“Change is the only constant” is especially true in the Information Technology space. There are many drivers to changes in the IT infrastructure space including newer application, need for productivity improvements, service level management etc. As per Wikipedia – “Configuration management (CM) is a field of management that focuses on establishing and maintaining consistency of a system or product’s performance and its functional and physical attributes with its requirements, design, and operational information throughout its life.”
In the context of IT infrastructure, especially for servers, networking equipment, applications there are many facets for configuration management such as – Planning and Design, Management, Discovery / Identification of the configuration, Verification, Control and Remediation. An IT organization has to deal with all the aspects of configuration management and based on the maturity of a specific organization they can be at different levels. With so much emphasis (rightly so) on regulatory compliance it has become even more important.
There are a wide variety of tools to address each of the aspects of configuration management. Many of the organizations may already possess some if not all the tools for managing the infrastructure.
One of the tools I have worked over a number of years from its beginning is SMS (System Management Server) from Microsoft. Even though this application does not suffice to all the needs of change management it has played a key role in managing primarily Windows based infrastructure. With every new release, this application has made great strides and the forthcoming release of System Center (for now called as Configuration Manager v.Next) has many interesting and exciting capabilities.
The current version of this application SCCM (System Center Configuration Manager 2007) has many capabilities including discovery, reporting, and enforcement. It allows you to build building blocks called ‘Configuration Items” which represent a desired object setting or configuration. This can include things like registry settings, file system objects (Files / Folders/ Permissions), OS Settings etc. These items can be grouped to build logical collections called baselines. Microsoft and many other vendors have already developed these baselines in Configuration packs which make it much easier to use them and compare against an existing infrastructure.
This feature also comes with many built in reports for reporting purposes. These reports can report on many aspects including existing configuration and drifts against a baseline. The one feature it lacks is in the enforcement area. Even though the drifts can be managed using packages but they are not automated and as integrated as one would have liked. The next release is set to include some automation capabilities.
DCM is only one of the components in SCCM and it includes other capabilities such as Application and patch deployment, Asset management, Metering, Power Management, and OS deployment. It also includes integration with other products such as Forefront Security and Network Access Protection.
There are many third party applications in this space including tools from Quest, Solar winds, Manage Engine and some higher end products from CA, BMC, DELL, Novell, HP, and IBM. These products vary vastly in the capabilities they provide so it is important to clearly define what is expected from the product. Every organization embracing tools in this space needs to develop a comprehensive strategy which should include consideration for components like configuration management database to fulfill their vision.
Prakash Patil is a Senior Consultant at Zensar.