run.
- Invest in better tools. If you don’t work with a partner, make sure you at least choose the right tools. A variety of software platforms and diagnostic tools can help you measure KPIs, identify bottlenecks, and measure your progress. Choose tools that are accurate, reliable, and easy to use for best results.
- Know your KPIs. KPIs for performance management include items like maximum bandwidth, actual throughput, latency rates, packet loss, and error rates. You should be familiar with all of these performance metrics and more, so you can accurately and objectively assess the performance of your network.
- Establish a baseline. In line with this, it’s important to establish a baseline. If you make a change to your network capacity, you need to be able to objectively discern whether this change, specifically, led to improvements. In scientific terms, you need a control group.
- Identify existing bottlenecks. Network bottlenecks can be massive problems for your organization, worsening performance for your entire team. When starting to invest in network capacity planning, one of your biggest priorities should be identifying existing bottlenecks, so you can address them quickly. This is especially important if these bottlenecks are holding back your productivity.
- Work with the future in mind. Network capacity planning is ideally about planning for the future – so you should always work with the future in mind. Don’t just plan for the people and systems you have in place today; plan for what they might look like in 10 years. The more future-proof your system is, the better.
- Predict what you can. Use existing KPIs and past performance data alongside what you know about your company’s future to predict bottlenecks and other issues that may arise. You’re never going to predict with perfect accuracy, but forecasting can be a significant help.
- Segment to locate root causes. You may see some performance issues in your network, but why do they exist? This is the question that necessitates a root cause analysis. Consider segmenting your network and conducting small experiments so you can rule out unlikely possibilities and discover the root problems that need to be addressed.
- Avoid adding unnecessary complexity. When making adjustments to your network, err on the side of simplicity. Adding too many new components or making changes that are too complex could end up making future network optimization efforts much more difficult, if not impossible.
- Practice ongoing monitoring and improvement. Finally, make sure you practice ongoing monitoring and improvement. Network capacity planning shouldn’t be a one-time project; it should be something you practice consistently. There’s always room for further optimization.
Network capacity planning is one of your best tools for improving your network performance, especially if you practice it proactively. Consider working with an experienced, professional partner so you can follow all these best practices and maximize your results.