The Keys to Agility - Page 2

May 12, 2005

Kurt Milne

Vision. Build upon current approaches to reach a balance that enables the IT organization to be both responsive and controlled.

Through process integration and automation, and effective use of tools that aid IT professionals, organizations can increase their responsiveness to change and better control the IT environment to reduce IT failures.

An integrated change and configuration management strategy begins with a detailed understanding of the IT environment. It includes discovery of IT components, their relationship with each other, their relationship back to business services and how they combine to populate a dynamic service impact model.

Another key element is the capability to automate a workflow-based change management process. Automation can help ensure that IT professionals who implement changes are not burdened with process overhead.

A workflow-based change process should also be integrated and orchestrated with the tools that apply change and enforce configuration control across the organization. IT needs an automated, policy-based approach to maintain and enforce known good configurations including detection and resolution of nonstandard configurations throughout the IT environment.

Tools that facilitate effective change management should share information stored in a commonly accessed configuration management database (CMDB).

For example, in an ideal automated process, software would push an operating system patch update to a server, the change workflow tool would be informed that the patch has been applied, and the CMDB would be updated with the new configuration information and the change history.

The opportunity is significant. An integrated approach to change and configuration management can increase control, which will reduce critical system failures caused by change.

Visibility. Start with a clear understanding of which business services are dependent on the IT component that are about to be changed. Use automated discovery and a service impact model to help determine those relationships.

Discovery helps to identify what is in the IT infrastructure, what its settings and configurations are and should be, and what business service each component is linked to in the business.

That information can be used to populate a service impact model that identifies the interrelationships and dependencies of components, or groups of components in the infrastructure.

Once there is a clear picture of the IT components being changed, each change request can be effectively categorized, assessed for risks, communicated to potentially affected IT and business owners, and scheduled with other related or dependent change requests.

A service impact model can identify the IT infrastructure that supports critical business functions. Protect that infrastructure so that the desired configuration is maintained and any changes are carefully managed.

Everything -- network routers, servers, a mainframe, desktops, and laptops -- that supports the business function must be protected. For example, three days before the end of the quarter, don't change an accountant's desktop settings, the application server, the network settings, or the database schema, since all of these support the critical accounting applications.

A clear picture of the IT environment also helps restrict access to the production environment, an important step in protecting business-critical systems.

Coordination. Change management is a powerful process that helps coordinate, automate, and streamline each request for change. Each change request can be managed using the change lifecycle, which has four stages: request, plan, implement, and verify.

With an optimized approach, a change request proceeds through the request stage, is scheduled for planning, and goes through the planning phase.

During implementation, the change might be applied using multiple tools and be carried out by multiple people at multiple times. Organizations must be able to track these things from start to finish, and at every point in time, have clear visibility into what was requested, who is working on it, how many sub-requests were created, how many components were affected, and so forth.

This capability is called orchestrated change lifecycle management.

An orchestration tool should group the requests and changes so that they can be handled as a single group. Other functions should include sequencing, staging, tracking, correlating, and logging.

Any change to hardware, operating systems, applications, or settings needs to proceed through the change lifecycle in all layers of the technology stack: databases, networks, servers, appliances, and desktops.

The further down the stack, the deeper into the technology, the bigger the potential impact of a change.

Configuration. Controlling the configuration of an infrastructure element is an obvious part of configuration management. However, changes sometimes occur outside the scope of a formal change process. As a result, configurations and settings drift from the desired state.

Desired state management helps implement changes, as well as control the state of the IT environment to prevent drift and optimize performance.

The state of an environment encompasses the elements in the environment, such as the hardware and applications, how the elements are interconnected, and the configuration of each element itself.

The desired state management process encompasses knowing the desired configuration and the current configuration, understanding the difference or the variance between them, and then fixing the variance so that a specific device comes back to the desired state.

Desired state management, even when performed manually, can bring benefits to an IT organization.

Integrated change and configuration management solutions save significant time and effort over manual approaches. They enable thousands of servers and their configuration to be checked, and with a single click, bring all of them into the desired state.

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