Configuration Management for Virtual and Cloud Infrastructures
The top seven things to consider
May 17, 2013.
By Ronni J. Colville and George Spafford
Configuration management is a key process for any IT endeavor — including
legacy IT systems, as well as private and public clouds. Without visibility to the
configuration of the relevant IT service, IT will not be able to manage the
multisourced cloud infrastructure and software.
Organisations adopting virtualisation and cloud delivery services need to review
their configuration management processes to ensure that they are optimised to
support these services.
A review of the configuration management process should focus on, and alter as
required, the process design, including inputs and outputs, workflows, controls,
roles and responsibilities, data models, reporting and opportunities for process
Through 2015, 80% of outages impacting mission-critical services will be
caused by people and process issues, and more than 50% of those outages will
be caused by change/configuration/release integration and hand-off issues.
As IT adopts technologies such as virtualisation and cloud services, new
dynamics will be introduced (e.g., mobility and offline/online), as well as
opening its doors to external providers (e.g., infrastructure as a service [IaaS]).
This complexity will require IT to add more rigor (not less) to their configuration
As the number of internal and external service providers increases, the need for
timely, accurate and secure information flows also increases. With any delivery
method, configuration plays a vital role in providing logical views of IT services,
including changes to configurations.
Consider the following questions and responses to rightsise your configuration
management process for virtual and cloud infrastructures:
1. How well are standards defined and followed? Standard implementations
bring predictability and speed in deployment, but the mobility of virtualisation
adds unpredictability in performance, because changes can be done in real time
without an impact assessment. Add a shared infrastructure (e.g., multiple VMs
per host and cluster) and what was standard and predictable for one IT service
will potentially be affected by other IT services. These new dynamics will affect
how standards are assessed and maintained, and will require closer inspection
of how dynamic (versus standard and static) the IT service blueprint should be.
Standards will need to be reassessed on an ongoing basis to ensure scalability
and predictable availability.
2. How well are IT services documented or tracked in systems such as the
configuration management database (CMDB)/configuration management system
(CMS)? The CMDB/CMS will maintain a trusted view using integration and
federation to bring in configuration data from a wide variety of sources. Some
discovery sources can take triggers from virtual infrastructures and become
closer to a "real-time view." This view, coupled with a runtime view for
application performance, will enable better predictive planning. Because having
visibility to public cloud infrastructures can be limited with today's discovery
tools, it is critical for IT organisations to understand the service or application,
and how it is manifested (internally and externally).
3. How well is automation used to discover and execute changes? While IT
resources are often experts, they are still prone to human errors. Using
automation to discover and better target changes will significantly reduce
outages. Automating provisioning without understanding the impact of the
single change to a system or software on the broader IT service or application
may have a negative effect (e.g., outage) systemwide. In addition, with the
frequency of changes to the virtual and cloud infrastructures, coupled with new
agile development and deployment, automation will improve the speed of
changes and reduce the errors to which humans cannot scale, to accommodate
the increase in changes without an increase in errors.
4. How well are audit requirements for contractual and regulatory compliance
addressed? Enterprises can no longer exist without mechanisms that prove
sufficient control is in place. Virtualisation enables the swift and real-time
movement of servers and applications from one place to another. Due to this
type of movement, organisations could fail to comply with restrictions, which
could subject the enterprise to significant consequences. This applies not just to
country- or industry-specific regulations (e.g., payment card industry) or
security-based regulations (e.g., Center for Internet Security[CIS]), but broader
regulations (e.g., the USA Patriot Act) that will impact or support global
5. How well are software licenses tracked and are they accurate? Virtual
infrastructures add mobility and offline dynamics that can present a challenge
for tracking application and software usage. IT organisations will have to be
prepared with documentation and discovery methods that can prove license
6. How well does IT already manage multisourced or multivendor operating
environments? The public cloud is not necessarily new; in many respects, it's
another flavor of outsourcing or software as a service (SaaS). IT organisations
are still responsible for their data, their application availability, etc., but now
there is a middleman. IT organisations that have best practices in place for
multisourced or SaaS infrastructures likely will have less of a challenge adapting
their configuration strategies to the public cloud. IT should seek out lessons
learned from traditional outsourcing vendors and incorporate them for the
broader use cases in the public cloud.
7. What is the degree of business risk that IT organisations will tolerate,
associated with specific types of changes (e.g., to business-critical systems,
preapproved changes, emergency changes, etc.)? Today, changes are controlled
within the IT infrastructure, but cloud infrastructures will take change-impact
assessment beyond the corporate firewall into more "opaque" environments
(public clouds). As the scope of control alters with public cloud scenarios,
business risk factors will need to be re-examined, and existing policies will
need to change to enable a 90% success rate or better.
This report is based on independent technology advisory research from Gartner,
Inc. Gartner delivers the technology-related insight necessary for IT leaders to
make the right decisions every day.