A few thoughts about Planetary Interaction...
I control 9 worlds now between 2 accounts.
What cycle time works best?
So far what I have seen is that using the 5 hour cycle times allows for far more benefit than other times. I can set one cycle just before bed, sleep for 8, set another cycle in the morning, work for 8 hours, set another cycle when I get home. It apears that running the 5 hour cycle even twice a day produces more raw material than the 24 hour cycle. The 96 hour cycle is pointless unless you're going on vacation.
What layout works best?
I piddled around with different builds, but what appears to create the maximum resources is to place 3-4 extractors in a tight group right on top of a resource hot spot. Delever thier material to a Launch Pad then route from the Lauch Pad to an adjacent Processor. Remember to route the Processor back to the Launch Pad. This will create a tight bundle of about 5-6 objects over a hot spot. With Advanced CC's you can have at least 3 groupings per planet--possibly 4 if you're happy with only 2-3 Extractors per group. You want to deliver to the Launch Pad first because (hopefully) your rate of extraction exceed your rate of manufacturing. Excess material routed to a full Processor is lost, the Launch Pad storage area acts as a buffer.
Why Launch Pads and not Storage Silos?
LP's can store 10,000 m3 while Storage Silos only get 5k. Yes, Silos use a lot less Command Center CPU, but nothing seems to really chew up CPU anyway. By not not even attempting to link far-flung groupings you save tons of Power allowing more Extractors and Processors--more ISK. Besides you can't get your goods out of a Silo and into your ship without a Launch Pad anyway. The Command Center launch feature only allows 500 m3 at a time. A word of caution though, each Launch Pad is 900,000 ISK--it is the most expensive PI object after the Command Center.
What about Stage 2+ goods?
My focus is producing basic raw materials for now. Until CCP removes the NPC seeded goods, there isn't much point in making or selling any PI materials. But in preparation I have made one of my planets a "factory" where I have a cluster of Stage 2 (Advanced) Processors. Once I gather all the raw materials from the other planets, I can Import them to my factory planet and make anything.
What do you think PI will do to the markets?
Well, already I can see folks buying up NPC seeded goods by the freighter load. Folks are expecting the prices to rise. For a while those that bloat themselves on trade goods may realize a profit. PI takes time and has some hard limits to what can be maximally produced. No one will be able to harvest mass quantities alone which means the market will be mostly dominated by small producers. These small quantities will encourage Traders to buy out whole regions and repost for slight mark-ups. The goods most likely to move in Empire are the POS fuels--Oxygen, Mechanical Parts, Robotics, Coolant, and Enriched Uranium.
What is interesting is what this will do to Empire markets. Now that 0.0 space can produce their own fuels, it will be unlikely that Alliances will come to Empire for fuels. Empire certainly won't be going to Nullsec for purchasing so the POS fuel market in Empire will be dependent on the owners of Empire towers... Setting up Empire towers is difficult and generally only used for Labs. They are also typically placed by Corps/Pilots who love industry anyway and will likely be making their own fuel! With demand reduced, I would not expect the Empire PI goods market to be much above cost (if at all).
I would predict that most ppl doing Planet harvesting will do it solely to supply their own needs--more out of convenience than need or cost.
What about Dust 514? Will I lose my investment?
Taking any guesses about what CCP may or may not do with DUST 514 are purely wild guesses. CCP has consistently talked up their cool expansions and then delivered only minimal features. While we can't predict what they may do, we can be pretty safe in predicting they won't deliver everything they have talked about. The second point to consider is Dust is probably 3-4 years away (2 at best). CCP is only now *advertising* for Dust 514 developers. Without a dev team even assembled, when it can be delivered is many, many moons away. Incarna was first advertised as Walking in Stations over 5 years ago and the last CCP announcement was that it will deliver *after* Dust! So CCP has a history of extremely long release time-lines.
So... in a nutshell... don't worry about it. We won't see impact for a long time.
What skills should I have?
Bare minimum to try PI would be: Remote Sensing 1, Planetology 3, Command Center Upgrades 3. That will allow you to scan all the planets in your current system, place *one* Improved Command Center, and play around with what it can do. But you can train all those skills in a day.
I would recommend Remote Sensing 4, Planetology 4, Adv. Planetology 2, CC Upgrades 4, and Planetary Interaction 4. This will take about 10 days, but it gives you 5 Advanced Command Centers and the ability to control them from quite a ways out. Masada manages planets in Rahab from Palas (about 4 hops out). I haven't played with the limits.