What Is Configuration Management: Importance and Best Practices

Optimize software deployment and version control with this configuration management tutorial. Discover more!

Testμ Conference

OVERVIEW

Configuration management, or CM, is an approach to maintaining software systems, servers, applications, network devices, and additional IT components in a predefined and desired condition. This ensures the software system works as intended, even amidst numerous alterations over time.

With the aid of configuration management tools, administrators can establish a software system, such as a server or workstation, and subsequently replicate the same settings across other servers and workstations. By utilizing configuration assessments and drift analyses, teams continuously detect instances where systems have deviated from the intended state, thereby necessitating updates, reconfigurations, or patches to realign them.

The world is witnessing advances in software technologies and their development, which has increased the system's complexity and impacted its management. This advancement in technology is shaping the way software organizations work, which ultimately increases the need to manage complex systems and their configuration.

When it comes to managing complex systems, it means overseeing the interplay of various interconnected components, including software applications, hardware devices, and network infrastructure. Due to the multiple layers, modules, and dependencies of such systems, their configuration becomes complex and prone to error.

CM has become crucial for the organization to be at the pace of this competitive market. It allows them to effectively control and manage the configuration items of the software system throughout its life cycle. Example of such configuration items includes hardware, software, documentation, and elements.

What is Configuration Management?

Configuration management is a process used in systems engineering to monitor and regulate IT resources and services across an organization. It directs the software organization to develop and perform the processes, approaches, services, and resources needed for supporting complex systems.

The primary objective of CM is to ensure that the organization clearly understands how its technology assets are set up and how they are interconnected. It is applied to a variety of systems, including:

  • Servers
  • Databases and other storage systems
  • Operating systems
  • Networking
  • Applications
  • Software

The CM process involves identifying and keeping track of individual configuration items while documenting their functional capabilities and interdependencies. Organizations employ configuration management tools that provide alerts when necessary to maintain a desired configuration state for each item and promptly address any configuration issues.

Over time, the roles and applications of CM have expanded. Today, it goes beyond managing physical enterprise hardware, such as compute, storage, and network components, and encompasses progressive practices like software-driven infrastructures and DevOps methodologies.

Why Configuration Management Matters?

In any organization, various types of software applications and systems are used, including networks, storage, servers, clouds, and others. The organization needs to set up the system correctly and execute regular and absolute maintenance to prevent the incurring of high costs in the future due to internal errors.

To explain this, system misconfiguration is one of the most critical cybersecurity issues that make the organization vulnerable to data breaches. One of the primary reasons for the issue is the lack of CM.

No matter how big the issue is, even minor inconsistencies and errors in configuring the IT systems can cause configuration drift. This will slow down the system, risk security, and even cause outages. The best solution to mitigate the issue is software configuration management. This involves implementing a clear approach to documentation, change control, and maintenance. With this, you can ensure that systems are configured consistently and accurately across complex environments.

Note

Note : Test your websites across 3000+ environments. Try LambdaTest Now!

Benefits of Software Configuration Management

CM is highly valued by organizations because it allows administrators and software developers to comprehend the impact of a change in one configuration item on other items in the system. From a business perspective, software configuration management plays a crucial role in ensuring effective compliance. Here are some of its key benefits.

  • Provides an underlying consistency to the IT environment
  • Consider a traditional data center packed with numerous physical servers, network switches, storage devices, and more. Both IT personnel and business executives must have a clear insight into the exact components present in this environment and ensure that each device, operating system, and application is configured correctly and according to the desired standards.

    In fact, they may even run measures to maintain a consistent configuration across the board. As a result, CM plays a critical role in setting uniformity within the IT environment. When a device requires maintenance or replacement, having an established configuration serves as a reference point that can be preserved and applied to the replacement devices


  • Keeps the data secure in a central server
  • CM allows the user to store crucial data on the central servers, giving access to all the organization's employees. It is mainly beneficial to the employees who work remotely as any update or changes done in the document become live, and all employees can access those changes. If, in any case, there is a power outage or shutdown in any location of the organization, the data in the central server remain safe and secure with a backup for later use.


  • Mitigate information overload by implementing role-based access controls
  • Organizational leaders find themselves investing a significant amount of time in searching for the correct information to make business decisions. By utilizing CM, managers can customize dashboards to meet their specific needs and gain role-based access to the data that matters most. This approach prevents information overload and delegates managers to make decisions and execute projects efficiently.


  • Service delivery
  • Consistency, which involves consistently performing tasks in the same manner, directly contributes to the quality of service (QoS) and the delivery of services. In this regard, CM plays a vital role. Service delivery ensures that the environment and the hardware and software operating within it function as expected.

    Consider a traditional data center packed with numerous physical servers, network switches, storage devices, and more. Both IT personnel and business executives must have a clear insight into the exact components present in this environment and ensure that each device, operating system, and application is configured correctly and according to the desired standards.


  • Regulatory compliance
  • CM has a significant role in regulatory compliance. You can understand compliance as following the rules, requirements, or directives set by a governing authority, whether it's a reputable standards organization like ANSI or ISO, an industry association, or a government body.

    However, it is worth noting that only software configuration management is not responsible for regulatory above compliance. But, if the organization follows the CM mechanisms for discovering, preserving, and auditing the configuration across infrastructure, it can show support for the compliance effort of the organization.


  • Gain real-time customized reports and insights
  • Configuration prevents information overload by tailoring different reports from business intelligence (BI) and delivering accurate information to the appropriate individuals of the organization. In real-time, it offers managers a comprehensive outlook of reports, such as teams, departments, roles, and more.

    For example, if a resource manager desires to view the resources under their supervision, they can achieve this by employing suitable sorting methods such as project + teams and so on. This type of real-time data empowers managers to make timely decisions, enhance operational efficiency, and accomplish projects successfully.


  • Helps in creating different portals, and sort-bys
  • Configuration allows administrators to add, edit, update, and delete various portals. With this, it becomes easy to include new or existing users in the relevant portal. Let us understand this with an example. In an organization, there are several hierarchies and structures that include project managers and resource managers. If there is a need to expand the managerial position, it can be effortlessly executed and added to the portal with the correct access permission.

    In the same way, the manager can use sort-bys features to retrieve information from different departments and teams. Configuration helps to add as many sort-Bys based on their desire.


  • Boosts project delivery through streamlined business processes
  • To make the business’s operation efficient and streamlined, the organization opts for new software technologies and implements advanced software methodologies. With software configuration management of the dashboard, reports, and portals, they can access real-time data about the status of the projects and resources. This lead to enhancing the business process as a decision on project delivery can be taken proactively with less scope of human error.


  • Makes it easier to scale up businesses
  • When a business grows, it demands more advanced tools and software to manage its data and streamline its needs. CM, in this case, helps to ensure that businesses do not invest more in having new software as the existing database grows.

    Further, it also ensures that with increased resources, the database successfully integrates that information without any data loss.

    By ignoring the advantages of consistency, security, service delivery, and compliance support offered by CM, an enterprise operating without a CM plan exposes itself to numerous risk areas. Let us learn about those in more detail.

...

Risks of Not Using Configuration Management

The consequences of ignoring CM for software systems can be catastrophic for any business. It is essential to carefully manage systems by maintaining tracking logs of changes made, ensuring traceability. Failure to do so puts organizations at risk of system outages, data leaks, and data breaches.

Assume an IT environment lacking configuration management: A data center runs workloads, yet IT administrators and business leaders lack a centralized and reliable source of information regarding the hardware and software landscape across the enterprise. While some staff members may possess partial knowledge of the hardware and software setups, they are required to physically inspect each element in the data center to determine its existing configuration. Furthermore, there is no standardized approach for establishing a proper setup.

The absence of a clear and comprehensive inventory of hardware and software leaves IT teams uncertain about the presence and operation of elements within the environment. Every task must be executed manually, involving identifying hardware and software components and reviewing and managing their configurations. However, this becomes an impractical feat in modern IT environments.

Without an established and documented configuration standard, an organization cannot guarantee adequate security, service performance, or compliance without resorting to time-consuming manual audits.

Another well-known risk that businesses face is the threat of cyberattacks. These attacks risk not only an organization's internal information but also that of its customers, potentially violating GDPR regulations. Furthermore, neglecting CM increases a business's vulnerability to unplanned downtime, resulting in additional costs, missed deadlines, and wasted hours attempting to rectify errors.

How Does Configuration Management Work?

In practice, CM operates in different areas. For example, it is involved in activities like creating a software pipeline. Here, it is executed by automating the building and testing of software artifacts. Also, CM is related to writing “infrastructure-as-code” to capture in code the current state of the infrastructure.

If we look further, CM is also involved in using tools like Ansible, Puppet, and others for better storing and managing servers' working and current state. This allows the administrators and other stakeholders to configure and easily maintain the configuration server.

For a CM system to operate, it requires a means to store the information it manages. Initially, this storage mechanism was called the configuration management database (CMDB). However, with the introduction of ITIL v3, the concept of a configuration management system (CMS) was introduced to replace the CMDB.

The CMDB emphasizes a single, centralized repository, whereas the CMS presents a conceptualized system of interconnected CMDBs that collaborate to meet the compliance process requirements. Both approaches offer advantages over using a static CM spreadsheet or a text file that necessitates extensive manual maintenance and cannot integrate core workflows and best practices.

Configuration Management Process

Configuration management involves a series of procedures where a team of configuration managers, software developers, and auditors collaboratively oversee its implementation.

Let's learn each step outlined below.

  • Configuration identification
  • This is the initial phase of CM and determines the extent of software that requires configuration. The activities involved in this process include:

    • Identifying configuration items such as source code, test cases, etc.
    • Estimating the necessary resources for the configuration, such as specific tools, files, documents, etc.
    • Recognizing the software configuration items.
    • Creating a comprehensive list of configuration details, explaining the reasons, what changes are needed, how they will be made when they occur, and who will be responsible for the modifications.

    Configuration identification begins by understanding the user's needs and ensuring they are feasible and aligned with the existing tool.


  • Configuration control
  • In this step, changes or configurations are submitted to the configuration manager, who oversees the process of modifying the product or documentation. The following questions guide the process:

    • Who controls the changes made to the product?
    • Which items are being configured?
    • How are these changes implemented and controlled?

    Configuration control also verifies if the requested changes align with the baseline (ensuring feasibility within the existing platform) and checks for any significant impacts on other items.


  • Configuration status accounting
  • Once the changes are implemented, it is essential to track the new version of the software and evaluate how the alterations have affected the existing one. The tasks involved in status accounting are as follows:

    • Maintaining a record of changes made from the previous code or software to reach the new version
    • Identifying the configured items.
    • In addition to recording and reporting, status accounting also includes details such as the specific time of the changes, the individuals responsible for making them, the modified components, and their impact.
  • Configuration verification and audit
  • Configuration verification and auditing are the final stages in the CM process. After implementing the changes, the auditor verifies if the end product matches the desired outcome. Configuration verification includes:

    • Confirming the accuracy of the configured items.
    • Assessing and monitoring the newly implemented changes.
    • Evaluating the effectiveness of the entire process.

    A configuration auditor oversees the entire auditing process, ensuring the CM objectives are successfully achieved and comply with the configuration standards.

How Much Does Configuration Management Cost?

Unfortunately, implementing CM comes at a cost. Firstly, you will require a CM system. The marketplace for such systems is dynamic, with a wide range of solutions available, including open-source projects and commercially available technologies from organizations like Microsoft and IBM.

Typically, the cost of these CM tools is based on the number of nodes (such as servers, databases, network devices, mobile devices, storage, virtual instances, and others) and varies depending on the node type. While open-source systems have made significant progress, it may not always be cost-effective to opt for a large vendor despite the additional expenses associated with their branding and sales team.

The second cost related to configuration management is human resources. This includes personnel, often contractors, with the necessary skills to establish CM processes and work with the tools. Additionally, you will need to consider training your existing staff to incorporate ongoing CM practices into your business operations effectively.

Change Request in Configuration Management

Even if configurations are thoroughly documented and strictly enforced, software configuration management needs to consider that changes occur periodically, such as software and hardware upgrades. It may be necessary to make infrastructure and architectural modifications to enhance security and improve performance.

As a result, change requests become an essential part of the CM practice. This could involve straightforward actions like opening a specific port on a firewall to accommodate a new feature in an application or relocating one or more busy servers within the local network to enhance the performance of other applications on the same subnet. Now let us understand CM in DevOps.

Role of Configuration Management in DevOps

In the realm of DevOps, software configuration management plays a crucial role. It is an essential practice for collaborative and quick software development. Configuring management allows software developers to efficiently create, test, and deploy builds with minimal oversight from the IT department. You may think, what is its other use? Basically, in DevOps with CM, you can automate different tasks and help the organization to enhance agility.

The process of CM involves assembling and integrating various components into a build. Each build undergoes distinct version designations before undergoing testing and deployment. Configuration management ensures that only specific components are used in the desired build, effectively tracking and managing the components. Typically, there are three main components included in CM required for DevOps:

  • Artifact repository: It is meant to store system files like binaries, test data, and libraries.
  • Source code repository: These are the database of source code that the developers mainly use. It is used as a container for all the working code.
  • Configuration management data architecture: It is related to the ITIL service management framework that helps in auditing the association between integrated systems before initiating configuration change.

CM is primarily responsible for three key aspects crucial to DevOps transformation: identification, control, and audit processes.

  • Identification: The identification phase involves the discovery and cataloging of configuration requirements across the entire system.
  • Control: Configuration control is where the significance of change management becomes evident. As configuration needs are likely to evolve, this phase ensures that changes occur in a controlled manner, avoiding disruptions to integrations and existing infrastructure.
  • Audit: Similar to other audit processes, a configuration audit involves reviewing the existing systems to ensure compliance with regulations and validations.

Just like DevOps, CM is integrated into both operational and development aspects within an organization. This intentional integration enables effective management throughout the entire Software Development Life Cycle.

Every build requires comprehensive testing on the development end, and CM can be leveraged to specify the necessary tools and test files for validating a particular build. When combined with automation, configuration management techniques significantly speed up the testing and release processes.

On the operational front, CM empowers developers to define an appropriate deployment environment for a build. This could entail creating and configuring virtual machines (VMs) or utilizing container management and orchestration tools to create and configure containers. It serves as a robust approach for managing deployments.

Throughout the entire process, CM offers comprehensive logging capabilities, aiding in tracking changes, auditing access, enforcing established configurations (such as specific versioned components), and maintaining security within the repository of components and builds. Certain outcomes can be expected when a system is appropriately configured and managed. Two of these outcomes include the implementation of Infrastructure-as-a-Code (IaaC) and Configuration-as-a-Code (CaaC).

  • Infrastructure-as-a-Code (IaaC): It is defined as using code and script for automating activities like computing servers and network configuration for DevOps action.
  • Configuration-as-a-Code (CaaC): It is referred to the use of code ad script for creating the standardized configuration of servers and network configuration.

CI/CD and Software Configuration Management

A CI/CD pipeline includes multiple testing and staging environments to ensure software quality before its release. To ensure both pipeline and tests function effectively, it is crucial that pre-production environments closely mimic the production environment and maintain consistency across test runs.

One approach to achieve this is by setting up a series of physical or virtual machines to host these environments. However, over time, as patches are applied, new packages are installed, or network settings are modified to troubleshoot specific issues, the servers deviate from their original configurations in various ways.

This leads to a series of unique servers, often referred to as "snowflake servers." Moreover, suppose the details of every single change are not recorded somewhere. In that case, it becomes challenging to recreate the same environment when a server fails or when replication is needed to scale testing operations. CM aims to address this problem.

By storing configuration details in a version control system, you gain visibility into any changes made, making it easier to revert them if something goes wrong and apply the same changes to other machines, ensuring consistency. If these configuration details are stored in a structured format, such as YAML or XML files, you can take configuration management a step further and automate server configuration. Once changes are committed to version control, they are automatically applied to the relevant environments.

Adopting an Infrastructure-as-a-Code approach enables the automatic tearing down and recreation of virtual machines. This allows you to refresh environments between deployments in your CI/CD pipeline, making it feasible to manage a large number of machines and effortlessly replicate environments when the demand for testing increases.

When deploying software using containers, certain configuration elements, such as software dependencies, become part of the container image. However, the need to configure the servers hosting the containers persists.

Note

Note : Streamline your CI/CD workflow with Jenkins. Try LambdaTest Now!

Agile Configuration Management

CM empowers Agile teams to categorize and assign priority to configuration tasks effectively. Some instances of configuration tasks include:

  • Updating SSL certificates in the production environment.
  • Introducing a new endpoint for the database.
  • Modifying passwords for email services in development, staging, and production.
  • Incorporating API keys for a newly integrated third-party system.

With a configuration management platform implemented, teams gain clarity regarding the scope of configuration tasks. These tasks can be recognized as dependencies for other assignments and adequately addressed within the framework of Agile sprints.

Selection Criteria for Configuration Management Tools

There are many different configuration management tools available in the market, but finding the right tool that meets the system configuration needs is difficult. What you have to look at in those tools is their performance, compatibility with the existing system, cybersecurity, and others.

Here are specific criteria that can be implemented for the selection of the configuration management tool:

  • Look for the tool that meets your CM requirement. You have to consider the features like version control, automation capability, and infrastructure provisioning.
  • You have to assess the user interface of the tools, documentation, and user experience.
  • The tool selected should be able to manage the size and complexity of the infrastructure.
  • Before selection, you should consider those tools that support different configuration file formats, programming languages, and OS.
  • Determine the tool which can integrate with other tools and systems. It must be compatible with different infrastructures, monitoring tools, and deployment pipelines.

Given the size and intricacy of enterprise environments, IT teams have increasingly turned to CM tools as a means to establish and uphold the intended state of their diverse systems. Let us understand this from the below section.

Configuration Management Tools

While software tools are commonly used for implementing CM, it is a comprehensive approach to systems engineering that can be standardized through frameworks. For instance, the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) v3 framework offers detailed guidance on service assets and CM. Apart from this, here are some commonly used configuration management tools:

  • Git: It is the leading version control system utilized in the industry for tracking code changes. By incorporating configuration management data alongside code within a Git repository, a comprehensive version control perspective of an entire project is achieved.
  • Git serves as a fundamental tool for higher-level configuration management. The following collection of alternative CM tools is intended to be stored in a Git repository, leveraging Git's version control capabilities.

  • Docker: It introduced containerization as an advanced form of CM akin to a configuration lockdown. Docker relies on configuration files known as Dockerfiles, which contain a series of commands that are executed to recreate the desired snapshot of an operating system's state.
  • Docker generates containers based on these Dockerfiles, which represent preconfigured application snapshots. Dockerfiles are committed to a Git repository for version tracking and require additional CM to deploy them to infrastructure

    Also, check out this tutorial: "Cypress Docker: A Step-by-Step Guide With Examples" for a practical guide on using Cypress with Docker.


    • Terraform: It is an open-source configuration management platform developed by HashiCorp, which employs Infrastructure as Code (IaC) to provision and manage clusters, cloud infrastructure, and services. Terraform supports various cloud platforms, including Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and others.

    Each cloud platform has its unique representation and interface for common infrastructure components like servers, databases, and queues. Terraform establishes an abstraction layer of configuration tools for these cloud platforms, enabling teams to define reproducible infrastructure through files.

Automated Software Configuration Management

Automating CM is crucial for establishing a dependable, uniform, and well-maintained IT environment at a large scale. Instead of relying on individuals to manually perform time-consuming configuration tasks, automation enables teams to deploy and decommission infrastructure components more efficiently, reducing the chances of human errors.

Furthermore, it facilitates the maintenance of consistent system settings throughout an application's entire life cycle across data center, cloud, and edge environments, thereby minimizing performance and security issues. Automation offers numerous benefits to enterprises, helping them reduce costs, complexity, and manual errors across various IT use cases:

  • Infrastructure automation: Automate the configuration and management of server infrastructure to ensure consistency and eliminate configuration drift.
  • Cloud automation: Automate the configuration and management of cloud resources, including operating systems, security groups, load balancers, and virtual private clouds.
  • Network automation: Automate the configuration and management of network devices such as routers and switches.
  • Security automation: Automate the configuration and management of security devices like firewalls and intrusion detection systems while applying consistent network access policies.
  • Edge automation: Automate the configuration and management of remote infrastructure systems, including network, security, IoT devices, and server equipment.

By embracing automation, organizations can streamline their IT operations, enhance efficiency, and improve overall system reliability and security.

Best Practices in Configuration Management

The fields of CM, data management, and control come with various risks, including potential disruptions to application availability and the risk of data loss or corruption. To ensure that your organization's assets are highly available and configured optimally, it is important to follow these best practices:

  • Track changes: Instead of individual file commits, consider using changesets to track changes related to system provisioning and CM. Changesets are bundled commits that capture modifications to a group of files, directory structures, reasons for change, unit test comments, and environment changes in a single manageable commit.
  • This enables building managers to quickly identify which related files have been altered with each significant change to your assets. It facilitates the rollback of unwanted changes or reverting to a previous configuration, if necessary.

  • Early testing: Adopt an approach of early and frequent testing to catch bugs and potential issues in your CM as soon as possible.
  • Performance testing: Perform performance testing to gain insights into how the latest changes impact system performance and functionality.
  • Integrate early and often: In addition to performance testing, integrate new features or changes into your environment early and frequently to ensure smooth compatibility with the existing system. This helps identify and address problems before they manifest in production, preventing costly issues.
  • Configuration control: It involves evaluating all change requests and proposals and subsequently approving or disapproving them. It encompasses the process of managing modifications to the system's design, hardware, firmware, software, and documentation.

While the above practices provide a starting point, many other important and helpful best practices have emerged, with some still emerging, for achieving optimal configuration of software systems.

Future of Configuration Management

The future of CM depends on the software-defined environment, mainly used in enterprise IT setups. Such an environment focuses on virtualization, automation, and management strategy for better provision and management of the resource and services through software.

With the advancement of data center technologies like software-defined networking, Software-defined data center, and Infrastructure as Code, CM practices and tools must adapt to the virtual software environment.

An important factor to consider is the impact of IaC. In this approach, resources are typically virtualized and grouped together, while a predefined set of instructions is used to provision, configure, and deploy workloads into these instances. Associated services like load balancers or storage are also connected and managed over time. For configuration management, it becomes crucial to identify and incorporate new deployments as they arise, integrating them into reporting and change management processes. This necessitates CM tools that add, remove, and manage instances ad hoc.

You must also be aware of GitOps, which helps deploy the container cluster utilizing the Git code management and version control system. This strategy has become efficient in combining containerization, software-defined capabilities, and software development paradigms. This ensures containers are deployed using the desired software components in a suitable software-defined environment.

Future CM tools must be capable of handling the dynamic nature of software-driven environments, where containers often exist for only brief periods, sometimes only minutes or seconds. This places a specific emphasis on container orchestration tools for effective CM.

...

Conclusion

Configuration management is an essential process for effectively handling intricate software systems. The absence of CM can lead to significant issues concerning reliability, uptime, and the system's scalability. Numerous contemporary software development tools come equipped with built-in configuration management capabilities.

There are numerous approaches to implementing CM, accompanied by a wide array of tools and processes. Therefore, when formulating your strategy, it is crucial to invest time in assessing various options, and comprehending how you envision your CM processes to function is crucial.

However, the effort invested will yield worthwhile results in the end. By establishing effective CM, your teams will experience enhanced safety, productivity, and agility in implementing changes.

Frequently asked questions

  • General ...
What are the main components of configuration management?
It includes configuration identification, configuration control, configuration status accounting, and configuration audit.
How does configuration management relate to version control?
Configuration management includes a wider approach to managing elements of a system or software application, including version control. However, version control mainly addresses managing changes to individual files and code components.
Can configuration management prevent all system failures or issues?
No, it does not assure the complete elimination of system failure or issue. However, it improves system stability and lowers risk.

Did you find this page helpful?

Helpful

NotHelpful

Try LambdaTest Now !!

Get 100 minutes of automation test minutes FREE!!

Next-Gen App & Browser Testing Cloud