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The 6-Step Guide to Configuration Management

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Configuration management is defined as the process of consistently maintaining a product’s functionality and performance quality throughout its shelf life by making timely reconfigurations to its internal systems – which makes configuration management a subset of systems engineering. This article explains the configuration management process and shares the six best tools you can use for this purpose.

What Is Configuration Management?

Configuration management consistently maintains a product’s functionality and performance quality throughout its shelf life by making timely reconfigurations to its internal systems – which makes configuration management a subset of systems engineering. 

The origins of the configuration management discipline can be traced back to the military, particularly the United States Department of Defense, operating in the 1950s. It created configuration management (sometimes abbreviated as CM) to extend the shelf life of hardware equipment without compromising its integrity over time. 

In the next few decades, the US military developed a set of standards called the 480 series, which would govern how it maintained technical equipment. Eventually, the 480 series was consolidated into a single standard and slowly evolved into the ANSI–EIA–649, the National Consensus Standard for Configuration Management, in 1998. 

This brief history of configuration management tells us that the discipline originated in the technical materials sector and was gradually adopted by the software development industry to maintain software quality across its lifecycle. CM is now essential to project management and DevOps since it regulates how application changes are rolled out over time, the models and frameworks to follow, and the dependencies involved. 

For these reasons, configuration management is often closely regulated by organizations such as the ISO, depending on the region. Using existing CM models and frameworks, enterprises can have one-off or ongoing CM programs to test, address, and strengthen software integrity issues. As the pace of digital transformation accelerates, configuration management is more critical than ever. Frequent reconfiguration and realignment of applications, software services, and IT infrastructure are necessary to keep the entire technical landscape functional. This, in a nutshell, is the purpose of configuration management. 

See More: What Is Version Control? Meaning, Tools, and Advantages

Understanding the objectives of configuration management 

To achieve the general purpose discussed above, configuration management addresses the following goals: 

  • Consolidating projects: A typical organization will have multiple software and service projects at any time. Configuration management brings the records of all these projects together in one place to simplify their management and maintenance. 
  • Supporting changes to source code: Using configuration management, DevOps engineers and infrastructure management teams can access the source code to make timely changes. It provides a single pane of glass for maximum visibility and enables changes in a well-orchestrated manner. 
  • Keeping records of changes: CM processes ensure a comprehensive record of all the changes made to an application over time, the reasons why they were made, and the impact on performance. 
  • Measuring integrity and improvements: Configuration management establishes a baseline of performance that the software must adhere to across its shelf life. Therefore, as changes are made, one must be able to measure how it improves performance and provides the user with a better experience over time. 
  • Maintaining application versions: In some cases, CM frameworks can support multiple versions of the same software using different configurations. This makes reconciling configuration changes, working between releases, and rolling out multiple changes parallelly, more straightforward. 

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Configuration Management Process

Configuration management is the process of maintaining computer networks, databases, and software in a consistent, planned condition. The goal is to have a mechanism in place to monitor and evaluate changes made to a system throughout its development and determine who made these modifications. This is a multidisciplinary activity involving almost every software development team member. Some of the key stakeholders in the configuration management process are:

  • Software developers: During production, developers are responsible for creating code and implementing authorized change requests.
  • Configuration manager: Throughout the development process, the configuration manager is responsible for identifying who is accountable for what. They ensure that everyone adheres to the set procedure throughout the project’s duration and have the ultimate word on any modification requests.
  • Project manager: The project manager’s (PM) function is equally crucial. They establish the project’s timeline to ensure completion dates are met and to create reports on the team’s progress. Another essential duty of the PM is to guarantee that every team member adheres to the set criteria for creating, modifying, and testing the program.
  • Auditor: This person is responsible for all reviews and audits and must ensure that the final version is consistent and comprehensive.

Together, these stakeholders execute the following steps:

1. Envision, plan, and brainstorm

Configuration management starts at the beginning of a project when the project management strategy is created. In this phase, the objective is to plan the evolution of the software or infrastructure initiative and establish its scope. This is achieved by holding discussions and brainstorming workshops with your team to determine fundamental requirements for the remainder of the project. The configuration management procedure and strategy are defined/recorded, so everyone knows what is occurring and what is anticipated.

2. Identify config items, tasks, and deliverables

Each object requiring configuration management is assigned a unique identifier for tracking purposes. The PM is ultimately responsible for configuration management, although someone else may maintain the items’ follow-up matrix and version control. This procedure includes determining the project’s progression and defining its completion requirements. Thus, your team can detect when all project objectives have been accomplished. Identifiable configuration objects may comprise project documentation, test cases, requirements for the specification, and code modules.

3. Arrive at the baseline

Most configuration management technologies will automatically scan the IT environment and provide the required data to construct a configuration management baseline. This is a fixed collection of system settings used to detect changes. The baseline phase assures the product’s ongoing integrity by establishing an acceptable software version. The purpose of this stage is to manage the alterations made to the software. As the project progresses, new baselines are developed, resulting in many software versions.

4. Adopt change control and keep detailed records

Change control is the process used to guarantee that any modifications are compatible with the remainder of the project. These procedures contribute to quality assurance and new baseline data (s) release. In this stage, configuration change requests are presented to the team and authorized or refused by the software configuration supervisor. 

Adding or editing configuration items or changing user rights are the most frequent requests. In addition, configuration records must be strictly governed to provide a complete audit trail between the initial demand and the final version.

5. Maintain accountability of item status

The next stage is to check that the project is proceeding according to schedule by testing and validating against predefined baselines. Configuration status accounting monitors each version issued throughout the process, evaluating what’s new in each version and why modifications were required. You should be able to determine if an object is Active, Completed, In Process, Checked Out (and by whom), or any other status you assign. 

Monitoring the progress and settlement of all change requests are also included. One must be able to provide information on the project’s assets, often in terms of what is ready and where it is located, as well as on its finances, including expense, budgeting, depreciation, etc.

6. Perform audits

Auditing verifies the actual configuration components (whatever they may be) and matches the expected configuration elements at any given moment. Many configuration management initiatives run into trouble when they lose track of tangible assets (such as material, supplies, code, or even other configuration assets) or when the deliverables’ physical attributes (metadata) deviate from what was anticipated. The auditing procedure verifies that the configuration parts conform to your specifications. These assumptions are derived from the initial baseline, and any change requests handled so far.

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Top 6 Configuration Management Tools

Various solutions are available to aid in the software configuration management procedure. The objective of these technologies is to automate typically manual activities, enhancing precision, speed, and command.

A reliable configuration management technology will provide warnings and reports for any deviations from the baseline. They will enable the identification of configuration discrepancies. Change auditing is also possible by observing script outputs. Some of the most effective configuration management solutions now available (including free and commercial choices) include:

1. CFEngine 

The CFEngine configuration management solution automates the packaging and deployment of software into the operational IT environment of a company. Its primary purpose is to automate the setup and maintenance of large-scale computer systems, such as the administration of servers, workstations, retail and industrial devices, integrated network hardware, etc. 

One of the basic concepts of CFEngine is that users must implement modifications to computer configuration in a convergent way. Instead of describing the procedures required to implement a fix, CFEngine language provides the desired result.

2. Otter 

Inedo’s software product Otter is an infrastructure automation solution. Utilizing Infrastructure as Code (IaC) for configuration management, Otter was developed exclusively for Windows. The web-based user interface of Otter has a simple drag-and-drop editor. Users may switch between code and text mode as necessary. Otter enables users to simulate the config, monitor for drift, schedule updates, and verify consistency to automate configuration management.

3. Puppet

IT managers utilize the open-source Puppet configuration tool to identify system components, continuously discover information, and generate dependency inventories. It is developed in Ruby and stores data in a declarative language similar to JSON

It is sufficiently scalable to fulfill the demands of enterprises and organizations of all sizes. Strong user contributions are made to the source code. Puppet is mostly used for big infrastructures that have access to adequate documentation and community assistance. It is built on Ruby and employs a domain scripting language that is readily executable on any computer that supports Ruby.

4. CHEF Configuration Tool

Chef configures software and data on computers, with an emphasis on cloud and server virtual machine installations. It is a platform for automation that provides an appropriate approach for building and controlling the infrastructure. Chef sees the infrastructure like a code and the setup machines as a “recipe,” ensuring that the infrastructure remains compliant and up-to-date. Each recipe is recorded in a “cookbook,” where it is regarded as a separate work. Chef differentiates itself as a solution that helps you build software with fewer bugs and more service resilience. 

5. ConfigHub

ConfigHub facilitates the management, protection, and delivery of settings across the stack. This tool enables the storage, administration, and distribution of software settings for a single app or distributed system. ConfigHub has created world-class dynamic configuration context support. It leads the way in developing host-independent topologies by isolating app instances from their essential configuration data. Using context, ConfigHub removes duplicate files and key values.

6. Salt

Salt is a configuration and execution management application designed to handle hundreds of thousands of systems and IT assets. It prioritizes rapid data collection and utilizes Python to hold configuration information and perform actions. State files are used by Salt to define a platform and its settings in order to maintain the intended state. A client-server design is used to improve the performance of the utility.

See More: Top 10 DevOps Automation Tools in 2021

Importance of Configuration Management

Historically, configuration management was an afterthought for many teams. Traditionally, configuration data is not saved in version control or core databases. Nonetheless, configuration data is essential for the operations portion of the DevOps lifecycle. By adopting a robust configuration management process, it is possible to:

1. Centralize the project’s associated knowledge base

Lack of a centralized knowledge base is a fundamental disadvantage of a software development lifecycle (SDLC) that does not include configuration management. Metadata for the many systems comprising the development environment may be dispersed over several files and workstations, resulting in the dispersion of vital information such as API keys and passwords. Configuration management helps track this information easily and prevents delays in software development.

2. Simplify the learning curve for new stakeholders and developers

Configuration management offers several benefits to DevOps teams. It is essential for generating a single catalog of systems and services, so the team can better maintain them while designing and maintaining applications since it provides visibility. As part of this emphasis on visibility, configuration management prioritizes accurate documentation. 

This facilitates the onboarding of new engineers and guarantees that others can rapidly comprehend the operational environment in order to be more successful in crisis situations when a prompt reaction is essential.

3. Making testing more efficient

Configuration management also implies that analyzing the development environment and ensuring that the test environment is identical is a simple task. This reduces deployment risk since the program is more certain to execute as predicted, and the tests conducted against it are indicative of the software’s actual delivery areas.

4. Achieving scalability and reliability

Provisioning is the process of adding new resources (often servers) to an application that is already functioning. Users of configuration management are aware of a service’s optimal condition. When users wish to expand the quanta of servers they operate, they may do so by clicking a button or executing a script. 

The objective is to make provisioning irrelevant. Configuration management guarantees that assets and products are readily recovered should the worst occur. Configuration management enables a rollback to the state of software prior to a modification in the event that faulty code is deployed.

5. Reconcile changes and re-configurations

This is the most important benefit of configuration management. In agile software delivery, frequently, configuration values will be added, deleted, or altered. Without version control, this may lead to complications. One team member may modify a hardware allocation value to ensure that the program works more effectively on their own computer. This new setting may have a poor impact or fail when the program is eventually deployed to the production environment.

This issue is resolved by versioning control and configuration management, which provide insights into configuration modification changes. The version control system maintains changes to configuration data, allowing team members to evaluate an audit trail of adjustments.

6. Reduce costs and risks

In contrast to proactive measures taken before a problem emerges, an absence of upkeep, and care for details might offer greater hazards in the future. Constant system maintenance, record-keeping, and error-prevention checks that avoid duplication and omissions all contribute to the cost-effectiveness of configuration management. 

The system’s structured record keeping ensures time savings for IT departments and minimizes the number of funds that may be lost by the business since the expenditure is reduced on addressing frequent or unnecessary problems. With an improved system, the threat of future litigation for data breaches is also minimized.

See More: DevOps vs. Agile Methodology: Key Differences and Similarities 


In recent years, configuration management has evolved in leaps and bounds — and configuration changes can now be deployed remotely using just a few lines of code. From software development to cloud computing services and IT infrastructure, configuration management plays an important role in the upkeep of all things digital. That is why it is so important to use the best CM tools and platforms in the market, so you can deliver reliable functionalities throughout a product’s shelf life. 

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