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Bringing ITIL to Life: Automating IT Capacity Management

Apr 13, 2007

Drew Robb

“As the delivery of services gains complexity, automation is key to delivering capacity solutions,” said Stroud. “Automation leveraging technology is critical including the configuration management database for the storage of the relationships and performance management technology to record performance in real time and delivers usage information and alerts where capacity thresholds are exceeded.”

The Role of Analytics

Analytics and business intelligence (BI) tools play a part in capacity management. Advanced analytics permit you to better monitor infrastructure behavior. For example, you may have a server that operates at 40% capacity. One day the utilization jumps to 60% and stays there. Since your capacity threshold for alerting occurs at 75%, it may be some time before you realize that there might be a problem.

“In addition, advanced analytics could perform continuous trending functions so when application usage strays from what is expected, the appropriate people are alerted to determine cause and permit corrective activities or drive changes to the capacity plans,” said Ronald Potter, an IT Best Practices manager for TeamQuest Corp. “Where business metrics are not available, business intelligence tools can help you understand business processes and how they impact infrastructure capacity.”

By using BI, it is possible to determine counts of business events and associate them to the data contained in the capacity database. Doing so facilitates the ability to communicate infrastructure capacity in business terms.

But tools are only part of the solution. As with all ITIL implementations, the capacity management process relies on the right combination of people, process and technology. Thus effective capacity management necessitates working relationships with business units. Changes in business processes, even using the same applications, can dramatically affect system performance. Signing a large new customer can have a similar impact.

“Without good working relationships with your business customer, you may not discover business changes until after they have happened and your systems are overloaded,” said Potter. “A good working relationship permits you to run your infrastructure closer to the edge since you have confidence that in most cases you will have enough advance notice to react to business changes.”

Process, too, is vital. Processes play an essential role in the success of capacity planning. The road map to success is processes which are repeatable and consistent. The results from process efficiency can be significant.

“In research I’ve conducted on behalf of the IT Process Institute, we discovered that high performing IT organizations (which constituted about 13% of our surveyed population) sustain five-times higher server/sys-admin ratios, manage eight-times more projects and six-times as many applications, and implement 14-times as many changes compared to the typical organization,” said Gene Kim, CTO of Tripwire.

Once you understand the processes and their interactions with other processes, automation is key. Automation enables the implementation of the knowledge developed in the organization and allows for enhanced customer support.

CA, for example, offers solutions that automate ITIL, as well as supporting materials such as a series of graphical representations or subway maps that help them no matter where they are in their implementations.

Similarly, TeamQuest provides a wealth of tools designed with large-scale installations in mind. Its Enterprise Database facility automatically harvests data from user-defined groups of servers and consolidates it in a single location.

This makes it possible to move the work associated with analysis and reporting away from the production servers. With multiple servers’ data contained in an enterprise database, multi-tier applications can be easily analyzed and reported upon from end-to-end perspective.

In addition, TeamQuest View and IT Service Analyzer can assist the capacity management team in proactively identifying problematic applications before they impact production operations. Both products can perform linear trend analyses to ensure current usage trends are in line with long term capacity plans.

And Tripwire provides IT with the tools to streamline change by alerting management to unauthorized changes that could impair system availability, or cause other issues.

Capacity Management Not Enough

IT, then, has to have information from the business regarding forecasted growth so it can translate increases in business volumes into hardware/software resource consumption. It is vital to have well-defined service level agreements between IT and the business, so that just enough capacity can be cost effectively provisioned to meet those agreements.

That’s where capacity management comes in. By automating many of the processes and harnessing various tools to add efficiency, capacity planning efforts can be streamlined and simplified.

But Holub points out that capacity management cannot operate in isolation within an ITIL framework. Nor should it be done prior to certain other facets of ITIL

“Capacity management is one of the higher-order ITIL processes,” said Holub. “Organizations should ensure they have achieved relatively high process maturity in the core service support processes such as change management and configuration management, before attempting to tackle capacity management.”