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Configuration Management: Definition, Importance & Benefits

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Configuration management (CM) is an effective strategy designed to help organizations govern control policies and maintain server and data integrity.

A picture showing several gears connected by machinery much like the way networks tools, be it hardware or software, a feature or process component, can be optimized using configuration management (CM).

Configuration management provides visibility into how systems and controls rely on each other, informing network stakeholders of the potential impact of change to network components, or “controls.” Once called configuration management databases (CMDB) and also referred to as configuration management systems (CMS), these tools offer network-level policy enforcement and redundancy through integrated backup capabilities. 

Together, CM tools enable administrators to proactively manage a network’s configuration state, change according to needs, and preserve the existing state of the network.

This article looks at configuration management, what CM tools are, and how organizations can implement their CM plan.

What Is Configuration Management (CM)?

Configuration management (CM) is a broad term used to describe the management of IT resources across networks and organizations. Configurations specifically are the rules, policies, and network components administrators have in their control. 

With a strategic approach to managing organization configurations, administrators can maximize working relationships and objectives through a stand-alone product or suite of CM tools.

Read more: Top 7 Configuration Management Tools

What Are Configuration Items (CI)?

Starting with identifying configuration items (CI), administrators should inventory the products and features under their direct control. Types of CI include software applications, hardware appliances, network equipment, and the specific controls within each system. 

Several industry standards help organizations define CI as a control with a unique identifier, type, description, relationship with other CIs, and status. With an accurate CI inventory, administrators can evaluate interdependencies and validate controls consistently. Together, these technical characteristics form a baseline that informs lifecycle management and further modifications to systems.

What Are Configuration Management Tools?

Configuration management tools help organizations store, analyze, and optimize their security and resource allocation posture. By streamlining the organization’s control process, administrators can take greater control of the network’s risk and operational efficiency. 

Standard CM Tools and Features

AuditingScans the network and validates existing configurations
Change ControlFacilitates and reports authorized changes to CMDB
DiscoveryDetects hardware and software present and relevant CI data
Version ControlEnsures the integrity of software components in use
Configuration StatesEnforces and automates the execution of configurable policies

Other features included in leading CM products include automated backups, bare-metal boots, virtualization, and self-healing functionality. CM alongside backups is critical to detecting changes in network policies and rolling back to previous configuration states via snapshot

Capabilities like automating remediation and making centralized modifications to baseline configurations across the network ensure administrators have the needed management tools.

Read more: Access Control Security Best Practices

Examples of CM Tools

Why Is Configuration Management Important?

As organizations adopt hybrid infrastructures and networks grow more complex, administrators need visibility into how controls impact network segments. For organizations obligated to governance, risk, and compliance standards, CM tools are valuable for safeguarding the enterprise network and its dependencies.

What Are the Benefits of Configuration Management?

More often than not, misconfiguration is responsible for data breaches. Hackers and human error play their part, but a significant source of compromise is inadequate configuration management.

CM tools help mitigate risk tied to configuration policies with benefits like:

  • Automation of configuration policies and management for prompt remediation
  • Scalability with tools capable of onboarding an extensive infrastructure over time
  • Flexibility with varying tool capabilities and seamless integration into existing solutions
  • Cloud compatibility to meet the needs of multiple environments in a hybrid infrastructure 
  • Protection against future risks with a system devoted to configuration policies 
  • Visibility provided by the logging and analysis of transactions related to CM

Read more: Top Server Backup Software & Solutions

What Is a Configuration Management Plan?

Configuration management plans organize and inform actions by network administrators and vary based on the organization’s size, complexity, and cybersecurity needs. Generally, organizations follow these steps in deploying their CM strategy.

1. Inventory Configuration Items and Identify Baselines

Baselines and configuration items are critical insights into network data, systems, and relational dependencies. Administrators develop baselines through a four-step process via their functional, design, development, and production standards. Multiple administrators can share access to the CM tools for prompt remediation when needed.

Read more: Best Privileged Access Management (PAM) Software

2. Establishing the Change Control Process

Because network modifications are expected, organizations need a system where changes are proposed, accepted or rejected, and executed. Several factors that influence item reclassification include scope and complexity, change sensitivity, and business continuity value.

The configuration status accounting (CSA) function records and files data concerning modifications as approved changes get implemented. Because the CSA is responsible for issuing the authorized and most current configuration state, the integrity of its records is crucial. To test this, administrators must practice periodic functional and physical configuration audits to ensure the CM meets the organization’s technical requirements.

3. Train CM Administrators

Given the extent of control over a CM tool’s network, only administrators with the highest privileges should have access. Training that includes assigned responsibilities, objectives, and procedures for performing CM-related duties is essential for this designated group. All administrators must know the CI, standards, tools, and capabilities of the network to analyze, report, and adequately manage their new network framework.

Read more: What is Systems Management, and Why Should You Care?

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