The answer to IT’s struggle to discover and manage configurations

kees.pngBy Kees Van Den Brink

 

Kees van den Brink has over 20 years of experience in IT, starting as a developer. Kees is working with many customers in implementing IT Management solutions. Kees is an active member of the IT4IT consortium (www.it4it.com).

 

In my last blog post I wrote about finding ways that automation can reduce waste. There is another area where automation has the potential to unlock significant savings for organizations, and that is with discovery for configuration management.

 

Discovery can pose a huge challenge for IT. Maybe your organization is one of the lucky few to have its act together on this. But what I see more often is that—most often because of human error—organizations struggle to discover and manage configurations, even when they have good tools at their disposal.

 

If you were to apply Lean principles—in the pure sense—to this problem, you would stop doing something that doesn’t add value. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work here. You still need to perform configuration management. And discovery is required because it’s not possible to maintain a vast number of configuration items manually. But there has to be a better way.

 

Big Data and configuration management

I believe the answer to IT’s discovery problem can be found by looking at the Internet of Things (IoT). IoT is the idea that smart devices (everything from refrigerators to airplane engines) will have their own IP addresses and connect to the Internet, transmitting useful and actionable data. In the past, the sheer quantity of data was simply too much to process. But now, with solutions like HP’s HAVEn Big Data platform, you can store a tremendous amount of data and still make sense of it.

 

So why not apply the IoT concept to configuration management, or at least to the discovery part of it? If you could deploy something and have it automatically start reporting measurements back to a central system, then you would know what configuration you had and you could start to manage it.

 

The technology to do this for infrastructure elements is already here. For instance, we already have monitoring in our environments—we’ve been doing this for a long time. The reason we still have companywide discovery is because in the past we had manual provisioning. This manual step meant there was always a chance something was deployed in production that you weren’t aware of. If the provisioned machine didn’t have an agent activated, it didn’t report on itself. Which means you’re back to scanning the network to see what’s there.

 

What’s different now

 

Two things have to happen for IT to stop doing configuration discovery.

 

  1. Automation: Provisioning and deployment need to be completely hands off. Some people call this “zero touch.” If we can get to that state where we’re not doing anything manually, then we can forget about having to scan the whole network, because we can depend on the fact that when we deploy something its information is pushed into a central system.
  2. Extended frameworks: Developers currently use frameworks for activities like logging and versioning in AppDev. We can extend what’s happening in development into operations by enhancing those frameworks to push the information to a central place. That way as soon as you instantiate something in production that code is activated and it starts to tell you, “Here I am. This is me, and I’m instantiated because of this service. I’m running on this server or set of virtual machines, I have this IP address,” and so on. All that can be recorded in the configuration management database.

 

I’m not saying discovery will go away, certainly not in the short term. To be honest, I think there will probably always be some form of discovery, but it can be simpler and applied in a much more focused way on a small part of the infrastructure. The automation that is available now—together with the HAVEn technology, and the fact that you already have technology that can say, “Here I am and these are my measurements”—means that we’re getting a lot closer to that point.

 

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Labels: automation
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