CONFIGURATION MANAGEMENT: All You Need To Know

configuration management

Configuration management is a crucial component of a successful technology platform. Excellent tech executives will want to know what it takes to implement it. The primary goal of configuration management is to categorize this data so that you can act swiftly and confidently. Configuration management is utilized in many project management methodologies, but it is particularly important in the context of software development.
Let’s go over the definition of configuration management as it relates to development and the tools that you use to implement it in your organization.

What is Configuration Management?

Configuration management is the process of categorizing and tracking an organization’s physical and virtual systems, as well as the metadata associated with these assets. Configuration management is used in software development to optimize application configurations for production environments in order to reduce downtime.

Capturing the metadata for an organization’s multiple systems is a major focus of configuration management. In this manner, the development team knows not only what servers are accessible, but also which operating systems each server is running to match the operating requirements of their application.

Secrets such as passwords and API keys, endpoints for external connections such as APIs, and compute specs such as RAM needs are other instances of configuration metadata.

It is equally concerned with the inventorying of systems and their metadata, as well as the tracking of any modifications made to these assets. If the smartphone model suddenly changes in the hypothetical case, you must be informed so that you may adjust your search for the appropriate charger. For their software configurations, development, and operations teams require the same level of expertise.

Why is Configuration Management Important?

For many teams, configuration management has historically been a secondary responsibility. Configuration data is not typically saved in core databases or version control systems. When it comes to the operations portion of the DevOps cycle, configuration data is crucial.
It’s easier to appreciate the significance of configuration management if you first consider what would happen if it didn’t exist.

The Price of Inadequate or Nonexistent Configuration Management

The lack of a consolidated knowledge base is a significant disadvantage of a software development lifecycle without configuration management. The metadata for the many systems that comprise the production environment may be spread across multiple files and workstations, resulting in crucial information such as API keys and passwords becoming dispersed. Finding this data slows down the pipeline.

Another disadvantage of this lack of visibility is that it is difficult to match the testing environment for an application to the production environment where it will live. This mismatch jeopardizes the quality of performance testing since the operational settings while the program is live may differ significantly from those in the demo environment. Worse, a misconfiguration in the software may prohibit it from being deployed to production.

Misconfigurations harm performance and can lead to non-compliance. For example, if data is stored outside of the allowed database, the application may break data privacy requirements. Alternatively, if a development team lacks an accurate inventory, they may be unable to appropriately track which software has been updated on which systems, violating cybersecurity standards and creating vulnerabilities.

Excellent Configuration Management Benefits

DevOps teams benefit greatly from configuration management. As demonstrated in the preceding section, the visibility it provides is crucial to developing a unified catalog of systems and services that the team can account for when developing and maintaining applications.

Documentation is a key component of this visibility, according to configuration management. This facilitates new engineer onboarding and guarantees that others can quickly learn the operational environment in order to be more effective in emergencies where rapid response is needed.

The analysis of the production environment and ensuring that the test environment matches are both simple processes thanks to configuration management. This reduces the risk of deployments because the application is more likely to execute as planned and the tests run against it are representative of actual software demands. When application downtime has a monetary impact, it is recommended practice to minimize risk factors whenever possible.

Finally, it helps with disaster recovery in the event of an outage or other unforeseen incident. Traceability is a basic element of configuration management, thus it’s relatively simple to roll back an upgrade to the latest known stable version of the software. This enables the program to continue performing business responsibilities while the team works on a long-term solution.

Now that you understand the benefits of excellent configuration management, let’s look at how you might implement it in your firm.

What Does a Configuration Management Strategy Look Like?

A configuration management plan focuses on four areas. Let’s go over each one.

#1. Discovery

Inventorying existing systems is the initial step. Cataloging should take place in all contexts important to the testing and operation of your application. The discovery process will next turn to collect the metadata of your identified items into a single central repository. This single source of truth will store this data in data files, with great care taken to encrypt any sensitive data, such as passwords and keys, before saving it.

#2. Benchmark

After the discovery process is complete, you can analyze the assembled configuration data to create a baseline for successful operation. In other words, the benchmark is a baseline of the configurations required for the program to perform properly. These parameters can be found by inspecting a running application and its surroundings.

#3. Version Control

Configuration management includes version control extensively. Using a version control system like Git and tracking your configuration data files will result in a verifiable history of any changes done. Version control also makes it easier to roll back to an earlier version if an upgrade disrupts the application.

#4. Review

A separate but important advantage of using a version control system is that it allows you to keep your configuration data in the same repository as your code, preventing unauthorized changes. You can limit editing capabilities to specific team members and design an approval process so that any configuration changes require prior approval before being rolled out to the application.

Because the entire team can examine the configuration files in the repository, this promotes accountability, eliminates risks, and facilitates cooperation.

How Configuration Management Ties Into DevOps, Continuous Delivery, and Other Technologies…

By now, you should have a good understanding of what configuration management is and what it strives to do. Before we examine tooling, I’d like to explore how configuration management fits in with other software development concepts such as agile, DevOps, continuous integration, continuous delivery, and Docker so that you can understand how these concepts fit in with configuration management ideas.

Is Agile Compatible With Configuration Management?

Yes. Agile software, by definition, represents a desire to make changes to our software more quickly in order to adapt to market demands. Configuration management enables us to maintain high velocity while safely managing changes.

Configuration Management and DevOps: How Do They Fit?

DevOps is the application of agile concepts to both the development and operations divisions. In fact, DevOps aims to align the objectives of both departments. At some companies, the development department pursues change, whereas the operations department seeks stability. Companies who embrace DevOps, on the other hand, seek both the stability of their deployed assets and the frequency of change. Yet, reaching this result will necessitate a cultural shift.

Configuration management, like agile, offers teams the confidence to make changes rapidly. The organization assigns management tasks to the development teams under agile principles, empowering them to provide, configure, and maintain their own infrastructure. You construct it, and you operate it.

Where Do Pipelines Fit in Configuration Management?

Software pipelines (or “value stream,” which we may design with tools like Plutora) are the stages that we typically automate to move code from commit to production. Pipelines typically include phases like linting code, unit testing code, integration testing code, and artifact creation.

A software pipeline is consequently a type of configuration management. When we build software using tools like Docker, we codify our build instructions in a Dockerfile. This allows us to better understand the dependencies of our artifacts.

Is Configuration Management of Infrastructure-as-Code a Real Thing?

Infrastructure-as-code (or IaC) is the practice of ensuring that all infrastructure provisioning is done through code. The goal of IaC is to keep a documented record of which services exist, where they are located, and under what conditions they are available. Configuration management may decide to use components of IaC to have a complete grasp of all the technology assets owned by an organization.

Do You Have Continuous Integration/Delivery Configuration Management?

The process of guaranteeing that software is always in a releasable form is known as continuous delivery. This can be accomplished by extensive automation and testing. Continuous integration is the process of often bringing disparate software artifacts together in a single location to ensure that the code integrates successfully. Continuous integration tools, which are often servers that execute automation-testing suites, work as a sort of configuration management by providing visibility into the procedures required to set up and configure a specific software asset.

That should answer some of your remaining questions regarding how configuration management aligns with methods or ideas you may be employing or are familiar with. Any discussion on configuration management, however, would be inadequate without a discussion of tooling. Therefore, let’s have a look at the various tools available to us for implementing configuration management.

Configuration Management Tools

#1. Git

Git is the industry-leading version control solution for tracking code changes. Including configuration management data with code in a Git repository provides a comprehensive version control view of a whole project. Git is a fundamental tool for higher-level configuration management. The following list of alternative configuration management tools is intended to be kept in a Git repository and to use Git version control tracking.

#2. Docker

Containerization, like a configuration lockdown, is an advanced form of configuration management offered by Docker. Docker is based on configuration files called Dockerfiles, which include a list of commands that are assessed to reconstruct the intended snapshot of the operating system state. Docker generates containers from these Dockerfiles, which are snapshots of a preset application. Dockerfiles are committed to a Git repository for version control and require extra configuration management before they can be deployed on an infrastructure.

#3. Terraform

HasiCorp’s Terraform is an open-source configuration management platform. IaC is used by Terraform to provision and manage clusters, cloud infrastructure, and services. AWS, Microsoft Azure, and other cloud platforms are supported by Terraform.

Each cloud platform has its own representation and interface for basic infrastructure components such as servers, database servers, and queues. Terraform created an abstraction layer of configuration tools for cloud platforms. The configuration tools allow teams to produce files that are reproducible descriptions of their infrastructure.

#4. Chef, Puppet, Ansible, Salt Stack

IT automation frameworks include Ansible, Salt Stack, Chef, and Puppet. Several typical system administrator processes are automated by these frameworks. Each framework employs a set of configuration data files, typically YAML or XML, which are analyzed by an executable.

The configuration data files outline the steps to be taken to configure a system. The executable then performs the actions. The language of the executable varies amongst the platforms; Ansible and Salt Stack are Python-based, whereas Chef is Ruby-based. This method is analogous to running ad-hoc shell scripts, but it provides a more structured and refined experience through the ecosystems of the respective platforms.

These tools will provide the automation required to achieve CI/CD.

How Can One Get Started With Configuration Management?

Of course, you can’t move from “zero” to “desired condition” in an instant. In fact, before you choose a configuration management system, you should first determine why you need one. Here’s how to get started with configuration management:

  • Begin by compiling manual checklists and documentation into a common grouping of configuration options that exist on all (or most) systems. Focusing your configuration management efforts on the most prevalent patterns initially can help you save the most human labor and deliver rapid automation benefits to your firm.
  • Check that monitoring, anti-virus, and other commonly used software are included in the checklist.
  • To develop reusable pieces of infrastructure as code, categorize systems depending on what needs to change to make them specific to specific applications, geographic locations, or other categories.
  • Choose a configuration management system.

Conclusion

That’s all there is to it! Hopefully, this clarifies your understanding of configuration management. It’s all about keeping track of the current state of your software and infrastructure.

There are numerous approaches to implementing configuration management, as well as numerous tools and procedures. Hence, when it comes to strategy, take your time evaluating choices and determining how you want your configuration management procedures to function.
Yet it will all be worth it in the end. If you get your configuration management right, your teams will be safer, more productive, and able to make changes more quickly!

Good luck, and from now on, audit, track, and write everything as code!

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