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What is configuration management?

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Configuration management is a process for maintaining computer systems, servers, and software in a desired, consistent state. It’s a way to make sure that a system performs as it’s expected to as changes are made over time. 

Managing IT system configurations involves defining a system's desired state—like server configuration—then building and maintaining those systems. Closely related to configuration assessments and drift analyses, configuration management uses both to identify systems to update, reconfigure, or patch.

Configuration management keeps you from making small or large changes that go undocumented. Misconfigurations like these were identified in our State of Kubernetes Security report as a leading cause of security incidents among containerized or Kubernetes-orchestrated environments. 

Misconfigurations can lead to poor performance, inconsistencies, or noncompliance and negatively impact business operations and security. When undocumented changes are made across many systems and applications, it adds to instability and downtime.

Manually identifying systems that require attention, determining remediation steps, prioritizing actions, and validating completion are too complicated to perform in large environments. But without documentation, maintenance, and a change control process, system administrators and software developers could end up not knowing what’s on a server or which software has been updated.

Configuration management systems let you consistently define system settings, as well as build and maintain those systems according to those baseline settings. Configuration management helps users and administrators know where certain services exist and what the current state of applications are.

Proper configuration management tools:

  • Classify and manage systems by groups and subgroups. 
  • Centrally modify base configurations.
  • Roll out new settings to all applicable systems. 
  • Automate system identification, patches, and updates
  • Identify outdated, poor performing, and noncompliant configurations. 
  • Prioritize actions. 
  • Access and apply prescriptive remediation.

Think of it like this. If you keep up with the small things, you can avoid more complicated, expensive repairs in the future. Configuration management is about preventing issues so you don’t have to deal with as many problems later. 

For example, you can make sure that your test and production environments match. That way, you’ll have fewer problems with applications once they’ve been deployed than you would if these environments weren’t exactly the same.

With configuration management, you can accurately replicate an environment with the correct configurations and software because you know what exists in the original environment.

Automating configuration management

The role of configuration management is to maintain systems in a desired state. Traditionally, this was handled manually or with custom scripting by system administrators. Automation is the use of software to perform tasks, such as configuration management, in order to reduce cost, complexity, and errors.

Through automation, a configuration management tool can provision a new server within minutes with less room for error. You can also use automation to maintain a server in the desired state, such as your standard operating environment (SOE), without the provisioning scripts needed previously.

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Red Hat® Ansible® Automation Platform, when used as a configuration management tool, is used to store the current state of your systems and help you to maintain that state. Configuration management tools make changes and deployments faster, remove the potential for human error, while making system management predictable and scalable.

They also help you to keep track of the state of your resources, and keep you from repeating tasks, like installing the same package twice. 

Improve system recovery after a critical event with automated configuration management.  If a server goes down for an unknown reason, you can deploy a new one quickly and have a record of any changes or updates that occurred so you can identify the source of the problem. 

Your configuration management tools can also help you to run an audit of your system so you can more quickly identify where the problem is coming from. 

Red Hat works with the greater open source community on automation technologies. Our engineers help improve features, reliability, and security to make sure your business and IT performs and remains stable and secure. As with all open source projects, Red Hat contributes code and improvements back to the upstream codebase—sharing advancements along the way.

Red Hat Ansible Automation Platform includes all the tools needed to implement enterprise-wide automation, including playbooks, a visual dashboard, and analytics. It delivers open source innovation, hardened for your enterprise–so you can boost productivity and reduce time-to-completion for new projects.

With a Red Hat subscription, you get certified content from our robust partner ecosystem, access to hosted management services, and life cycle technical support that allows your teams to create, manage, and scale automation across your organization. And you’ll get expert knowledge gained from our success with thousands of customers.

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