Thursday, May 6, 2010

Availability and Capacity Management


For people familiar with ITIL, the above two words should not be alien. I was introduced to ITIL in 2006 as ITIL implementation was sort of my primary job for the first 1.5 years of my professional life. IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) is a set of best practices that organizations should implement for IT Services Management. However, when I was attending a three day workshop on ITIL v3, I realized the basic principles of ITIL can be applied to manage anything and not just IT Services.

Two of the processes are Availability management and Capacity Management.What do they mean? Suppose you have been made in-charge of water supply at a 3 day NCC camp for 450 cadets. The first question is how much water are you going to need per day. Lets say you need 1500 liters of water per day. Fine. But  you need to store this water. You have been provided with 2 storage tanks of 500 liters. This is your capacity, ie 1000 liters. But you notice that your capacity is less than the daily requirement. What should you do about it? You ask for another tank, but your commanding officer informs you that a pump powered by a genset will fill the tanks when the need arises. So even though you do not have full capacity to serve the daily need, you can still ensure availability thanks to the genset powered pump. Of course, you will have to ensure that the diesel for the genset is available when required. By finely balancing the capacity and availability, you are able to meet the demand and a lot of satisfied cadets. Also notice that having the tanks (capacity) does not ensure availability.

This is a very simple scenario, but something which we find almost everywhere. Do your servers have the capacity to process 100,000 simultaneous requests? Do you have sufficient developers to finish a particular project in 2 months time (Capacity)? Are all the developers available during this time? I heard a couple of them are going on a trip to Ladakh (unavailable).  You get the basic idea, right!

Anil Enthu Kumar and I made an interesting observation a few weeks back. There is tea shop near his house which we frequent. Opposite to this tea shop is another tea shop, which pretty much provides the same services. However, the tea shop which we visit is more crowded and has more customers. Always! Lets call this the Tea Shop A and the one opposite, the less popular one as Tea shop B.  Both of us asked the same question, Why did we go to this particular tea shop A when we could have easily gone to the other one? The answer to that was, one amongst our group of friends had visited the Tea Shop A and the next time he went with the others, he chose that particular tea shop. So the others started going to the same tea shop. We never considered going to tea shop B. Why? Because Tea Shop A was available whenever we went. Tea shop B wasn’t always open, something which I noticed in the past few weeks. Availability giving the competitive edge to a tea shop, ensuring more customers!

Why the sudden post on availability and capacity management? Well I was trying to book a domain for the new project I am working on, but the site of ZNET India gave an error. It wasn’t available when I wanted it to be. While I am not going to any of their competitors (just yet), the fact is simple things like availability are such a critical part of the customer experience. Look at flipkart. It is one of the hottest startups in India today, and how did they reach here – by simply focusing on ensuring good service availability to their customers.

To end this random post, I think about the pressing problems we face – depleting water table, clean energy etc. Can we ensure availability of water? What happens if there is drought for two consecutive years and the monsoon fails as well? Do we have capacity to sustain the water needs of the ever growing populace? Can simple principles from capacity and availability management be applied to solve such problems? What do you think?


  1. Hi Shashi,
    So working on an idea. Good to read that... All The BEst!!!

    As far as pressing problems of the humanity is concerned, I feel, the problem is not as much a problem as it looks. The reason is simple; we human beings have a knack for making simple things complicated.
    Take the e.g. of Depleting water layer. We know the solution: Water Harvesting. Somewhere, long back I read about a village in Gujarat or Rajasthan which has a serious water crisis. The govt, as usual, was not supportive. The villagers applied simple techniques of water harvesting. Within 1/2 monsoon season(s) the scene of the village changed. The crisis became history.

    The Govt spends lot of money on developmental projects. Unfortunately, creativity & accountability in execution is missing.

    Every Thursday The Hindu publishes article under "Farmer's Notebook". It contains article(s) on the innovative and creative and economical methods (and/or techniques) developed by illiterate or not-so-literate (in conventional sort of education) farmers which has helped them immensely in improving their agricultural production.

    At the end I feel the problem lies somewhere else; in the mindset of human beings. We all know that the resources of Mother Nature is limited. We have to use them judiciously. But we are bitten by "excesses bug"; we want every thing in plenty just to squander away purposelessly.


  2. Very interesting thoughts sirjee! What you are referring to is what I nowadays call illusion due to perception. A blog post on that sometime soon.

    Thnx for the wishes!