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Up to capacity

network-virtualization-cloud-300x225In simple terms, capacity planning means thinking about how the network will be affected by technological and business changes, and outfitting it with the system power and bandwidth needed to adequately run new applications before they are deployed.

Network managers will have to invest in tools that extract data and diagnose tends and use that information to make suggestions. Businesses should also plan to hire capacity planning and performance experts. But most of all, capacity planning mandates a change in attitude from reactive to proactive.

Historically, network architects would simply add more bandwidth to networks to improve performance when their businesses added more users and services. But the art of capacity planning isn’t as simple as ‘more is better.’

“The model of “just throw more bandwidth at it” simply doesn’t work anymore. Bandwidth is important, but it is not enough. Quality of service (QoS) is more important than bandwidth if, for example, a big file transfer is taking all the available bandwidth, your video communication won’t be able to run. That is why application fluency and automatic QoS configuration is needed to intelligently transport your applications across the network,” says Ahmed Yousef, Network Sales Development, Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise.

Saleem AlBalooshi – Executive Vice President – Network Development & Operations in du, echoes a similar opinion: “Unlike the old legacy model of simply increasing the network pipe, the modern capacity planning has to be adaptive and capable of delivering the capacity in the most cost effective way. The tools used should include a robust traffic forecast, a clear and solid plan to cater for all the future special events that need to be served and an accurate tool to measure the usage.”

There are many capacity planning tools on the market that collect network, system and application performance data – in real time or over long periods, or both. Some software lets companies create model networks and simulate traffic to predict their bandwidth needs for future users and applications. The modeling tools let companies pose “what if?” scenarios to calculate how the network would behave in certain situations.

What exactly does network capacity planning require? Can the current tools in the solve many of the problems faced by network managers? “Building a business case for increasing capacity requires that capacity planning teams have accurate and up-to-date information about core network traffic volumes, traffic types, peering and transit traffic, as well as traffic sources and destinations,” says Jim Curran, VP Enterprise Sales, Middle East and Africa, Commscope.

There are numerous industry reports and customer stories discussing the challenges organizations encounter with regards to planning, managing and meeting future requirements for their data center. For managers, keeping track of thousands of assets and understanding how best to use them has quickly extended beyond what manual processes can support, he adds.

Nader Baghdadi, Middle East Regional Director, Ruckus Wireless, says network capacity planning enables organizations to forecast their network’s ability to sustain growth or increased application demands, and ensures that their network is designed and configured to support performance targets. “There are special solutions nowadays which are solely dedicated to network planning for enterprises. Such solutions involve a number of steps to determine the status and needs of the network: collecting data from prior performance, analyzing and evaluating optimal network design, reporting findings and producing recommendations.”

However, the current approach to network planning and commissioning, as well as service creation and provisioning is obsolete because of the sizeable, continual shifts in traffic demands, according to Omar Alsaied, Middle East Carriers Sales Director, Ciena. “In addition to scaling an order of magnitude every few years, the network needs to become dynamically programmable. It is no longer sufficient for NOC personnel to do manual point-and-click provisioning through a highly customized, operator-specific manager. That does not scale, nor does it support the notion of a platform infrastructure whereby the network joins cloud-based compute and storage as a virtual pool of resources to be automatically allocated to meet the needs of NFV and an application-centric, on-demand world,” he adds.

Better network capacity planning begins with the right underlying architecture. It requires a linear “scale as you grow” design model that can easily adapt to increased usage demands, without the usual “rip and replace” solutions. “The next requirement is implementation of readily available “active-active” protocols versus traditional error-prone and mission-impacting “active-standby” protocols such as Spanning Tree. Ultimately, at the application layer of the network, deep packet inspection (DPI) capability is desired to optimize flows at a more granular level. For example, instead of an Enterprise completely blocking access to Facebook, they could allow access to Facebook (for legitimate social media marketing use) but block gaming applications within Facebook,” says Yousef.

Curran adds that network capacity planning is all about balancing the need to meet user performance expectations against the realities of capital budgeting. Without intelligence, the network handles traffic on a first-come, first-served basis, regardless of the type of traffic or how critical it is to your business. All the traffic is treated equally and there’s no guarantee any one application will get the bandwidth it needs. Even if you add more bandwidth to the network, voice-over-IP (VoIP) calls can still drop, video streams can still hang, and data can slow to a crawl. “When you prioritize traffic, you’re giving the network instructions on how to best handle the traffic flowing through your switch, both within your local network and to the Internet.”

Now with contracting IT budgets, the days of overprovisions have ended, and network managers to have rely on the right tools to uncover underutilized resources and avoid purchasing more hardware. “Network capacity planning can be easily achieved today by using the right solutions. Important factors to consider when evaluating the networking needs of your organization include: identifying business priorities and systems, assessing growth rates and historical usage and determining the best solutions that will ensure a fast, reliable and affordable connection,” says Ruckus.

However, one needs to keep in mind that there are no tools currently available that completely address capacity planning needs. Network architects need to know in real time how to plan for capacity in the networks.

“Historically, IT departments have overprovisioned IT infrastructure because systems had to be big enough to handle peak demand. That has changed with the growing popularity of cloud computing, however. Today, an administrator can plan around the organization’s average needs and simply add cloud services to accommodate occasional usage spikes,” says Commscope.

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 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. It can also help you to stretch your existing assets and make most of what you already have.

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