Over time, enterprises grow, technological requirements increase, and ICT (information and communications technology) infrastructure becomes more complex. This complexity adds administrative overhead, can result in an inconsistency of system performance, and increases the probability of downtime due to human error.
One way to manage this complexity is to use the concept of configuration management (CM). In this article, we describe configuration management and show you how it can help streamline your VoIP, data, and ICT infrastructure lifecycle as a whole.
The function of configuration management
Within the framework of ICT, CM is a methodology that ensures all ICT assets of an enterprise are tracked at all times. Tracking does not only include the physical location of the asset, but also a detailed snapshot of its configuration, referred to as the current “state” of a system or device. CM also tracks any changes made to assets and maintains information relating to the configuration interdependencies between those assets.
The primary purpose of CM is to ensure that the states of ICT systems are known, good and trusted, and remain so throughout their lifetimes.
The origin of CM
One of the most confusing aspects of CM is that when you first read about it, it seems somewhat irrelevant to ICT. In order to truly see CM’s importance and benefits for ICT, it is helpful take a look at its roots.
CM originated in a completely unrelated sector. In the 1950s, the U.S. military needed a specialized process of handling changes systematically so that a system would maintain its integrity over time. For the military, this needed to be applied to policies, procedures, techniques, weapons, and equipment. To do this, specific procedures, methodologies, and management tools were devised to evaluate proposed changes, track the status of those changes, and maintain an inventory of system and support documents as these changes were implemented. All of this allowed officials to evaluate a situation more comprehensively, thereby making more informed and responsible decisions.
CM was thus traditionally a purely manual task that relied heavily on physical documentation.
Modern CM for ICT
Taking these principles and applying them to an ICT environment is a logical step, especially given the interconnected nature of networked systems and services. The result is what is commonly referred to as IT Systems Management (ITSM). ITSM involves a focused series of principles for designing, planning, delivering, operating, and controlling ICT systems. In other words, ITSM is CM for ICT.
ITSM includes, but is not limited to, the following aspects:
- Configuration maintenance – Keeping track of the configurations of network devices including routers, switches, voice gateways, IP PBXs, IP telephony endpoints, and network servers. This also involves keeping a record of who made what changes to what system and when.
- System updates and upgrades – Keeping a record of operating system and firmware updates, as well as upgrades to new systems or software.
- Performance management – Maintaining a record of the performance of a network and its services over time.
- Additional aspects include security management, policy management, capacity management, fault management, and accounting management.
Because of the nature of ICT, it is possible—and actually essential—for much of the CM process to be automated. Automation facilitates the real-time implementation of checks and redundancies that reduce the probability of omissions due to human error and maintains the accuracy for keeping assets in an optimized state. Automation is also valuable because it improves the efficiency of a system, detects possible problems in the interoperability between systems, and can be extremely useful in preventative maintenance.
Chef, Puppet, Ansible, and Python are just some of the tools used to accomplish the automation necessary for CM.
In practice, CM is capable of immediately answering the following questions:
- What ICT services are currently running?
- What states are those services in?
- How did they get to their current states?
- When were changes last made, what were they, by whom were they implemented, and what affect did they have on the enterprise’s ICT infrastructure?
Some of the benefits that come from the use of CM include:
- Faster disaster recovery
- Improved uptime and systems reliability
- Enhanced network design and scaling
- More responsible and informed decision-making
- Lower costs
How and when to implement CM
In order to determine if you require it, you must look at the following characteristics:
- How large is your enterprise? CM is only cost effective if you have a large enough enterprise with enough interdependent systems to warrant the time and money spent on a CM strategy.
- How often does your ICT infrastructure fail? How much time is your ICT department spending on troubleshooting problems? If it’s more than a quarter of their man-hours, CM is worth considering.
- How clear of a picture do you have of the current state of your ICT infrastructure? If it’s just a black box to you, it may be time to consider a CM strategy.
There are many ways to implement a CM strategy, and there are many different tools and processes involved. For this reason, establishing a CM strategy requires the aid of experts, but the benefits are well worth it.
As voice, data, and network services continue to evolve, the intricacies of their interdependence—as well as their complexity—will increase. Implementing a CM strategy for your ICT infrastructure will help you handle the complexities involved, enabling you to make more informed and responsible decisions regarding ICT implementation.
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