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A Comprehensive Guide to Configuration Management Plan

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With a solid configuration management plan, you can effortlessly define, document, control, instruct, implement, and manage changes to various components of your project. 

It’s needed for your systems and governance engineering processes to control and track IT services and resources across your organization. 

The baseline of a configuration management plan is to be mindful of all the items and document their functional interdependencies and capabilities. 

And to deliver the best IT services, you need to follow some IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) guidelines. 

An ITIL framework can cover various IT services like backups, cloud services, network security, managed print services, help desk support, IT consulting, and more. It offers a structured and systematic approach to managing risk, establishing cost-effective practices, and strengthening customer relations. 

Let’s discuss the configuration management plan, its benefits, objectives, components, and best practices. 

What is Configuration Management?

Configuration management involves maintaining the consistency of a product’s functionality, performance, and physical attributes with the help of its design, operational information, and requirements throughout its lifecycle. 

The configuration management process involves five simple steps:

  • Creating a configuration management plan: The first is creating a plan that explains the process for recording, managing and testing the project configurations. The plan includes an introduction of each item, a project overview, and management strategies. 
  • Identify the requirements for configuration: This is a must-needed step which you can do by conducting a meeting with your stakeholders and reviewing the deliverables. 
  • Documentation: Once you have all the configuration requirements, you can document them so that you can measure the progress by comparing the changes to the baseline configurations. 
  • Track configurations: Tracking is a necessary step in configuration management, which can be done by status accounting. The main purpose behind this is to know the previous and current versions of the configuration. 
  • Test adherence: Another critical step is to test how your project or software adheres to the configuration requirements. In other words, it’s called auditing. The main objective behind this step is to make sure that the result of your work meets the requirements. 

What do you mean by Configuration Management Plan?

Whether you are a small business, a growing company, or an enterprise, starting a project requires you to define some specific procedures for your project. By breaking down each process, you can easily plan for every step. 

That is where a configuration management plan is helpful to control, document, define, manage, and audit changes to each component of your project. It involves procedures and requirements that are essential for your configuration management activities. It also allows you to control and manage your project according to the client’s requirements. 

Proper configuration planning defines the items of your project which are configurable and need some formal changes. These items could be color, size, shape, weight, and materials. Particular specifications according to their functions dictate the capability of every product and allow you to achieve a specific outcome. 

Example: Let’s take a car as an example. Its physical specs are color, number of doors (four-door or two-door), etc., and functional specifications are the ability to reach 60 mph in 5 seconds, automatic car lock, etc.

Configuration management involves five steps – planning, identification, control, status accounting, and audit. This system engineering process is widely used by military organizations to control and manage changes throughout the lifecycle of complex systems, including military vehicles, information systems, and weapon systems. 

Objectives of a Configuration Management Plan

Implementing a configuration management plan in your business acts as an umbrella for your project. It manages and traces the emerging product or software along with its versions. It also controls the identified configuration of the software, tools, and hardware throughout the lifecycle.

You must go with the technology flow to stand in the market and deter unwanted situations and risks that can destroy your assets. The main objectives behind a configuration management plan are:

  • Make a plan for each configurable item
  • Remote system administration
  • Reduced user downtime
  • Reliable backups
  • Workstation setup
  • Multiple user support

Why is a Configuration Management Plan necessary?

Configuration management requires a mechanism to store and operate data. ITIL introduced the new concept of the configuration management system (CMS) to replace the configuration management database (CMDB). 

The main reason behind it is that CMDB gives the concept of a single monolithic repository, whereas CMS offers a conceptualized system of CMDB. CMDBs act together to support governance process needs. 

Thus, the configuration management process, along with its repository, CMS or CMDB, faces challenges in terms of data contradicting and overlapping. To overcome the challenges, a configuration management plan was introduced that provides a way to reconcile and merge CIs to present only a single source of truth. 

A configuration management plan serves four key purposes – service delivery, security, compliance, and consistency. Think of a situation where a traditional data center has dozens of network switches, physical servers, storage devices, etc. It is crucial to understand the environment in order to ensure every application, OS, and device is configured in an acceptable way.

This may sound problematic and complex, but a configuration management plan is necessary to provide more consistency to your IT environment. So, whenever a device or application requires a replacement or service, a strong plan provides a baseline for the issue, and sooner the result will be on the screen. 

Configuration management plans play a vital role in our technology-based world. It has many benefits in multiple sectors, such as:

  • A configuration management plan reduces the risk of security breaches and outages by letting you track the changes.
  • It provides detailed knowledge of the elements of the configuration by avoiding unnecessary duplication of the assets. Hence, it results in reduced costs. 
  • A configuration management plan can enhance customer and employee experience by instantly identifying and correcting bad configurations.
  • A CM plan strictly controls the processes by defining formal policies that govern status monitoring, auditing, and asset identification. 
  • It helps you clear status accounting and provides better release management. 
  • It enables quicker restoration of devices, OS, or applications. 
  • Configuration management offers faster problem resolution and greater agility.
  • It helps you provide high-quality services.
  • It offers more flexibility, scalability, and visibility into every configurable item in your organization. 

Major Components and Steps of a Configuration Management Plan

IT services and infrastructure services should always have a pre-planned structure for every item involved in the process so that it will be easy for a project manager or stakeholder to identify, document, and audit the whole process. They should also look for areas to improve and develop a better plan. 

A configuration management plan includes:

  • Policies, roles, responsibilities, standards, scope, and objectives
  • Configuration items that, if not handled properly, can comprise IT and infrastructure services
  • The control of the changes to all the configurations
  • The way of recording and reporting the status of all the configurable items
  • The verification process of the correctness and completeness of all the items according to the needs for traceability, auditability, and accountability
  • Configuration control that includes access, version, build, protection, and release controls.
  • Interface control for recording, identifying, and managing information at a common boundary of at least two organizations, for example, system releases and interfaces.
  • Establishing resources with proper planning to bring configurations of all the assets under control, resulting in complete maintenance of a configuration management system. 
  • The management of subcontractors and suppliers performing the management process. 

Thus, the configuration manager and tool administrator need to follow these steps for the whole planning process:

  • Maintain the configuration management plan
  • Identify the requirement for configuration model update
  • Review the configuration management system change task
  • Update the configuration management system data model 
  • Trace the need for a new CI type
  • Check the requirement for CI modification
  • Create a new CI type
  • Configure the new CI
  • Check whether a policy update is required 
  • Maintain the configuration management policies
  • Configure the configuration management policies
  • Update the configuration management system

Various Stages of a Configuration Management Plan

The configuration management plan can help everyone in a project understand the configurations of each item that is required for the project. As a result, project managers can create strategies for their team to achieve deliverables to complete projects. 

This helps stakeholders as well so that they can track the progress and deliverables of the project. For such strategies, a manager should follow four stages to create and implement a configuration plan. 

#1. Identification of the Configurable Items

First, you need to identify the configurable items involved in your project. It helps in developing a unique method for each individual CI. With this component, you will know which item is placed under the management process, the components of the product, the structure of the components, and the versions of the items. 

#2. Configuration Control 

Here, you will control the activity of managing the product or its deliverables and its related documentation throughout your project lifecycle. With the second stage, you will understand the controllable items, the changes that can be controlled, and who is handling the changes. 

#3. Status Accounting 

This stage involves recording and reporting the changes to the items. You will get to know the status, changes that have been made, changes’ time and location, and affected components. 

#4. Audit and Verification 

The last stage is essential to verify the correctness of the product, components, and configurations applied to ensure conformance according to the requirements. This also verifies whether the status accounting information is correct or not. Apart from ensuring the correctness of configuration items, it helps:

  • Ensure the registered, approved, tracked, implemented, and assessed changes 
  • Measure the effectiveness of your project

Applicable Areas of Configuration Management Plans

Configuration management is essential to IT and infrastructure services. Let’s see some of the areas where configuration management plays a crucial role.

Source Code Management (SCM)

SCM is a way for many organizations to trace modifications to the source code repository. Before the introduction of source code management, developers were facing difficulties in saving each other’s work unknowingly. 

Proper planning prevents loss of overwork, overwriting, and so on. It can also be used to enhance insight and visibility within an organization. 

Build Engineering

Build engineering often shows challenges like lack of reproducibility, added technical debt, security concerns, and dependencies. To overcome such challenges, you need a consistent build environment that includes a systematic, unified, and standardized approach to creating a regular workflow.

Environment Configuration

Multiple developers on the same project team mean multiple brainstorming and divergent results. Organizations configure the environment to reduce inconsistencies asking developers to limit themselves according to the approved design elements, such as change control, release engineering, and deployments. 

Some Important Configuration Management Terms

Configuration Management Database 

A configuration management database (CMDB) is a central repository of all the data that acts as a data warehouse. It stores information about the IT environment. Moreover, it is an essential database for configuration management. What CMDB exactly does is keep the data of configurable items in a single place. 

Here, configuration items could mean a server, a virtual machine, an application, a container, a logical construct like a portfolio, and a router. For a fully functional CMDB, accuracy and constant updating are necessary. 

It helps IT teams in various ways, starting from eliminating outages and reducing time to avoiding security fines and maintaining reporting as well as tracking. It further helps technology managers to plan the whole configuration management process with high-level enterprise architecture and asset management. 

Configuration Audits

Similarly, configuration audits help track the changes that are actually made against the authorized product. This ensures configuration items meet functional requirements and come under industry standards, governmental laws, and company-specific policies. 

The configuration management plan undertakes a configuration audit strategy to ensure the effectiveness and correctness of the configuration management. It also determines the actions and operational activities related to configuration items. 

Best Practices for a Configuration Management Plan

To ensure your organization’s assets are available all the time and everything works perfectly, you must configure each item by implementing these best practices:

  • Cover processes, people, and technology: An effective configuration management plan involving processes, people, and technology is much more important than just launching and using a management tool. 
  • Track changes: Consider using change sets instead of single files for tracking changes related to configuration management. Change sets track changes to a group of directory structures, files, unit test comments, environment changes, reasons for change, and more. 
  • Early identification and testing: Adopt the early identification and testing approach to catch bugs and harmful regressions in the configuration management plan. 
  • Leave no endpoints: To avoid security risks and the downfall of performance, managers need to put together all the tools and processes so that changes to every endpoint can be managed effectively. 
  • Performance testing: Keeping track of performance is necessary to find the changes instantly. Performance testing gives you an overall insight into the latest changes to the system functionality. 
  • Avoid fixing issues with code: Avoid using code unless it is defined in your configuration management repository. This way, future reviewers won’t face a problem that may lead to subtle bugs and code conflicts. 

Conclusion

An effective configuration management plan is crucial. It needs adequate resources, a highly configured desktop, and other requirements. So, if you want all your systems to behave optimally and access resources on the go, ensure to keep your configurations at their best version. 

You can improve the approach by creating standards, maintaining documentation, configuration integrity checks, upgrading procedures, controlling versions, and more. This results in enhanced productivity, greater resilience, happier employees, and a structured database. 

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