Configuration Management

Configuration Management

DevOps technology is taking the world, especially the IT industry, by storm and helping organizations embark on a new digital revolution. Over the few years, DevOps has become essential to the software development lifecycle (SDLC) by enabling organizations to deliver excellence at every step of the way and thrive successfully in today’s competitive environment. Today, organizations of various sizes and in numerous industries are relying on and leveraging this technology and its components to scale new heights of success and deliver unparalleled value and experience to their customers worldwide rapidly and continuously.

Configuration Management (CM) is one such component of the DevOps, gaining popularity among software engineers for building quality products quickly and efficiently. From automating tedious tasks to streamlining software delivery, Configuration Management has become fundamentally necessary for setting up a DevOps-driven framework and facilitating speed, accuracy, and efficiency in SDLC.

In this article, we will unravel the concepts of Configuration Management to understand the role it plays in the DevOps process as well as Software Development.

What is Configuration Management?

An increasingly important foundation for building a successful software product, Configuration Management is a critical system engineering process that helps organizations establish, monitor, and maintain computer systems, servers, and software in a desired, consistent state. It has become an efficient way for organizations to keep track of a software product's performance, functional, and physical attributes, along with its requirements, design, and operational information throughout its life.

Introduced in the 1950s by the United States Department of Defence as a technical management discipline for hardware material items, Configuration Management is now a form of IT Service Management (ITSM), as defined by ITIL, and is responsible for ensuring the configuration of system resources, computer systems, servers, and other software and hardware assets.

To perform such consistent monitoring and maintenance, Configuration Management involves a high degree of automation that facilitates orderly management of system information and changes, provides visibility and control of its performance and functionality, and verifies whether the system performs as intended, among other benefits.

Primary Components of Configuration Management:

To ensure maximum benefits out of Configuration management and to meticulously manage critical resources, performance, functional, and physical attributes of a system and automate mundane maintenance tasks, organizations need to ensure its accurate implementation. This is made possible by the key components of Configuration Management, which are:

  • Artifact Repository: A critical component of Configuration Management, Artifact Repository is a database for storing machine files like binaries, libraries, test data, etc., that are not necessarily accessed or used.
  • Source Code Repository: As suggested by its name, the Source Code Repository is a database that contains all versions of code. It stores source code used by the development team, as well as other relevant components like configuration files, test, build, and deployment scripts. In short, this component of Configuration Management stores everything readable by humans, except software binaries, and is further categorized into:
  • Centralized Version Control System (CVCS): Stores source code in a centralized location.
  • Distributed Version Control System (DVCS): Stores source code across numerous terminals accessed by developers.
  • Database for Configuration Management: This is a database devoted to Configuration Management that works across different systems and applications and is used to store and track relevant services, servers, applications, etc., associated with this management.

Importance of Configuration Management:

The constant evolution and advancement in technology have resulted in the increased complexity of software and applications being developed today. Each of these software and applications are further composed of components that vary in both size and complexity. However, managing and maintaining these software systems and their components is now made possible by Configuration Management.

Configuration management helps teams build a robust and stable system that automatically tracks and manages updates to configuration data. Moreover, it prevents teams from making any undocumented changes that may impact software performance, business operations, and security and enables resources to function as they must to facilitate success.

Configuration management, hence, is critical for an organization's success, as it helps track configuration changes to ensure traceability, prevent data breaches and data leaks, allows for ease of scalability, and reduces the time to build additional resources.

Process of Configuration Management:

Configuration Management comprises five distinct disciplines that are used to establish baselines and perform a standard change-management process. These are:

  • Planning & Management: It is a formal document and plan that guides the configuration management program and includes details like:
    • Personnel.
    • Responsibilities & Resources.
    • Training Requirements.
    • Administrative meeting guidelines, including procedures and tools.
    • Baselining Processes.
    • Configuration Control & Status Accounting.
    • Naming Conventions.
    • Audits and Reviews.
    • Subcontractor/Vendor Configuration Management Requirements.
  • Configuration Identification: Helps establish the setting and maintaining baselines, which further elaborate on the system or subsystem architecture, components, and any developments. It is an important step of the process, as any changes in the system during the design, development, testing, and delivery stages are identified, documented, and tracked based on this aspect of Configuration Management. It is also used to establish and maintain configuration items throughout the development lifecycle.
  • Configuration Control: This step of the process is focused on evaluating all the change-requests and change-proposals as well as their approval and disapproval. From the system's design and hardware to software and documentation, this step helps teams control modification throughout the process.
  • Configuration Status Accounting: Here, the process involves recording and reporting configuration item descriptions and all departures from the baseline during the design and production phases. Moreover, during this stage, if any issue or problem is suspected necessary verification of baseline configuration and approved modifications are quickly determined.
  • Configuration Verification & Audit: Finally, an independent review of hardware and software is conducted to ensure compliance with established performance requirements, standards, and functional, allocated, and product baselines. It ensures the functional and performance attributes of a configuration item and whether it is installed as per the design requirements.

Configuration Management in DevOps:

Configuration Management is an essential aspect of DevOps, as it supports this collaborative and rapid software development technology holistically and offers teams the confidence to move quickly with their changes, enabling them to automate, provision, configure, and manage the infrastructure. It is an automated process for managing all configurations of the pre-production and production environment. Moreover, like DevOps, Configuration Management also spans across the operational and development activities and is crucial for the success of DevOps operations.

Configuration management is, in short, imperative in DevOps, as it supports continuous integration and ensures the system's proper control, traceability, accuracy, consistency, efficiency, versioning, and change management.

Elements of Configuration Management in DevOps:

The role of Configuration Management in DevOps is extremely important and extends from just automating processes to empowering software engineers to request and provision needed resources on-demand and removing the potential organizational dependency bottleneck. However, for it to function properly, teams ought to ensure its accurate implementation.

Therefore, here are the key elements of Configuration Management implementation in DevOps:

  • Configuration Identification: Involves gathering information and aggregating and compiling configuration data from different application environments, development, staging, and production to be organized into data files and identify the configuration of the environment to be maintained.
  • Baseline: A baseline can be established, by reviewing and committing the configuration of a functioning production environment, once the configuration data is organized to operate the dependent software without any issues or error.
  • Configuration Control: After the baseline is established, the team prepares a mechanism, known as configuration control to track, control, and regulate changes to the configuration. This helps avoid system issues and prevents the integrations and existing infrastructure from destabilizing. Configuration Control can also be automated with the help of various version control systems.
  • Configuration Audit: Finally, the system is reviewed through configuration audits to ensure it complies with regulations and validations. These audits are performed at regular intervals to identify issues or changes that bypass the control mechanism and prevent the quality, performance, and functionality of the system.

Deliverables of Successful Configuration Management:

If configurations in DevOps are implemented successfully and managed adequately they will deliver two prominent outcomes, which are:

  • Infrastructure as Code (IaC): It is the concept of managing the necessary environment, with resources required for DevOps operations, with code or script and automatically preparing it for deployment and testing activities. This code is then pushed to the version control system and used to define this environment.
  • Configuration as Code (CaC): It is a code or script that standardizes configurations within a given resource, like a server or network. These standardized configurations are then applied during the deployment phase and ensure infrastructure configuration is suitable for the application. Here, the code is pushed to a version control system as part of the software deployment pipeline, which ensures the configuration of the relevant infrastructure and prepares it for software development and testing.

Configuration Management Best Practices:

The implementation of Configuration management is fraught with risks and can lead to disruption of application availability, data loss, failures, etc. To ensure the system functions as per requirement and your assets are highly available and configured optimally, it is important to adopt Configuration Management best practices, as they will allow you to manage risks effectively and deliver quality and consistency to end-users.

These best practices include:

  • Tracking Changes: Make sure to track any/all changes concerning system provisioning and configuration management, as it will enable you to monitor changes that resulted due to an asset change. This will further make it easy for the team to roll back unwanted changes or revert to an earlier configuration if needed.
  • Ensure Early Testing: By implementing early and often testing, teams can identify bugs and other potentially harmful regressions early during configuration management and ensure better and secured software release.
  • Performance Testing: By performing performance testing, the DevOps teams can monitor and verify the performance and functionality of the system after the latest changes.
  • Early & Often Integration: Apart from frequent testing, perform early and often integration to ensure the compliance and compatibility of new features and changes with the rest of the environment.
  • Configuration Control: Make sure to implement configuration control for the evaluation of all change-requests and change-proposals, as well as their subsequent approval or disapproval. This helps control modification to the system's design, hardware, firmware, software, and documentation.
  • Configuration Management Database: Specified by ITIL as a CM best practice, Configuration Management System (CMS), as it is commonly known Configuration Management Database (CMBD) helps track Configuration Items (CIs) such as storage, racks, software licenses, etc. and the dependencies between them. It further helps perform functions like root cause analysis, change management, impact analysis, current state assessment for the future state strategy development.

Now that we understand the concept of Configuration Management, let us move on to cover its advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages of Configuration Management:

A practice gaining momentum across software engineering, Configuration Management has become essential for managing every part of the business, from the designing workflow to product, service, and solution deliverables. It helps establish a structured and effective methodology for documenting, validating, releasing, and changing business requirements. Other prominent benefits that make this DevOps practice popular among software engineers are listed below:

  • Uses a defined configuration process to increase efficiency.
  • Reduces risk of unpredictable system failures and data breaches by offering perfect visibility and tracking changes in the test environments.
  • As it offers detailed knowledge of all the configuration elements, it prevents unnecessary duplication of technological assets, which promotes cost reduction.
  • Offers businesses greater agility and faster problem resolution.
  • Rapidly detects and corrects improper configurations, which enhances the system and process reliability.
  • Establishes and enforces formalized policies and procedures for various actions like asset detection, audition, change implementation, status monitoring, and more, which helps teams achieve greater control over relevant workflows.
  • Offers efficient change management that reduces the risk of product incompatibility or problems.
  • Configuration management allows faster and easy restoration and recall of assets if a process failure occurs.

Disadvantages of Configuration Management:

Though Configuration Management has been tremendously rewarding for organizations yet, it has certain implementation challenges associated with it that make businesses apprehensive about its adoption and implementation. These, though, do not outpower the configuration management advantages are still worth considering. Therefore, here are the disadvantages of Configuration Management:

  • Requires adequate resources, with complete knowledge of software configuration management tools.
  • Need a highly configured system for the development stages.
  • Requires building on top of established and reliable asset and inventory management processes to ensure quality data for input and update of CI data, which can again be challenging.
  • The initial design needs regular revisits for the expansion and contraction of scope and business needs.

Configuration Management Tools:

Whether it is establishing and enforcing version control and change tracking in CI/CD with build automation and source code management or the evolution and automation of the systems administration role for automating infrastructure management and deployment in DevOps, Configuration Management relies on various automated tools to perform the necessary function.

But, how is using configuration management tools beneficial for organizations?

A proper configuration management tool will offer various benefits like:

  • Help prioritize actions.
  • Automate tedious tasks, system identification, patches, and updates.
  • Will classify and manage systems by groups and subgroups for improved testing and auditing.
  • Modify base configurations centrally.
  • Help identify outdated, poor-performing, and non-compliant configurations.
  • Access and apply prescriptive remediation.
  • Roll out new settings to all applicable systems.

Popular Configuration Management Tools:

From DevOps to CI/CD, configuration management, as mentioned earlier, automates workflows to reduce manual efforts in the deployment of code changes to a live software system.

Therefore, here is a list of some prominent Configuration Management Tools:

  • Ansible: An open-source, simple software provisioning, configuration management, and application-deployment tool that enables infrastructure as code and makes applications and systems easier to deploy and maintain.
  • Chef: A configuration management technology, Chef is used for automating the infrastructure provisioning and streamlining the task of configuration and managing the company's server.
  • Puppet: The most powerful configuration management tool that defines and enforces configurations across operating systems, middleware, and applications in a programmatic way. It is a model-driven solution that requires limited programming knowledge.
  • Git: A free and open-source distributed version control system, Git is designed to handle and track code changes. It offers a holistic, reliable, and versatile version control by adding configuration management data alongside code in a Git repository.
  • Terraform: An open-source configuration management platform by HashiCorp, Terraform, leverages IaC to provision and manage clusters, cloud infrastructure, or services. It supports Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and other cloud platforms and allows teams to safely and predictably create, change, and improve infrastructure.
  • SaltStack: Python-based, open-source software, SaltStack helps perform event-driven IT automation, remote task execution, and configuration management and helps create a reusable configuration template, called a state to describe everything required to put system components or applications into a known configuration.
  • AWS OpsWorks: It is a prominent configuration management service offered by Amazon that helps teams configure and operate applications in a cloud enterprise by using Puppet or Chef.

Configuration Management Vs. Change Management:

Configuration Management and Change Management are two commonly misconstrued terms, often used interchangeably. Though interconnected, the two are vastly different from each other. Therefore, here is a comparison of the two, highlighting their differences.

Configuration Management Change Management

It is a subset of the overall project management system.

Process for managing the people side of change to achieve the required business outcome.

Identifies and documents the functional and physical characteristics of a system.

Deals with identification, impact analysis, documentation, and approval or disapproval of change requests.

Focuses on the configurable items like the product, services, servers, etc.

Focuses on managing the changes that affect the configurable items and system.

It leads to changes that are specific to the product configuration.

It leads to many changes that can impact the baseline.

Supports the audit of products, results, or components to verify requirement conformance.

Incorporates organizational tools to help teams make successful transitions, resulting in the adoption and realization of change.


With the frequently changing IT spectrum, customer demands, and the introduction of new assets, Configuration Management will continue to grow as organizations will always have numerous assets to manage, monitor, and control. As one of the drivers for agile and quality software product delivery, along with techniques like version control, containerization, etc., Configuration Management will help organizations build a consistent workflow that offers unparalleled rewards.

Hence, we can conclude, the future of Configuration management will be extremely promising, with plenty of innovations, improvements, and modifications.