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Configuration Management Best Practices

by Marisa Vesel, on Oct 16, 2019, 2:40:00 PM

Software changes rapidly. Configuration management best practices allow organizations to keep track of changes in a way that allows for quick feature updates without any service disruptions. However, getting this right requires a plan.

We’ve put together best practices about multiple aspects of configuration management so your organization can best address your specific needs and processes.

What is Configuration Management?

Configuration management is the process used for establishing and maintaining a product or application’s consistency throughout its lifecycle, including processes like source code management and server provisioning. Successful configuration management systems keep processes consistent, repeatable, correct, and current. Combined with automation and Infrastructure as Code (IaC), configuration management offers organizations a powerful means to increase software reliability and increase release cadences. What are the Advantages of Configuration Management?

There are several benefits to adopting configuration management in the workplace:

  • Predictable control of processes: By defining and enforcing formal policies and procedures, organizations gain control over asset identification, status monitoring, and auditing.
  • Reduced risk: By tracking and monitoring changes to the system, there is increased visibility into the system, which will reduce risk of outages and security breaches.
  • Improved customer experience: When IT can identify and respond to configuration issues quicker, customers are less likely to experience negative impacts.
  • Cost reduction: By having in-depth knowledge of all aspects of a configuration, wasteful duplication will not happen, thus cutting costs.
  • Quicker storage restoration Since configuration is automated and documented, outages will last less time as recovery happens quicker.

improved customer experience with configuration management

Configuration management also requires monitoring server provisioning for accuracy and consistency. Several tools exist to help organizations detect this “configuration drift.” For example, Inedo’s Otter helps organizations provision their servers and manage configuration automatically, without ever needing to log-in to a command prompt. Otter will continuously monitor servers for configuration changes and report when there is configuration drift. Organizations can set servers to automatically remediate drift or schedule remediation and other configuration changes as needed.

Main Areas of Configuration Management

Configuration management is important to IT because deployments that decrease lead time require predictable, consistent, and reliable processes. Let’s look at the various roles that configuration management plays throughout the software lifecycle.

Source Code Management

Source code management (SCM) is a way for organizations to track modifications to a source code repository. Source code management is critical to alleviate the organizational strain of growing development costs. Before source code management, developers were at risk of unknowingly saving over each other’s work.

SCM introduced safeguards to prevent loss of work due to overwriting, tracking changes by individual developers. Since SCM provides a detailed record of the project, mistakes can be undone, preventing regression by simply reverting the codebase to a previous point in time. Additionally, a neatly organized SCM history log can also be used as release notes to increase insight and visibility within the workplace.

Build Engineering

Build engineering, while necessary to building code, often presents challenges like dependencies, lack of reproducibility, security concerns, and added technical debt.

One way to simplify build engineering is to create a consistent build language and environment. This can be partially achieved through build automation tools; the other vital component is a cultural shift. Organizations need to dedicate themselves to creating a systematic, standardized, and unified approach to help create a consistent workflow and process for the build. 

Environment Configuration

Multiple developers on a project means multiple approaches and divergent results. However, organizations can configure their environments to minimize inconsistencies by limiting developers to approved design elements.

Change Control

In software development, changes are a way of life. However, these changes should be carefully controlled so they don’t catch anyone off guard. This where change control management comes into play.

Change control management should be a formal process created by quality managers. Change control includes evaluating and planning for the impact of change, recording the change, and approving the change. Before a change is made, any effects that will happen to employees, clients, or the environment should be considered.

However, not all changes can be planned. A quality change control management process will also include a procedure for handling  unexpected changes and track the results.

diagram depicting quality control change management

Release Engineering

Release engineering provides common patterns for automating releases, focusing on the technical side of a build. If a company has strong environment configuration in place, the release engineer or team has fewer barriers to keeping deployments Agile.

Deployments

Many problems can arise with manual deployments, resulting in lengthy, expensive fixes to poor-quality software. Introducing automation can reduce the risk of human error, increase communication in the workplace, and introduce security checks into the build. All in all, automation helps organizations get high-quality software to production, faster.

Automating deployment practices can be a daunting task, especially for organizations working with legacy applications. However, automation can and should be added into the software delivery lifecycle.  

There are many ways to evaluate tools so that organizations can find one that best fits their needs at the time. The best way to start looking for tools is to evaluate your current process and decide what objectives the organization has for their tool suite. While research can be lengthy and time-consuming, performing a comprehensive evaluation of tools will help companies avoid unnecessary problems down the road. 

How Do You Start to Integrate Configuration Management?

While implementing configuration management best practices can be a daunting task, they will help your organization react to events in a rational and efficient manner.

Getting started:

Scope. When integrating configuration management, scoping the integration is critical in order to create a realistic project timeline. There are three main components to determining scope:

  • Defining and implementing configuration management policies
  • Establishing the reference configurations for each environment
  • Developing a configuration management plan

Once scope is determined, organizations can better timeline a project to complete the integration in manageable steps.

CMDB. A configuration management database is a central location where all information about the hardware and software installations in a network can be viewed. Each asset is known as a Configuration Item. In a CMBD, there is information gathered on each asset including:

  • Overview
  • Relationship
  • Software
  • Components
  • Contracts
  • Expenses
  • Activity

Maintaining a CMBD helps organize all business critical configuration items in one location and provides visibility and transparency to technicians.

an organized CMDB

Configuration Items. When implementing change management, it is important to understand what constitutes a configuration item. Unfortunately, the definition of a configuration item is abstract. A good general rule is that  “if it is under change management it is a configuration item.” Another way to consider a configuration item is if it is in the technical description of a Service.

Here are a few examples of configuration items:

  • Virtual Server: asset number, vendor, and model
  • Physical Server: CPU type, CPU speed, memory
  • Application: host server, owner, service

There are many tools currently available on the market that can help organizations ensure that they servers and machines stay well-configured. Here are a few:

  • Otter is a tool from the Inedo suite of DevOps products that continuously monitors servers for configuration changes and reports when there is configuration drift, offering a variety of solutions for remediation.
  • Rudder is an open-source, continuous configuration tool that combines configuration management and continuous audit to help companies improve performance while reducing costs.
  • Puppet is a configuration management tool that allows users to easily definite their desired state of infrastructure and applications, automatically keeping infrastructure in the desired state.

How to Improve Configuration Management

Once configuration management is established in your organization, there are several best-practices that can be implemented to optimize the processes.

  • Create standards: For optimal network consistency, it is recommended that the following standards be created: software version control and management, IP addressing standards and management, configuration upgrade procedures, and solution templates.
  • Maintain documentation: Documenting network changes that have occurred in real-time is important in order to make troubleshooting, inventory, validation, and audits more efficient.
  • Configuration integrity checks: By routinely checking the integrity of configurations, any potential problems (such as duplicate IP addresses or protocol mismatches) can be identified and manually reviewed.
  • Configuration upgrade procedures: Upgrade procedures help ensure that hardware and software upgrades occur smoothly and with minimal downtime. Upgrade procedures include vendor installation references, testing requirements, and configuration guidelines.
  • Configuration version control system: Keeping a configuration version control system is helpful for comparing current running configuration to previously working versions to identify where problems occur.

Configuration Management is a “Must” for Consistent Releases

Looking for more best practice guides, tool lists, and DevOps tips for various industries? Then be sure to subscribe to our blog!

Inedo DevOps tools maximize developer time, minimize release risk, and empower stakeholders to bring their vision to life faster—all with the people and technology you have right now. To get help streamlining your CI/CD processes, contact mgoulis@inedo.com.

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Topics:Configuration Management

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