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Why should I use a configuration management system?

Configuration management frees up the IT team's time when combined with additional automation. So why are some data centers shying away from this particular discipline?

Configuration management has moved from a "dark art" in the server room to a discipline of IT with systems and best practices. But many IT organizations -- especially small shops -- can't see why they need it.

There are plenty of reasons to invest in a configuration management system, such as reducing update errors or irregularities, enabling server audits, underpinning scaling up to a bigger deployment and so on, said Phil Dibowitz, a system engineer at Facebook . But the overarching reason for configuration management is simpler: to spend time on higher-level things. Even with a solid list of technological reasons to adopt a configuration management system, many IT shops still face a cultural roadblock. Even at Facebook, an agile Web-based company, migration to Chef configuration management took three years because it changed the way people did their jobs. The actual technological changeover was done in a matter of months, Dibowitz said, and the rest of the time was spent guiding teams to work in a new way thanks to it.

In the data center, sys admins see a lot of value in the automation configuration management systems bring, because booting up machine by machine is tedious, slow and error prone. "Even if you stay at 10 servers forever, your life will still get better if you automate this stuff," Dibowitz said. "Configuration management frees up your time to work on cool projects."

Cloud users used to be more willing than traditional IT shops to use automation and configuration standards, Dibowitz said, but containers like Docker have some IT pros thinking they no longer need a configuration management system.

There are a few ways to evaluate configuration management options. Have an experienced member of your team discuss the benefits and effort involved. If you lack an advocate in-house, reach out to existing users locally or in online communities.

Meredith Courtemanche is the senior site editor for SearchDataCenter. Follow@DataCenterTT for news and tips on data center IT and facilities.

Next Steps

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DevOps tools beyond Chef and Puppet

This was last published in June 2015

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