Why IT Needs Configuration Management Systems?
By Bill Kloster, CIO, Short Elliott Hendrickson
Configuration management systems are becoming more multi-platform and easier to implement. As the technology matured, the supported environments moved beyond Windows only updates. CMS now supports iOS and Unix. As more companies started to use CMS, the playbook on installation and configuration became easier to understand and implement quickly. The ability to leverage a single CMS platform across all IT assets and streamline operational maintenance is now possible.
The power and intelligence of configuration management tools have evolved a great deal in recent years. Current tools can scan and evaluate environments, check for update information and make update recommendations without the need for manual intervention. The next step for CMS to automatically apply updates to servers and workstations is limited more by corporate change control processes, then the intelligence of the tools.
Information Security must be in the forefront of any configuration management deployment, because of the potential openings that allow attackers to exploit vulnerabilities in the environment. Behavior-based security monitoring across all devices on the company network is a very good way to reduce the risk of this type of exploit.
The ability to leverage a single CMS platform across all IT assets and streamline operational maintenance is now possible
Configuration management systems allow system administrators to focus on correlating performance and monitoring information with configuration data. They can use configuration management tools to connect performance issues with a database that IOPS threshold or a lack of available RAM. Configuration management tool can play a large role in both incident response through alert notifications and problem management through analysis of information used to determine the root cause.
The next evolution of configuration management systems will include more built-in features and functionality of configuration management incorporated into various operating systems and hardware devices. The ability for connected devices to get health checks and recommended updates pushed automatically will replace a rigid change control process that is intended to protect against manual error. Tools will see an expansion of analytic capabilities, which puts a strain on resources and system performance, if the tool is deployed as an agent. This could result in the need for additional compute power for all devices types.
Decision makers will appreciate the benefits of configuration management, but the benefits need to be clearly stated. To me the key benefits are 1) Operational efficiency for IT and non-IT staff through automation and scheduling of installations around the work schedules of end users. 2) Improved speed to market through rapid deployment of software and security patches to end points 3) Improved system availability and performance through automated alert notifications and additional information to correlate a specific root cause. The ability to show a positive business case for the standardization and automation of operational functions is an easy sell if connected to a business drive such improved productivity and utilization of billable resources.
The challenge for configuration management sponsors is finding the right system for your business and your IT staff. Selecting a tool or set of tools that can be implemented and managed for continuous operational improvements will take more research and involvement.
There is a vast amount of industry articles comparing the features, the cost and the ease of implementation of multiple configuration management systems. I suggest you start there and then connect with industry peers that actually implemented the products on your short list. You will learn things in the interview process that is more valuable and much harder to find than any comparison article. Experienced individuals can share lessons learned about the product installation, integration, and adoption that you can apply as you create your own specific implementation and adoption plan. I encourage you to implement CMS capabilities in phases to get some quick wins and develop your own experience as you enable additional features and functionality.
The journey to implement Configuration Management will not be a one and down initiative that you can install and forget. It will take commitment and perseverance that will take you through funding approval, product selection, implementation planning, and operational adoption. In the end, I hope you are able to look back at the journey and realize that it was absolutely the right business decision for your growing business.