Sunday, June 13, 2021

Why Configuration Management Matters

People sometimes ask if configuration management and change management

are the same functional set of tasks.

Both in principle and practice, they are two very different subject areas

but they are dependent on one another. To understand Configuration

Management (CM) better, let’s review it through its four primary

objectives and benefits.

From a broad perspective, CM has four objectives as outlined in ITIL (the

IT Infrastructure Library):

First, CM needs to track all configuration items (CIs) at an appropriate

level of detail in the organization. Teams need to know this information

in order to make appropriate decisions. Thus, the CM function is tasked

with tracking new, changed, and the processing of obsolete builds — all

of which are stored in the Configuration Management Database (CMDB) and

the Definitive Software Library (DSL).

Second, CM must be able to provide accurate information to other process

areas. There are two key aspects of this. The CM team must have accurate

information about what is in production and they must be able to

communicate it to the other process areas.

Third, data provided by CM is critical to effective and efficient

Incident, Problem, Change and Release Management.

Configuration management must be able to supply the accurate current

states to people solving incidents, problems and planning changes.

Likewise, as teams make changes to production, they must ensure that

those changes are communicated to the configuration management team so

they can update the CMDB and DSL.

If that tight connection is broken, then the configuration management

team will not be able to accurately report what is in production and both

time and money will be wasted as the other areas try to establish what is

actually in production to relative to the last known good build they are

working with.

Fourth, CM must routinely verify production configurations against stored

configurations and work to correct discrepancies. This is one of the

toughest parts of the configuration management job and where tight

integration with change management is necessary. Making sure that the

current production builds match the last known good build is both the

Achilles’ heel of the process chain and where a detective control can

make a world of difference.

By detecting changes to production builds and accurately reporting

variances between the last known good state and the current state, the CM

team can work with other teams to determine what corrective action is

required.

These objectives are important because of what they enable for the

organization. The following benefits can be accrued by having effective

CM:

  • Build Variance Detection — By knowing the last known good

    build for each CI, changes can be detected. These detected changes can

    then be investigated to see if there is a process problem, human error or

    a security incident that requires immediate attention. Detective controls

    are vital to change management and this means configuration management

    must be able to supply CI build information a timely and accurate manner,

    as well.

  • Efficient Change Management — If a person doesn’t know what

    the current state of the CI is and what he/she is starting with, how can

    that person arrive at the desired end state? In other words, unless

    engineers know for sure the configuration of a given CI, they may plan a

    change incorrectly, resulting in availability problems, missed dates and

    poor performance. If the CIs are inaccurate, an inordinate amount of time

    is spent simply taking inventory the CI and figuring out how it is

    configured versus being able to take the configuration for granted and

    beginning with the engineering of the change.

  • Data Mining for Problem Management — Engineers investigating

    incidents can mine configuration records to look for corresponding

    incidents when certain CIs are used in a certain way.

    For example, they may investigate all Windows XP SP2 builds and find that

    release 3.0 of a vendor’s software causes stability problems, whereas

    version 2.9 did not. If the configuration records are in error, they may

    miss causal relationships that would allow them to identify underlying

    problems and thus miss the opportunity to develop solutions.

  • Enhance Ability to Rebuild — If a CI fails, is stolen or is

    involved in a disaster, it is far easier to rebuild it if the final

    production build of the CI is known. Moreover, if the final build exists

    as a drive image, an engineer or technician can simply make sure the new

    hardware matches the last known good build and then restore the image.

    Recovery processes that used to take hours manually can be done in

    minutes.

  • Assist with Budgeting — Understanding what hardware and

    software goes into a given CI allows for proper costing to serve as an

    input in the budget planning process. Costing information isn’t just

    important for planning purchases, but also for ensuring the firm has

    adequate insurance. Tracking CIs also allows IT to rapidly report what

    capital assets are in use, what are being decommissioned, or transferred

    to other departments or divisons.

  • Assist with Licensing — Understanding what software is

    deployed allows management to track quantities of the various tools in

    production and validate that license counts are properly managed. Firms

    do not want to have too few licenses and risk a legal dispute, and they

    do not want to have too many and have excessive expenditures.

    Configuration management offers many positive benefits to organizations.

    The challenge for the team is to keep timely and accurate records that

    are accessible to the functional areas that need them. This requires not

    only sound processes, people and technology, but also the unwavering

    support of management.

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