HomeContributionsSystem Design: How to Do Hardware Capacity Planning

System Design: How to Do Hardware Capacity Planning


Hardware capacity planning is one of the cornerstones of good system design, and so it is important to understand its implications and to make the right decisions as a result.

If you are unsure of how to plot out your hardware needs, or you need a refresher, read on for an overview of how you can achieve this efficiently.

Scrutinize existing resources

Hardware capacity planning is mostly about analyzing the setup you have at the moment and determining the extent to which it will be suitable for your needs over time.

The first step is to take a closer look at the resources you have in place right now, so that you know what you are working with.

Investigate everything from CPU core count and clock speeds, to storage capacity and I/O data transfer rates. You will need this information to move onto the next stage of planning.

Harness performance monitoring

When it comes to capacity planning for your system, it is important that you keep it monitored at all times.

Monitoring performance is the only way to get actionable insights into how well the system is handling current workloads, and thus to predict whether or not it will cope if demand spikes further down the line.

This is also a way of finding issues with your setup and troubleshooting them. Not all performance problems are down to hardware bottlenecks; it could be a software configuration conundrum, or it could be a poorly written query that is to blame.

Use patterns to forecast future demand

Performance monitoring is useful not only for seeing how your hardware holds up today, but more importantly for predicting how demand might change in the future.

With data from day-to-day system usage to hand, you can track peaks and troughs in usage, pick out patterns that emerge and base your system design decisions on this evidence, rather than needing to make guesses and hope for the best.

You might, for example, find that there are particular periods of time during which system usage spikes and your hardware is put under unexpected strain, which could compromise performance then demand is at a peak. If you know this from past performance data, you can take it into account when provisioning resources going forward.

There are all sorts of metrics which can be analyzed and acted upon in this context, so it is really down to you to determine which is most impactful for your system’s intended use.

CPU utilization is a good starting point, as this can be easily queried and plotted out on a graph, giving you a sense of how demand fluctuates over days, weeks and months.

Storage capacity predictions are also important, especially if your system is going to be handling lots of larger files. If you don’t forecast how your storage needs will increase, you could get caught out when you hit the upper limits of your drives, which will not only limit functionality but also harm performance.

Revise plans if necessary

Hardware capacity planning is not something you can simply do once and then forget about. Instead it has to be an ongoing, ever-evolving part of system design.

Keeping an ear to the ground with regards to hardware utilization and performance will stand you in good stead should issues arise. It will also enable you to plan for future hardware procurement, which is good for managing costs and avoiding bottlenecks.

Being flexible and focused on capacity planning is better than becoming complacent, so hopefully you now know enough about this process to get started.

Richard Grant

Richard has an established career as a technology consultant, helping business owners and CTOs harness new technologies for their business. He regularly writes and muses about emerging technology.