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Change and Configuration Management Is Sexy Again!


Change and Configuration Management Is Sexy Again!


Change and configuration management (CCM) has always been an important part of IT operations. All businesses are subject to change, and IT drives changes in systems and technology supporting business. High pace of change in business can happen only if IT supports it. However, often during updates to the configuration errors caused by human or by automated processes have been implicated in unexpected performance or availability degradation, as a result of a server, network device, or application having been misconfigured jeopardizing business-critical services. 

So having the insight into knowing what configuration changes happened when a significant performance shift took place allows IT professionals to more accurately and rapidly identify the cause of a problem and return operations to expected performance levels. At more mature stages IT can be proactive identifying and remediating harmful changes before they make impact. 

As IT organizations were driven to eliminate the guesswork from change lifecycle, they applied various change and configuration management solutions to help IT organizations reduce mean time to repair, improve service uptime and reduce IT operations costs. However, IT operations has found that this ended up taking a lot of time, effort, and heavy investment, ending in disappointment after disappointment, and bringing bitterness and disbelief to the same area these solutions were supposed to make better. 

So how can change and configuration management become sexy again?

Looking For Solutions

With the accelerated pace of business demands, IT needed to enhance their change and configuration management process, and be able to manage the introduction of change into IT environments faster, with minimal disruption, and still control it appropriately. It was more apparent than ever that Change and Configuration Management needed better tools when the typical change management meeting had 10 – 15 of IT's key players just to assess the risk of any proposed change.

IT looked for change and configuration management processes that would allow urgent changes to be quickly implemented, and to be able to identify changes, even unauthorized changes, in order to quickly restore IT services. IT aspired to make change and configuration management a core and constant part of IT operations, not just something to visit when there is a major upgrade or performance issue.

10 Years Ago ITIL Spreads

The ITIL library intended to provide these guidelines to help IT organizations implement best practices that had been learned the hard way by a pioneering few in IT. Emerging in the 1980s, the ITIL concept provided a framework for efficient and financially responsible use of IT resources, focusing around service support and delivery. 

Despite the lack of any science confirming the efficacy of ITIL, many companies spent millions implementing ITIL-based processes, spreading far. ITIL went on to become, by far, the most widely used IT service management best practice approach in the world.

However, ITIL was not so prescriptive in terms of the technology that supported the operations process. As a result vendors took over and came with their solutions, like CMDB, that were supposed to automate and accelerate ITIL processes.

The Promise of CMDB

ITIL outlined a method for Configuration Management. This approach suggested that good configuration management ensures that only authorized components are used in the IT environment and that all changes are recorded. This brought into being the quintessential ITIL deliverable: the Configuration Management Database (CMDB), comprising one or more integrated databases detailing all of an organization's IT infrastructure components and other important associated assets. 

However, many IT organizations discovered that while the CMDB was a great idea (in theory), it just didn't work practically. Data in the CMDB couldn't be trusted. Mega projects for populating the CMDB consumed vast amounts of time and resources. The CMDB was too difficult to use and turned out to offer little or no value to the IT operations specialists in their day-to-day job. 

The praises that IT professionals have for their organization's CMDB are few and far between. A study conducted jointly by Forrester Research and ITSM found that of the ITSM professionals surveyed, only 26% stated that "We have a CMDB/CMS and get value from it." (Reinvent the Necessary but Obsolete CMDB)

According to Gartner's CMDB deployment statistics, CMDB deployments that were able to model at least three IT services in their CMDBs experienced a very modest deployment increase in 2010 (from 5% to 8%). This means that 92% to 95% of the deployments failed at the very modest goal of mapping just three IT services. (10 Reasons a CMDB Implementation Fails)

CMDB Disappointment

Vendors had hailed the CMDB as a silver bullet solution, with it's auto-discovery capabilities. Yet, the honeymoon was over with CMDB, as companies were left asking questions like how they could populate the CMDB initially with as much as 100,000 objects inventoried. So while CMDB could find out something about many things, it couldn't discover everything about all things, unable to work with disconnected devices. CIOs didn't want to touch CMDB anymore, creating bad name for overall change and configuration management.

The Next Silver Bullet: Virtualization

Virtualization took off all over the data center. Virtualization extended IT's capabilities, spreading out, cutting hardware upgrade costs, and simplifying administration from central servers. Virtualization-related flexibility extended to increasingly heterogeneous production environments, providing IT with an approach that pooled and shared resources to reduce costs, optimize utilization and create an infrastructure in which supply could dynamically meet demand. 

But virtualization was not a silver bullet either. It had to be intelligently deployed, and required an extensive background of knowledge to properly implement and manage. The challenge with virtualization has been that there's just too many moving pieces, part of which is encapsulated providing little or no visibility into their content and configuration to IT operations specialists. When you think of all the settings you can change that could possibly have an impact on operations, growing the level of complexity required to manage.

With lack of viable solutions for visibility into and management of images, the risk to change and configuration management increased, offering no way to track down problems. With potential issues coming both from inside the guest systems and virtualization layer pinpointing a performance or availability issue root cause became a major challenge.

Deployment Automation

There a lot of potential problems in manually deploying applications, mainly the time it can consume for developers and IT support and costs accrued. Even running separate scripts for different environments and projects can be a time drain and every manual process required increases risk with the potential for human error. Due to the complexity and challenges, IT adopted more tools for automating the deployment and release process, seeking to remove the human factor. 

However, configuration was the first challenge faced with deployment automation, where only repeatable activity was automated, making some application deployments into nightmares. IT was left wondering what automated platform actually does, what would be impact of changing deployment assets and what is the actual configuration of the managed environment?

IT's Lost Faith

Despite the combination of automation and virtualization solutions, IT was still focused on change and configuration management as an important issue to solve. The lack of a reliable solution added instability to IT operations. 

Many in IT Operations embraced the concept of the CMDB only to have their hopes and dreams shattered as they tried to implement one in their organizations. 

After having spent millions then realizing that the things that they purchased really weren't that good, IT faced vendors pitching stories that they had redesigned these systems so that they would actually work. 

Vendors painted pictures of a perfect world where if you buy their software, downtime will be reduced to near zero, productivity rates will rise to unbelievable levels, IT costs will evaporate and the IT manager will be showered with absolute goodness from the business leaders, declaring that "IT saved the day for us" or "Because of IT, we were able to not just meet but exceed every financial and regulatory goal that we had."

New Solutions For Agile and Dynamic Operations

While application performance and availability have never been more important to business success, agile development practices and rapid business change have outstripped IT Operations teams' ability to keep pace. Today IT executives and professionals are seeking to align IT Operations more closely with agile development and business initiatives.

The primary hindrance to greater operational agility has been making sense of the piles of configuration data collected in operations. Maintaining agile operations to support the applications that keep the business running smoothly every day, so with more-modern tools, like IT Operations Analytics, in place companies can transform their operations to accommodate agile development without disrupting key business processes and goals.

Shooting Holy Cows

The transition in IT operations will entail replacing some of IT's holy cows, demonstrating how incident management can be efficiently handled with a small dedicated team. The SaaS model is attractive to IT operations because hardware, software and labor costs are more predictable, offering ease of implementation, without having to worry about installing the hardware or software. One major area that could be impacted, for example, would the migration of the service desk system to be SaaS-based. Gartner projects that by 2015, 50% of all new IT service desk tool purchases will utilize the SaaS model. (SaaS Continues to Grow in the IT Service Desk Market)

New Solution: IT Operations Analytics

In the shadow of these realizations, solutions are emerging to address the critical needs of IT operations. Managing the configuration of multiple environments is still the bane of IT Operations. Between applications, environments, and individual instances, mistakes and unauthorized changes can still happen (as we seen with some high profile organizations) demanding that IT ops spend time managing configuration values. Configuration management doesn't have to be such a painful experience. 

Able to quickly and efficiently discover the root causes of IT system performance problems, the new discipline of IT operations analytics assesses the relative impact from multiple causes, analyzing service cost and anticipating performance impacting events among other IT operations management areas. 

IT operations now doesn't need more mega solutions, in the way of CMDB, but functional pragmatic solutions.

IT operations analytics translates abundant detailed configuration data and frequent changes into critical decision-support information, providing actionable insights that address practical day-to-day operations questions (like, when an incident occurs, can you quickly know "what changed"?).

That's how change and configuration management is becoming sexy again.

Your Turn
So do you find change and configuration management is getting sexy again?

About the Author
Sasha Gilenson
Sasha Gilenson enjoyed a long and successful career at Mercury Interactive (acquired by HP), having led the company's QA organization, participating in establishing Mercury's Software as a Service (SaaS), as well as leading a Business Unit in Europe and Asia.

Sasha played a key role in the development of Mercury's worldwide Business Technology Optimization (BTO) strategy and drove field operations of the Wireless Business Unit, all while taking on the duties as the Mercury's top "guru" in quality processes and IT practices domain. In this capacity, Sasha has advised numerous Fortune 500 companies on technology and process optimization, and in turn, acquired a comprehensive and rare knowledge of the market and industry practices.

Sasha holds an M.Sc. in Computer Science from Latvian University and MBA from London Business School.