Configuration Management requires a disciplined approach to be functional.
It’s about having a record of your systems, what’s happened to those items and the details of the relationships between the items on your list. It’s commonly used in IT, military or commercial aviation scenarios. In IT, a configuration management database (CMDB) could include details of servers, code modules, applications, etc. and how are they connected.
While it can be an extremely valuable, it’s not right for every scenario as there’s a cost to having and maintaining the discipline. So how do you evaluate whether it’s worth doing configuration management and how do you do it properly?
When to use configuration management
We can learn a lot about configuration management by thinking about it in a more familiar context: the home.
For example, my parents have a big fridge freezer in their garage. To make life easier, they maintain a list of what’s in the freezer, how long something has been in there and where it is.
This means they avoid having to search around a big freezer in the cold looking for a pack of sausages that aren’t there, they go directly to the correct shelf, increasing efficiency. It also means they have zero food wastage because meals get planned around the items that are about to go out of date. Maintaining a list in this instance works, but it’s not always appropriate.
In contrast, the fridge contents inside the kitchen change more frequently. They can see what’s in there easily and don’t need to keep a list but just look inside the fridge. Checking the contents is done manually because the cost vs benefit of keeping a list just doesn’t stack up.
Cost versus the benefit
As this example shows, choosing whether to use configuration management is about evaluating the cost vs the benefit.
In IT Service Management (ITSM), one example of this might be software licence compliance. You might use a tool to review data, but there’s a cost for having the tool and is there an impact of not being fully compliant? Recently, software vendors have got much hotter on auditing and exposing issues and are now handing out fines more regularly. Not having an up-to-date, compliance position could mean millions in fines, therefore having a proper software asset management approach is key to mitigating this risk and can lead to savings, which far outweigh the costs.
Reviewing the cost vs benefit analysis like this helps you decide where to focus and prioritise where to start.
Maintaining the process
Initiating a CMDB is only the first step: you also need to make sure it stays current. When changes or updates happen it is imperative that everyone understands the importance of maintaining the data.
Going back to the freezer scenario: if I turn up at my parents’ home, use something from the freezer and don’t cross it off the list, it will cause problems. My parents could plan a meal around the sausages they thought they had frozen, start cooking and realise they’ve been used.
It’s the same in IT: everyone who uses an area needs to understand the processes and it requires a culture of discipline. While that’s relatively easy in a small family, it’s a lot harder in a large organization. For configuration management to work, the process is the same – if you make the change, update the records.
By ensuring this culture of discipline is embedded, and it’s used in the right scenario, configuration management can be invaluable.