Configuration management: You can’t just copy & paste practices

  • Configuration management is about actively managing servers by having a software/ agent to monitor them so you can automate tasks
  • You can’t adopt the practice the same way as the West did it because emerging markets like South-East Asia are very different

Configuration management: You can’t just copy & paste practicesTHE Gartner research reports on emerging trends and technologies can help a lot in determining between what is just hype and what is revolutionary technology. But we all know that these reports are certainly not the end-all solution – industry-specific factors matter too.
Let’s take the IT industry in emerging markets as an example. The IT industry in South-East Asia is booming, while it seems that the West is struggling to make ends meet; which brings us some very interesting opportunities.
Technology in South-East Asia is developing very fast, although some aspects of it are seen to lag behind what the IT industry in the West uses. A good example of this is the DevOps movement and specifically, the associated Configuration Management.
Configuration management is about actively managing servers by having a software/ agent to monitor them so that you can easily automate your server tasks, deploy critical applications and proactively manage change.
In recent years, there has been a shift in the way operations teams typically manage large infrastructures. Initially, many organizations wrote their own scripts that were very specific to their own environment. While many companies still do this, others have jumped on the bandwagon of automating their operations as much as possible – this makes scaling much easier because you no longer manually log into every server to manage and monitor it.
Of course, in addition to scaling, technologies like configuration management certainly do have many more benefits. Just to name a few:

  • ‘Infrastructure as code' – text files that list which packages, files and services are on which servers in an easy-to-read syntax;
  • Configuration backups – “We lost that old ftp server, what did its configuration files look like?”
  • Easy replacement of servers – apply the exact same configuration to a completely new server;
  • Having a version controlled infrastructure – “What did that Apache configuration file look like three months ago?”, “Who changed the Apache configuration file three months ago and why?”
  • Having developers use development environments that match 99% of production environments.

Configuration management: You can’t just copy & paste practicesThis then brings about a learning curve and a transition period for configuration management tools like Puppet and Chef. Both are free and open source, and both benefit from a vibrant community building tools around them that make them more useful every day.
Of course, these tools are very commonly used in the West today.
Now, some people believe that blindly copying what works in the Western world is a good idea. I'm not a firm believer of this. I believe that we should analyze these technologies and apply the parts of them that can work well in the vastly different Asian markets.
The reality is that the differences between the Western and Eastern world are often neglected, but they simply shouldn't be.
Like in the case of human resources – it is certainly cheaper in many parts of South-East Asia, even though the cost of other resources like software licenses, training costs and hardware prices are almost equal.
This creates a unique situation in which it might appear that simply throwing manpower at a problem is much more cost-effective for scaling operations in Asia, as compared to Europe or the United States.
Subsequently, this gives rise to the problem of configuration management in the East: more people on the same task do not necessarily mean that the task gets completed faster or has fewer challenges that come with it, especially in system administration.
Convincing people of this however, is not always as trivial as it might seem. In fact, I think (read: I know for a fact) that the same team of system administrators can manage a lot more servers (numbers of up to 1,000 servers per system administrator are not uncommon) with a much higher quality of service when configuration management is applied.
So when it comes to configuration management, the West has certainly championed it and it will do much good for the East, but a wholesale copy and pasting just will not do. It will take time to analyze how to make configuration management work for companies and the industry as a whole, but it is certainly something the East side can benefit from.
Walter Heck is CEO and founder OlinData, whose goal is to spread knowledge and love for great open source technologies to as many people as possible.
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DevOps: Smashing through software development silos
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