Configuration management is a process for maintaining computer systems, servers, applications, network devices, and other IT components in a desired state. It’s a way to help ensure that a system performs as expected, even after many changes are made over time.
Using configuration management tools, administrators can set up an IT system, such as a server or workstation, then build and maintain other servers and workstations with the same settings. IT teams use configuration assessments and drift analyses to continuously identify systems that have strayed from the desired system state and need to be updated, reconfigured, or patched.
As a part of IT Service Management (ITSM) process, configuration management databases (CMDBs) track individual configuration items (CIs): any asset or component involved in the delivery of IT services. CMDBs store information about a CI’s attributes, dependencies, and changes to its configuration over time—enabling IT teams to map and maintain the relationships that tie CIs together.
In enterprise environments, IT teams manage a wide array of applications and systems, including clouds, networks, storage, servers, and edge devices. Just as it's important to set up systems correctly, performing regular, thorough maintenance helps prevent more costly problems in the future.
System misconfigurations were identified in Red Hat's State of Kubernetes Security report as a leading cause of security incidents among containerized or Kubernetes-orchestrated environments. The introduction of minor inconsistencies or misconfiguration errors in IT systems can lead to configuration drift and ultimately slower systems, security and compliance exposures, and even outages.
To prevent these issues, configuration management involves establishing a clear approach to documentation, maintenance, and change control so that systems can be configured consistently and accurately across complex environments.
Change management is an ITSM process that is related to—but distinct from—configuration management. It describes the policies and processes your organization follows when updating infrastructure or responding to critical events such as service performance degradation or outages.
IT teams typically use specialized software to define system settings—as well as build and maintain systems according to those baseline settings. Configuration management tools help system administrators keep track of the current state of applications and services, so that they can more quickly identify systems that require attention, determine remediation steps, prioritize actions, and validate completion.
Typical configuration management tools help teams to:
- 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, poorly performing, and noncompliant configurations.
- Prioritize necessary actions.
- Access and apply prescriptive remediation.
Due to the scale and complexity of most enterprise environments, IT teams now use automation to define and maintain the desired state of their various systems.
Automating configuration management is essential to establishing a reliable, consistent, and well-maintained IT environment at scale. Rather than relying on individuals to perform time-consuming manual configuration tasks, automation allows teams to consistently deploy and decommission infrastructure components in less time, with fewer opportunities for human mistakes. It also makes it possible to maintain consistent system settings across datacenter, cloud, and edge environments for an application’s entire life cycle, minimizing both performance and security issues.
Automation can help enterprises reduce costs, complexity, and manual errors in a variety of IT use cases:
- Infrastructure automation: configure and manage server infrastructure to enforce consistency and eliminate configuration drift.
- Cloud automation: configure and manage cloud resources including operating systems, security groups, load balancers, and virtual private clouds.
- Network automation: configure and manage network devices such routers and switches.
- Security automation: configure and manage security devices such as firewalls and intrusion detection systems— and apply consistent network access policies.
- Edge automation: configure and manage remote infrastructure systems including network, security, IoT devices, and server equipment.
For organizations with—or transitioning to—a hybrid cloud environment, an ideal configuration management solution will provide:
- Flexibility to manage physical datacenters, public clouds, and edge environments.
- Support for a variety of use cases including networking, security, applications, provisioning, and more.
- Integration with leading third-party platforms and solutions.
- A declarative structure that allows you to define the desired state you want—rather than an imperative structure, which requires you to provide specific commands to achieve the desired state.
- Drift detection capabilities so that you can compare systems against one another or against a baseline setting.
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