Software Engineering - Assignment 1: Configuration Management

Instructor: Scott Tuning

Scott has been a faculty member in higher education for over 10 years. He holds an MBA in Management, an MA in counseling, and an M.Div. in Academic Biblical Studies.

Management of an organization's information technology asset configuration is the cornerstone of a secure and reliable system. Managing an IT configuration requires a disciplined, systematic approach to IT tasks.

Definition and Purpose of Configuration Management

At its core, configuration management is a methodology used to ensure that all assets within a system are optimized for stability and reliability. Configuration management is a common practice for managing an information technology system, but it is not restricted to this domain. Configuration management is widely used whenever a system is complex or a collection of assets are highly interdependent.

Quality configuration management practices should be maintained throughout the entire life cycle of an asset or system. When implemented and executed appropriately, configuration management practices will decrease costs by maximizing the lifespan of assets, reducing the need for troubleshooting in the long-term, and reducing the overall cost to maintain the system.

When configuration management methodologies are used effectively, there are well-defined procedures for tasks such as:

  • System documentation
  • Testing
  • Change control
  • Compatibility assurance
  • Stability and up-time assurance

Elements of Effective Configuration Management

Because configuration management is built on a foundation of consistency and standardization, the most effective configuration management implementations are comprehensive. Like many other systematic business practices, configuration management is not overly effective when adopted only in part. To realize the maximum return on the investment of configuration management, it must include specific elements within the framework.

Planning and Managing

Effective configuration management starts with a comprehensive plan. The plan, or roadmap, is the first component of configuration management because it will guide the remainder of the process. It is essential to take the necessary time and provide adequate attention to detail since an incomplete or poor quality plan will undermine the effectiveness of the entire process. The configuration management plan should include all of the elements discussed below as well as additional material relating to personnel responsibilities, vendor/contractor standards, and any necessary education and training.

  • Analysis of an example scenario:

Let's say one of a company's IT contractors is preparing to address a server configuration problem. Without contacting on-site personnel, a remote technician follows his policy and initiates a back-up before doing any work. The back-up locks the data drive and the entire company's primary enterprise application becomes unusable. What element(s) of a configuration management plan are missing in this scenario?

Benchmarking

Benchmarking, the establishment of baseline performance standards, is important for two reasons. First, establishing an initial baseline provides a foundation for determining ROI and proving any claims of efficiency increase. Second, benchmarking is important for meeting operational expectations for things like up-time, redundancy, or data security.

Environment Control

Exercising complete control of the system's environment is a part of configuration management because a failure to maintain this control means, by definition, that the assurance of stability and security cannot be provided. Environmental control has a role in both stability and security functions. In terms of security, environmental control is important because it is the last line of defense against external attacks. In terms of stability, environment control provides the assurance that a change management process is strictly enforced, and that no one (including IT staff) is able to make significant configuration changes without having adhered to change control policies.

  • Analysis of an example scenario:

A data analyst with access to the company's primary SQL database runs heavy queries during business hours, thereby slowing the system to a crawl. Is this event proof the data analyst has too much power to change the environment by running SQL queries at his convenience?

Documentation and Status

This aspect of configuration management is also where an up-to-the-minute status of the configuration is kept. Proper configuration documentation includes at least two elements. First, it functions as an index of sorts. For the most effective configuration management, each individual IT asset is cataloged with appropriate data such as age, vendor, performance, and current deployment status. Second, it tracks the real-time status of various assets so that problems can be quickly identified and corrected.

  • Analysis of an example scenario:

In an effort to make two disparate applications share data, an analyst builds a custom interface to pass data. Unfortunately, a year after the analyst left the company, the interface stops working and no one can find the problem. How would good configuration management have prevented this problem?

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