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3 tips for proper network provisioning and capacity planning

To provision the right amount of network resources, be sure to review past network performance, assess upcoming tech projects and consider business strategy changes.

When designing an enterprise network, there's a fine line between under- and overprovisioning network resources. Yet, for many architects, the fear of not having enough network provisioning is far greater than the fear of having too much.

This trepidation can lead to networks with far more performance and throughput capacity than would be required throughout the network's lifespan. This little-discussed practice of overprovisioning a network wastes money that could have been spent better elsewhere.

Because networks commonly last between three and seven years -- and because upgrading can be complex, disruptive and expensive -- you should buy and deploy slightly more networking resources than you feel the business will require throughout the network's lifecycle.

Getting close to your target is easier than you might think. All it takes is a bit of research and some input from key business leaders. Here are three tips on how to avoid overprovisioning your future network.

Review network baselines

If you're planning to upgrade an existing network, start the network capacity planning process by reviewing network monitoring tools using legacy Simple Network Management Protocol monitoring software or more modern network analytics platforms. These tools contain historical network usage and performance data.

If historical data is available over months or even years, network architects can calculate the average increase in performance over time. This information can be used to help determine future performance requirements of the new network.

Review the IT roadmap

While historical data is useful, it's also important to factor in any future technology projects and their effect on network performance demands. Common IT projects -- such as cloud migrations, IoT deployments and big data analytics rollouts -- can cause massive changes in network throughput demand that can increase, decrease or change the flow of data throughout the corporate network.

For example, if the IT roadmap shows apps and data that are currently managed on premises to be moved to a public cloud, then client and server data flows will change. These flows will no longer be routed to the on-premises data center. Rather, they'll be sent out via the public internet or direct WAN link to public cloud services.

This type of roadmap change will dramatically shift performance and throughput needs on campus routers and switches. Thus, keep in mind that, as the IT infrastructure architecture changes, it also means that where you provision network resources may also change.

Determine the likelihood of a major business pivot

The third and most difficult component to review when right-sizing a network is to gauge the stability of your business and consider the chance your business may need to pivot strategies during the life of the network. Ideally, the business strategy is deeply entrenched, which means little volatility on network demands. In this situation, very little overprovisioning should be allocated.

On the other hand, if your business strategy is prone to change, this creates a network provisioning risk in the architecture planning process. A pivot in strategy can require more or fewer networking resources.

Thus, business leaders need to determine how much overprovisioning risk they want to take. They'll need to anticipate unforeseen demand versus the risk of wasting money if their business strategy change never happens. This is where what-if scenarios should play out. You'll need to determine the likelihood of change and the cost and benefit analysis of each scenario as it relates to the network.

This was last published in May 2019

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