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Outsourcing analysis and capacity planning

Discussion of the services in this area that are available from contractors.

It may be the case that the thought of doing a traffic analysis so that you can do proper capacity planning is just more than you want to consider. Or you may not have the manpower to undertake such a task. Still, absent capacity planning, your only recourse when Web servers slow down is to throw more money at the problem, and in a slow economy you don't want that either. One possible solution is outsourcing your analysis and capacity planning, as Ed discusses in this tip.

Although there are other companies who will provide such services for you, I recently located an interesting outfit by the name of NavigAid that offers an interesting collection of Web server analysis and capacity planning services. As an instance of what's available from third parties, their offerings are worth checking out; as a blueprint for how these tasks--namely server performance analysis and capacity planning--should be undertaken, their site is nearly priceless. They address themselves most directly to organizations that have already mounted a Web presence and who may be struggling with performance or availability issues. But don't forget that an ounce of planning is worth a pound of cure--it may be worth pulling an outfit like theirs in from the get-go, as you start planning for new Web sites (unless you already have their kind of expertise in-house).

A quick gander at the range of services they offer makes it clear that NavigAid has a good working knowledge of the process, and that they understand the need for on site inspection, data-gathering, and customized analysis and planning:

  • Web Performance Audit: By examining your current site's actual performance, and comparing its responsiveness against other similar sites, NavigAid provides direct measures of what's happening on your site in the context of how your site stacks up against your competitors. The company can even go so far as to recommend standard measuring and monitoring tools that you can use to observe current site behavior and characteristics, and plan for future change and growth.
  • Web Capacity Planning: NavigAid will monitor your Web server's load and activities over time to build a baseline. It then uses this data to project future usage and resource consumption trends. If this analysis indicates additional capacity is needed in the near term, the company can help you plan to add capacity to meet anticipated demands.
  • Web testing: As part of its services, NavigAid can apply all kinds of tests to your Web servers, including functional testing (tests the full range of services and capabilities your site offers), load testing (tests how the server behaves under specific structures usage loads), stress testing (tests how your server behaves when it is purposely overloaded), and endurance testing (tests how well your server performs under sustained heavy loads).
  • Custom Service: Because all Web servers are fundamentally different, NavigAid constructs custom baselines and test regimes, as well as performing customized performance analyses and growth plans. The company works closely with its clients to determine what their goals require and their budgets will allow before producing any results.
  • Broad technology coverage: Optimizing Web server performance requires an understanding of underlying hardware, operating systems, and ancillary applications (runtime systems, database engines, and so forth) in addition to Web-server software and related dynamic content (ISAPI, NSAPI, php, servlets & jsp, active server pages and asp, and so forth). NavigAid makes it pretty clear that it's willing to work with you in your particular context to understand what's creating the current runtime environment and where the best opportunities for enhancing, improving, or optimizing performance might reside. This broad understanding of the runtime environment is hard to master, but essential when tuning server performance or planning for additional server capacity.

Interestingly enough, the range of services that NavigAid offers coincides pretty neatly with the disciplines and analytical work anyone who's serious about performance monitoring, tuning, and optimization must know. Likewise, these same topics are equally critical to capacity planning, after adding growth or usage trend data, and designing proper solutions.

I don't mean to recommend or knock NavigAid in particular, but it's nice to see organizations who know their business at work in the Web server capacity planning field. If you don't have the knowledge or the bandwidth to get this kind of work done in-house, it's a great outsourcing opportunity.

Ed Tittel presides over LANWrights, Inc., a company that specializes in Web markup languages and tools, with a decidedly Microsoft flavor. He is also a co-author of more than 100 books on a variety of topics, and a regular contributor to numerous TechTarget web sites.

Editor's Note: The mention of a particular company or service in this tip does not imply endorsement of the company or service. Rather, such companies and services are used for illustrative purposes only. This tip is not intended to offer an exclusive list of comparable products and services.

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