Dell’s New T-shirt Take on Infrastructure Capacity Planning


There’s an old saying: you can’t manage what you can’t measure. That is the case with Dell Digital’s new infrastructure capacity planning and forecasting effort to keep pace with our record organic growth and new business demand for IT services inside Dell.

In the fall of 2020, we began building a team to address the challenge that Dell Digital, Dell’s IT organization, needed better forecasting guidance to stay ahead of our growing infrastructure demand.

Our organic growth of existing IT systems, which normally runs around 8-10 percent year-over-year, had exceeded 41%. We also faced rapid new internal business growth from new products and an internal self-service catalog.

However, our data on existing and projected IT resource needs was spread out in separate locations across our organization with no cohesive measurement standards or analysis strategy. We relied on manual processes and spreadsheets to perform infrastructure capacity planning and forecasting.

We built a capacity forecasting team of data scientists and analysts to review data spanning our current systems, organic growth trends, business demands and future resource insights. The team not only aggregated historic, current and projected resource data from different sources into a central data repository but also created a uniform measurement model to provide better clarity for data center forecasts and transparency for users.

The result is an automated planning and forecasting model that enables Dell Digital to maintain six months of on-demand capacity and lets us keep an 18-month rolling forecast for our supply chain.

Forecasting with T-shirt Sizes 

We started creating our capacity forecasting model by looking at what our systems were doing and what we predicted they’d do down the road. We looked at organic growth over time plus internal business growth and worked with our business segments to understand what they’re looking toward doing.

The next step was converting that data into a demand forecast so that we can signal increases or decreases in capacity requirements to both manufacturing and to our interlock teams, including those that manage our facilities, power and rack space. We also strove to signal our manufacturers about what demand projected to be 18 months in advance.

As we mapped our forecasting strategy, we decided we needed a standard measurement of our infrastructure use to track current and future capacity based on how users consume IT resources rather than on individual infrastructure components. We chose an increasingly popular and friendly measurement technique based on T-shirt sizes. T-shirt sizing is a capacity planning tool in which you assign each project or task a T-shirt size—from extra small to double extra-large (XXL)—to represent its scope or scale.

For example, an extra small T-shirt might be a sandbox or proof-of-concept environment. An extra-large T-shirt would be a full-scale, full-size production series of databases…

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