Configuration Management is something that is critical to the sucess of any regulated facility; especially those utilising IT/IS, however it is also something that often overlooked from a point of view of criticality. This is something that seems to be reinvented on project to project, site to site.
Save time and money with configuration management
Managed configurations are extremely worthwile and save a hell of a lot of time in the future (often unplanned) when this has been done properly. Configuration Management is a core component of PRINCE2 and ITIL (IT Infrastructure Library) – these methodologies have been proven to consistently work.
This article will give a brief insight into some of the fundamentals of configuration management and exemplify how something that seems so small can have such a large effect – moving a computer.
The jargon explained
From a terminology point of view, bear these in mind, as with all IT related articles this one contains jargon:
- CM = Configuration Management
- CI = Configuration Item
- CMDB = Configuration Management Database
Find the right balance
Firstly we will look at the reasons why this is either not deployed, not deployed properly or simply so cut down it doesn’t work. A starting point is something that most people struggle with at the best of times, sometimes we just can’t get the vision right, largely due to a lack of experience and/or knowledge; couple this with personality clashes and a workplace culture, implementing configuration management is going to get difficult. Can you see where this is going? Sponsorship from superiors is often difficult to obtain due to departmental/supplier barriers and boundaries. Mix this with people, processes and technology and usually the whole thing never gets mentioned again.
The reality is that there is already lot of data, yes it’s there but to varying degrees of accuracy. Maintained? Some. But more often than not there is a LOT of informal data and local knowledge that is, well, just there! In a multi-site organisation this data is often just inconsistent.
We have chosen the ITIL CM approach because it’s, in our opinion the best and therefore we’ll use this to portrait the concept in the hope that more people will take this onboard. The ITIL CM process contains 5 core components:
Planning: Self explanatory but for those how aren’t sure: “Failing to plan, is planning to fail”. Job done.
Identification: This is deciding on what exactly is going to be controlled by the CM process and then..
Control: Link to change management (very important); a question is yeilded from the control component, “Are you allowed to change it and how is the change to the configuration controlled?”.
Status Accounting: This is about what has changed and why!
Verification and Audit: Is this what we said we’d have? Have we done it correctly?
More changes than you think
The CMDB holds the details of each CI in an organisation, especially those items used to support the manufacturing operations of a GMP environment. Let’s say, for example we’re going to move 5 servers from a control room in building A to a computer room or data centre in Building B. Sounds simple, they’re just computers, put them on a trolley move them to building B and then as log as there is power and a network socket it’s a case of plug and play. Bob’s your uncle. Now can we go to the pub?
But wait, lets look deeper what has actually changed about that computer? Their room number has changed; they are connected to different network outlets. Does they need UPS power and are they still connected to the UPS? Were they connected the the UPS anyway? How do we tell? Do we need to know or does it just have to look like it is working? Will there be enough power in the new room, is there sufficient cooling – will the environment condition changes affect the service level agreement? Is there sufficient LAN / SAN outlets? There is a lot of change going on here.
Standardise your approach
In addition to all this, there are a lot of views of the situation – The cost view, the service view, the system view (logically are the specifications suitable; physically – is there room and capacity). Parts of these views are crossing over as well, they’re overlapping into areas of common concern and it is these components whose configurations must be managed (not leaving out others but merely highlighting the importance of configuration managment). These should be controlled.
The first thing is to make sure you’ve got the right team; each and every business has a different way of working – prototype the process until it is correct. Standardise naming conventions for everything: services, locations, cabinets, devices and so forth. Identify any gaps and where the knowledge lies – this is usually a combination of formal knowledge and informal knowledge (what people know that they haven’t documented). Make sure that ownership is clear and unambiguous and most importantly make sure that visible sponsorship and support is present.
Can you afford not to use configuration management?
This all sounds like a lot of work, but in the long run this is a completely valuable exercise and demonstrates control for numerous purposes. For example, every time a new IT project comes up does someone have to survey the datacentre for capacity for power, network, rack space, air conditioning capacity? These are all jobs that can be done from the desk when an efficient, up-to-date CMBD is setup and active – in addition a good system will give everyone confidence in their planning of anything from a small upgrade to a massive MES project implementation.
Without CM, change management is of limited effectiveness; its change management that we rely on so heavily in this industry to demonstrate our control in making changes to validated systems and qualified platforms. An end-to-end view is created with CM with each task rather than being able to plan, confidently in bulk. Service reporting will always be risky and therefore not trusted, even though it is required and finally and crucially, without CM the impact of faults and changes cannot be predicted with confidence.
Can you afford not to do configuration management?
If you would like to learn more about configuration management feel free to contact Premier Infrastructure anytime.
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