Take the guesswork out of capacity planning

Take the guesswork out of capacity planning

Paperwork bites. So badly, that it's amazing how far normally lucid (in my case semi-lucid) people will go to avoid it. For example: The process of reviving the Ducati also involves obtaining a new title because I've managed to lose the original ... somehow. That means going to New York where the bike was purchased, filling out paperwork, and dealing with notoriously uncooperative DMV staffers. Such an unpleasant prospect that I black out this weekend and come to in a BMW dealership trying to convince myself that buying a brand new, super-sexy K 1200 GT for US$20,000 is a good idea because the dealer will take care of the Duc. Now that's avoidance behavior!

I get the same way about much of the paperwork associated with running a network, which is probably why I expend more brain cells figuring ways to farm it out than it would have taken to simply do it. Fortunately, our sometimes-friends in Redmond like to invent cool little tools to make at least pieces of our daily digital grind a little easier. A new rev of a good example here is System Center Capacity Planner (SCCP) 2007 Beta 1. OK, the name isn't going to blow anyone's skirt up, but the end effect is that you have a great way to plug in variables and pull out ready-made capacity planning paperwork -- as long as you're interested primarily in Exchange 2007 and MOM (Microsoft Operations Manager) 2007.

SCCP boils down to a what-if tool with an output port. It's technically free, but the download links are only available to TechNet and MSDN Premium subscribers. Install requirements are fairly easy going, a post-2000 version of Windows with .Net 2.0. Fast CPUs and chunky RAM are nice (especially if you've got a large network topology), but not required. Obviously, actual or planned dependence on Exchange and MOM are a good idea, too.

Post-install finds you talking to the SCCP System Architecture Model (SAM) wizard. This guy walks you through a possibly lengthy series of questions from which it will build a SAM. These questions nail down various bandwidth capacities, user levels, geographic coverage, network topologies and hardware capacities. The wizard predefines things such as hardware resources, but SCCP has a deep enough feature set that you can customize these to suit if that becomes a requirement.

I should emphasize that although I'm whizzing through this in breezy column mode, the SAM wizard is a detailed tool. Wading through its questions isn't something you're going to whip off a few minutes before lunch. A detailed knowledge of the network is essential to building a useful SAM, so take your time and keep your asset management data handy.

Once you're through the SAM wizard, you've got a saved model of your existing topology, your desired topology, or both. From here, administrators can play loads of what-if games: vary bandwidth resources, user loads, hardware platforms or software packages. The results are text and graphic reports on how different scenarios should affect the network and what administrators need to do to manage them.

All that is available in SCCP 2006. What's new in 2007 is going to be beefier brains for Exchange Server 2007 (which Microsoft feels will have more complex planning scenarios due to its deeper mobile and Web-based features). It'll also have full knowledge of the new System Center Operations Manager 2007, so you can play capacity games with not just servers but both trusted and untrusted agents, for example. Naturally, that also means hardware models with support for 64-bit CPUs and some potentially cool detail tools covering anti-virus scanning overhead and the impact of server clustering.

If you're a TechNet or MSDN Premium subscriber, you should be seeing a copy of SCCP 2007 Beta 1 shortly, if you haven't already. For those with big plans for Exchange 2007 and SCOM 2007, it's definitely worth the playtime. Meantime, anyone want to buy an untitled Ducati ST2?

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