Configuration Management Tools
The configuration of your computer is in a constant state of flux. From the moment it is taken out of the box, software is added, removed, and updated. At enterprise scale, those types of changes must be made and tracked on hundreds or even thousands of computers.
Configuration management (CM) controls those changes, continuously monitoring and ensuring that organizational infrastructure is configured to the correct specifications. Essentially, it’s a continuously updated inventory for technology assets. This maintains the status quo across server environments, reduces incident resolution time, and helps to prevent surprises. In the long term, it maintains the integrity and consistency of a system or product throughout its lifetime.
In the past, configuration management was a purely manual task completed by a systems administrator. The role involved carefully and painstakingly documenting the state of the system. But DevOps, cloud computing, and new tooling have changed the industry completely; automation now plays a key role, to the point where configuration management tools are often referred to as IT automation tools.
However, configuration management applies to more than just servers. Applications, networks, containers, security, and clouds can all benefit from configuration management. For example, on the application level, configuration management involves tracking and logging all of the changes made to the software up until the product goes live. This process helps developers to find and fix any bugs that emerge during development or testing.
What are Configuration Management Tools?
You might be familiar with companies like Chef and Puppet, which are the most popular and venerable CM tools. They, like most other CM tools, help development and operations teams to manage applications and infrastructure.
CM tools should include features for enforcement, version control, change control, and abstraction, and must also support your existing toolchains and systems. Availability, ease of setup, scalability, configuration language, and interoperability should all be considered. In addition, when choosing a CM tool, evaluate whether you need capabilities like:
1. Servers and operating
2. Cloud-native routing and networking
3. Virtual private networks
4. Access policy and permissions
5. Load balancers
6. Autoscaling policy
Benefits of Configuration Management Tools
1. Quick disaster recovery:
Assets are easily recoverable and changes can be rolled back quickly, especially with proper documentation of all the recovery points and logs.
2. Increased uptime & site reliability:
Tracking changes to the system reduces the risk of outages and security breaches. When it comes to downtime, bad deployments are a frequent culprit. But with proper configuration management, test environments can mimic production; this decreases the chance of encountering a nasty surprise.
3. Easier scaling:
With configuration management, increasing the number of servers is as simple as clicking a button or running a script. The goal is to make provisioning a non-event.
4. Better visibility & communication:
Everyone knows what changes have been made, so miscommunications are minimized.
5. Improved resource utilization:
With configuration management, you can get rid of duplicates and eliminate inefficient usage of resources.
Configuration Management Tools
Ansible by Red Hat is a configuration management and provisioning tool that automates cloud provisioning, configuration management, application deployment and intra-service orchestration. The idea is to automate repetitive IT tasks to allow teams to work on more strategic objectives.
CFEngine is a configuration management system written in C, and is available as both open source and commercial software. It provides automated configuration and maintenance of large-scale computer systems, such as servers, desktops, and mobile phones.
Chef is a configuration management tool for dealing with machine setup on physical servers, virtual machines and in the cloud. It helps developers and IT operations professionals to work together to deploy applications on IT infrastructure.
Puppet is an open source systems management tool for centralizing and automating configuration management. It provides an automatic way to inspect, deliver, operate and future-proof infrastructure and software, no matter where it runs. It is commonly used by DevOps organizations to automate server setup, program installation, and system management.
RUDDER is a free, open source, and multi-platform configuration management and continuous audit solution dedicated to production infrastructure needs. It is written in Scala and C, and is used to help automate system configuration across large IT infrastructures. Built-in features include change requests, audit logs, and strong authentication. RUDDER is an established project with several tens of thousands of managed nodes in companies of all sizes.
SaltStack is an open source configuration management software and remote execution engine. It pulls developer code and configuration information from a central code repository and pushes that content remotely out to servers. Its primary differentiator is speed, as its multithreaded design enables the execution of hundreds or even thousands of simultaneous tasks.
SolarWinds is a network automation tool designed to manage configurations on network devices such as routers, switches, and firewalls. It helps users to schedule automatic backup activities and roll out configuration changes to multiple devices at the same time. Especially recommended for companies that have several different locations thanks to its monitoring and maintenance capabilities.
Terraform is an open source infrastructure as code tool by HashiCorp. It codifies APIs into declarative configuration files that can be shared amongst team members, treated as code, edited, reviewed, and versioned.