“If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” — Peter Drucker
In a slight twist on the well-known aphorism from Drucker, “If you can’t document it, you can’t manage it.”
To manage your IT infrastructure and related applications, you need up-to-date information on what they include, how the system functions and the interrelationships between all software and hardware. Given that your infrastructure becomes more complex every day and is ever-changing, this is no easy task. To help with it, you need a configuration management tool.
Configuration Management Defined
First, what is configuration management and why is it so critical? Configuration management ensures the system’s physical form and mission function are not only known initially but also remain knowable throughout the system life cycle.
As such, configuration management includes all actions necessary to identify and document your IT infrastructure and software’s functions, characteristics and interrelationships. Also, it ensures that when you make changes to the system, such as functions, model numbers, vendor information, and more, you record them. Finally, configuration management includes creating and tracking timetables for testing and maintenance.
Weaknesses in Approaches to Configuration Management
To manage your IT infrastructure and related applications, you need up-to-date information on what they include, how the system functions and the interrelationships between all software and hardware.
When configuration management is well executed, it provides a detailed picture of your organization’s hardware and software. Many enterprises, however, have room for improvement in their approach to this discipline. That’s because they often use scripts or a patchwork of practices invented on the fly. Also, they tend to work in silos, so no one has the big picture of the system’s configuration.
The Fall Out from Weak Practices
As documented by research conducted by Quocirca, many enterprises don’t have an accurate assessment of the technology they have on hand.
Historically, when organizations have enumerated their technology assets, they have averaged a +/- 20 percent error rate. What are the ramifications of these inaccuracies? If managers over estimate their technology inventory, they could spend more than necessary on licenses and maintenance contracts. On the other side of the equation, if they have more technology than they think, they risk being short on licensing and maintenance contracts. When an external IT audit hits or equipment goes down, underestimates can lead to fines and charges.
Where does all of this inaccuracy fit into today’s mandate to do more with less? Nowhere. Over and under-estimates of technology have costly implications. Also, manual work, human error, and critical gaps in knowledge can convolute and slow down vital implementations of new technology.
7 Things to Look For in a Configuration Management Tool
More and more enterprises are recognizing that they cannot afford to rely on patchwork, ad-hoc systems for configuration management. If you’ve come to the same conclusion, you should look for a configuration management system that provides the following.
Details on Your System’s Configuration
You want a complete inventory of your servers, storage, SAN fabric, and applications, including device information, configuration changes and code levels, serial numbers, IP addresses, and volumes allocated to hosts. And, of course, you want to know the locations and network addresses of hardware devices.
Also, you need to view this information on a global basis. For instance, you want to see that you have 103 operating systems across your environment, or that you have 105 virtual machines running in your IT environment and the storage configuration data for the entire environment.
Flexibility to See It Your Way
Since you have many uses for your configuration data, you want to be able to view it in the way that is most useful for each project. Thus, your configuration management tool needs to offer the flexibility for you to hide, add, and sort data however you want to see it. There’s no reason to do it manually.
Continual Data Collection
If you’re using your data to create and implement technology plans, there’s no excuse for old data. Insist on a system that updates data every few minutes.
Ability to Set the Standards
You want a configuration management tool that allows you to set parameters for alerting you to critical system details within your IT infrastructure environment. This information enables you to focus on what’s most important.
Yes, you want the big picture, but you also want to dig deep for valuable insight into system health, capacity, optimization, availability, and to be guided by best practices.
Data You Need for Seamless Upgrades
It should be easy to assess when any part of your system needs a hardware or software upgrade. Make sure your configuration management system includes data on when servers, storage, software and more are installed so that you can make such assessments rapidly.
Intelligence on Critical Relationships
One reason why you need the bird’s eye view is that relationships matter. Your configuration management tool needs to make clear how one technology affects another. After all, you don’t want to make any changes that have unintended consequences.
In today’s complex IT world, it’s critical to understand the configuration of your system. Many companies do not have the right tools to help them with this task. Because of this, they end up wasting money and handling upgrades poorly. If this is a problem you’re grappling with, you need to look for a configuration management tool that allows you to get the details about your system, view up-to-date data in ways that are most helpful to you, set standards for alerts, gain powerful insights, implement trouble-free upgrades, and fully understand the relationships within your system.
 Configuration Management: A Critical Analysis of Applications Using the 8-Step Problem Solving Method. University of Glasgow. http://www.dcs.gla.ac.uk/~johnson/papers/ISSC09/Paper_2807.pdf.