What Is Network Capacity Planning? – Best Practices for Capacity Management

Park Place Technologies


Jordan MacPherson - global Network and Server Management leader - headshot
Jordan MacPherson February 28, 2022
Jump-to Outline
What Is Network Capacity Planning?
How ITIL Defines Capacity Management
Capacity Planning vs. Capacity Management
Benefits of Capacity Management in IT
KPIs for Network Capacity and Performance Management
Network Capacity Planning Best Practices
How Do You Determine Server Capacity?
Benchmark Current and Forecast Future Capacity

If you’re in IT Ops, you know how stressful it can be to meet the expectation of always being ready for tomorrow’s unique demands. Network Admins and Capacity Managers are under immense pressure from leadership to have the optimal amount of server, storage, and networking resources available at all times.

Too many resources, and your organization could lose control of profitability. Too few resources, and your uptime and reputation could take a hit that is hard to recover from.

So, how can an IT leader like yourself keep all the plates spinning? Can a network capacity planning approach provide the optimization solutions you need?

What Is Network Capacity Planning?

Network capacity planning is the process used to identify conditions that could affect your organization’s current and future network performance during a specified period. When used correctly, network capacity planning empowers organizations to predict and overcome bottlenecks, stop performance lags, and sort availability issues within network infrastructure.

As a matter of utility, this process sounds simple. But today’s networks are more complex and diverse than ever and can include vast collections of network devices like routers, switches, firewalls, load-balancers, Web Application Firewalls (WAF), servers, and storage hardware. IT Teams historically have relied on a mix of network capacity planning tools to identify potential shortcomings alongside educated speculation on what’s likely to happen when tech is added.

In essence, network capacity planning means reconciling your network traffic volumes, network utilization, types of traffic, and capacity flags with your goals. Interpretation allows network managers to confidently say “yes” or “no” when anticipating resources needed for adoption of new digital tools and apps.

network capacity planning best practices

How ITIL Defines Capacity Management

ITIL, the world-leading framework for IT service management, defines its approach within the service delivery process. It notes that Capacity Management is responsible for ensuring that the capacity of IT services today and in the future so that the IT infrastructure is able to deliver the agreed service level targets in the short, medium, and long-term and in a cost effective and timely manner.

According to the framework, ITIL’s capacity management contains four sub-processes that push users to adhere to network capacity and performance management:

Business Capacity Management

The first sub-process is business capacity management, which allows organizations to take what they have and then to layer on business needs and plans, translating them into actual required capacity and performance needs.

Service Capacity Management

Service capacity management is the second ITIL process. It allows organizations to manage, control and predict the performance and capacity of operational services. Service capacity is usually the most resource consuming process as it includes initiating proactive and reactive actions in modeling, testing and production environments to ensure that performance can meet agreed targets.

Resource Capacity Management

Resource allocation capacity management allows organizations to manage, control and predict the performance, utilization, and capacity of individual IT components.

Capacity Management Reporting

Capacity management reporting provides ongoing management reporting on service and resource capacity, utilization, and network performance.

Capacity Planning vs. Capacity Management

ITIL differentiates between capacity management vs. capacity planning, noting that planning needs to be conducted as an upfront process that reflects current needs. Alternatively, capacity management is ongoing and refers to the entire lifecycle of monitoring.

The repeatable data center capacity planning cycle therefore looks like: – data collection > data analysis > optimizing infrastructure > and back again to monitoring collected data.

Benefits of Capacity Management in IT

Capacity management allows Infrastructure Leads to correctly advise if new digital innovations can be delivered within the existing network infrastructure. Capacity management can then flag likely bottlenecks due to shortcomings in your network.

data center capacity planning tools

KPIs for Network Capacity and Performance Management

Establishing baselines is required, but this process can be extremely involved if you take this path without the right tools.

Key metrics need to be captured to establish KPIs for network capacity management. These performance indicators consider all critical network elements and help your organization formalize baselines for performance and availability. These metrics frequently include:

  • Maximum bandwidth rates (in bits/second)
  • Actual throughput rates of information transferal
  • Latency rates – (the delay between the sender and the receiver)
  • Packet loss (via % of packets lost vs. packets sent)
  • Error rates (via number of corrupted bits as a % of total sent)

Network Capacity Planning Best Practices

To reach best practice status, there are more elements to baseline than just the KPIs in the previous section! You need to consider all network elements, like network equipment (switches, routers, etc.), end-user equipment, on-prem servers, offsite servers, outsourced services, existing application impact, remote access requirements, VMs and external traffic demands.

Once you have your baselines set, it’s important to identify existing and potential network bottlenecks. If a latency rate is sub-par today, it would be a mistake to make all future capacity decisions without resolving a fundamental issue.

Organizational performance is one thing, but it’s also important to segment the performance of different network infrastructure components. Is older equipment bringing down your average? Using a  data center hardware monitoring service could help preserve Uptime while saving you the cost of replacement.

capacity management in IT

How Do You Determine Server Capacity?

Servers deserve individual attention when it comes to considering existing and forecasted workloads across a given period. In its network capacity planning best practices blog, Microsoft advises that for better server capacity planning, tracking should be conducted of server CPU, disk, network, and likely memory consumption.

Slightly harder to forecast are individual application loads on servers which fluctuate constantly depending on volumes of transactions. For this use case, servers need to facilitate both low levels and peak levels of utilization. For instance, how do you work out a server capacity in a constantly changing retail transacting environment?

A good idea is to track both average and peak load indicators for server details such as CPU utilization percentage levels, server memory utilization percentage levels, and then define usage into cold and hot buckets so the impact of expanding apps can be logged.

Benchmark Current and Forecast Future Capacity

Determining network capacity also requires logging through bandwidth capacity planning. Detail the bandwidth utilization (the capacity of a channel) alongside network latency (the time it takes to travel between one point in a network and another fixed point) and benchmark them to avoid application performance glitches.

The number of devices on the network is another factor to note in WAN capacity management, especially when the latency of a network connection is low. Here bandwidth can quickly become a performance limiting factor if there are too many resources sharing the same network connection. Wireless site surveys and network refreshes can address this issue, but only if your capacity planning is accurately tracking metrics like this.

Choosing the Right IT Infrastructure Capacity Planning Tools

Detailed planning is essential. There are many traditional IT infrastructure capacity planning tools and network capacity modeling tools out there to tap into. Predicting capacity requirements is the hardest part of the capacity puzzle. No business stays static, and resource demand is always in flux. Support tools are available!

The right enterprise network monitoring software can help you discover your full array of network assets, analyze your network flow, and manage network faults and events before your systems fail. All of this is possible with Entuity Software™.

If you’d prefer a more hands off approach, Park Place Technologies offers ParkView Managed Services™, comprehensive infrastructure managed services that can free your team up for creative problem-solving while we cover the fundamentals.

Regardless of your needs, our global data center and networking optimization firm is here to help. Contact us to learn more about how we can support your capacity planning and management efforts today!

Jordan MacPherson - global Network and Server Management leader - headshot

About the Author

Jordan MacPherson,
Jordan is responsible for guiding the global Network and Server Management offerings for Park Place’s ParkView Managed Services division. His responsibilities include collaborating with Sales, Marketing, Enterprise Operations, and the R&D team to develop and bring to market Park Place’s world-class managed services. He brings 12 years of global experience in planning, monitoring, and delivering IT Services, including nearly 10 years as a Team Lead and Strategic Applications Developer with MSP IntelliNet before its acquisition by Park Place. Jordan is a graduate of Ohio University.