Configuration management

Learn about this systems engineering process

Learn Configuration management

Wendy Rodriguez

What is configuration management?

Configuration management is a process in IT that involves tracking, managing and controlling changes to a software system’s configuration, resources and services. It involves keeping track of all the components, configurations, and dependencies in a software project and ensuring that they are properly organized, documented, and controlled. CM, as it's often abbreviated, entails practices and processes used to establish and maintain consistency and control over organizations' hardware, software, and documentation. CM also provides visibility into how IT resources and services are configured and how those items relate to one another, which ensures that an organization knows the technology assets that are available.

Brief history of configuration management

The origins of CM can be traced back to the 1950s when the United States Department of Defense recognized the need for a systematic approach to managing the complex hardware and software systems used in military operations. They developed a set of standards and guidelines called “480 series” to establish a formal process for controlling and documenting changes to these systems.

In the 1970s, the concept of configuration management began to gain traction in the software development industry. Early tools focused on version control, allowing developers to track changes to source code and revert to previous versions if necessary.

The 1980s saw the emergence of more comprehensive configuration management tools and the 2000s marked the rise of DevOps, a software development methodology that emphasizes collaboration between development and operations teams and the automation of tasks. CM became a core component of DevOps practices, allowing teams to manage and deploy infrastructure and applications in a consistent manner.

Today, configuration management is an essential discipline for organizations of all sizes, mostly those with complex IT infrastructures.

Role of configuration management in DevOps

In DevOps, configuration management plays a vital role in ensuring consistency, stability, and efficiency in the software development and deployment process. Through the implementation of configuration management practices, DevOps teams can guarantee the software's smooth operation, avoiding compatibility issues, and prompting problem remediation.

In the context of DevSecOps, which is the approach that integrates development (Dev), security (Sec), and operations (Ops), configuration management can help ensure that security is integrated into every part of the software development lifecycle. CM tools like Ansible, Puppet, and Chef are often used in DevSecOps to define and manage infrastructure as code (IaC). This means that the configuration of servers, containers, and other infrastructure components is defined in code, making it easier to manage, version control, and ensure consistency. IaC practices help reduce security vulnerabilities related to infrastructure misconfiguration.

Also in DevSecOps, configuration management is integrated into CI/CD pipelines to ensure that security checks are performed at every stage of the software development process. This helps catch security issues early in the development lifecycle. Other key roles of CM in DevSecOps include enforcing security policies, continuous security scanning (like that offered by Fluid Attacks), sensitive data management, and encouraging constant collaboration, all of which enhance the security posture of an organization.

At Fluid Attacks, we consider DevSecOps to be a cultural change within the organization, and we help our clients achieve DevSecOps by making sure their projects are secured at the earliest possible point in the software development lifecycle. We also encourage organizations to know their DevSecOps maturity level and learn what they can do to improve it.

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Why is configuration management important?

Configuration management’s primary goal is to ensure that IT systems and infrastructure are reliable, secure and can be effectively managed throughout their lifecycle. CM is particularly important for complex software systems that are composed of components that differ in granularity of size and intricacy. It’s crucial for a variety of reasons:

  • It helps ensure stability and reliability of IT systems, which reduces the likelihood of unexpected issues and downtime.

  • By maintaining accurate records and documentation, CM enables risk mitigation associated with hardware and software configuration changes.

  • Troubleshooting becomes more efficient due to a well-managed configuration that allows IT personnel to quickly identify the root cause of an issue.

  • Compliance is ensured by configuration management as the necessary documentation for audits can be provided.

  • As it controls and documents the changes to IT systems, it enhances security and enables effective responses and remediation to incidents and vulnerabilities.

  • Organizations can optimize resources by tracking assets, ensuring they are used efficiently and avoiding unnecessary duplication or over-provisioning.

  • When properly done, it allows for easier scalability of IT systems if needed.

  • In organizations with multiple teams or departments, it fosters efficient collaboration by ensuring that everyone involved has access to consistent and up-to-date information.

Key benefits of configuration management

As mentioned above, configuration management is crucial for organizations of all sizes. Basically, it plays a vital role in ensuring the smooth operation and stability of IT systems, offering benefits like maintaining consistent and standardized configurations, enhancing security and reducing the risk of unauthorized access or data breaches, providing a structured process for implementing and tracking changes to IT systems, and lowering IT operational costs by automating configuration tasks.

How does configuration management work and how to implement it?

CM is a system’s engineering process that ensures consistency between a product’s attributes, such as performance, functionality, and physical aspects, and its requirements, design, and operational information throughout its lifecycle. It involves a set of processes and tools to manage and control changes to IT infrastructure. The following is an overview of how configuration management works:

  1. Identify and document all IT assets and their configurations.
  2. Establish a baseline for each asset, defining the desired state and approved configuration settings.
  3. Implement a change control process to review, approve, and implement changes to configurations.
  4. Automate configuration tasks using CM tools to enforce consistent configurations and reduce manual errors.
  5. Continuously monitor and audit configurations to detect deviations from the baseline and identify potential vulnerabilities.
  6. Remediate any configuration drift or non-compliance issues promptly to maintain system integrity and security.

To implement CM effectively, the first step is to clearly define the goals and objectives, aligning with organizational needs and priorities. Secondly, choose appropriate CM tools considering factors like scalability, ease of use, and integration capabilities. Third, establish clear policies and procedures. Next is training IT staff on configuration management tools, processes, and best practices to ensure proper implementation and usage. Lastly, keep up with continuous evaluation and improvement on configuration management practices, adapting to changes in IT environments and emerging security threats. Configuration management is an ongoing process that requires continuous attention and adaptation.

What are the risks of not using configuration management?

Neglecting configuration management can expose organizations to various risks, compromising the security, stability, and compliance of IT systems. Without proper configuration management, uncontrolled changes and inconsistencies can lead to system malfunctions, causing outages and downtime that disrupt business operations. It might affect compliance with mandated standards, and failing to meet them could lead to fines, penalties, and reputational damages.

Misconfigurations are a leading cause of security breaches. Without tracking and enforcing secure configurations, organizations become vulnerable to unauthorized access, data breaches, and cyberattacks. Troubleshooting IT issues becomes challenging as well. Without a clear understanding of system configurations, lack of documentation and change tracking hinders problem identification and remediation.

Disregarding configuration management can lessen the time-to-market, but it can lead to jeopardizing different parts of the organization’s IT infrastructure. Implementing a robust configuration management framework is essential to mitigate these and other risks, ensuring the smooth operation of IT systems.

Configuration management strategies

These are several CM strategies that organizations can implement to effectively manage their IT resources and services:

  • Infrastructure as code (IaC): This strategy involves developing the infrastructure, including servers, networks, and other resources, as code. This approach enables faster provisioning, standardized configuration, and easier reproducibility of environments.

  • Change management process: Implementing a structured change management process helps ensure that all changes to the configuration of IT resources and services are properly evaluated, documented, and approved.

  • Version control: Using version control systems, such as Git, allows tracking and managing changes to configuration files and scripts. It provides a history of changes, facilitates collaboration, and helps to identify and roll back to previous configurations, in case it’s necessary.

  • Configuration baselines: Establishing configuration baselines involves creating a standard and approved configuration for IT resources and services. These baselines serve as a reference point so that any deviations from the desired state are identified and corrected. This strategy helps organizations to maintain consistency and integrity across their configurations.

  • Automated deployment and testing: Implementing automated deployment and testing processes, such as continuous integration and continuous deployment (CI/CD) pipelines, helps ensure that configuration changes are seamlessly applied and tested in a controlled manner.

It’s important to note that the selection and combination of these strategies depend on the specific needs and complexity of each organization’s IT environment. They may adopt different strategies or customize them to suit their unique requirements.

Configuration management tools

Configuration management tools are essential for managing and automating the configuration of IT infrastructures, ensuring consistency and reducing errors. CM tools are software solutions that help track and manage changes to applications and their infrastructure. The following are some popular management tools available:

  • Ansible: An agentless, open-source configuration management tool that uses YAML playbooks to define configurations.
  • CFEngine: An agent-based, open-source configuration management tool that uses declarative language and provides automation configuration for various computer systems.
  • Chef: Another agent-based tool that uses a Ruby-based DSL to define configurations. It’s popular for its flexibility and ability to integrate with a wide range of third-party tools.
  • Configu: A tool that has an open-source configuration format and is cloud based; it uses a drag-and-drop interface to define configurations.
  • Puppet: An agent-based configuration management tool that uses a declarative language and is known for its scalability and ability to manage complex infrastructure environments.
  • SaltStack: An event-driven tool that uses Python-based DSL to define configurations and is known for its speed and ability to handle large-scale deployments.
  • CMDB: A ServiceNow IT service, this central repository is a warehouse-like unit that houses essential information regarding the IT environment.

The different types of software configuration management tools can vary, from version control software and artifact repositories to build automation tools and configuration management systems. Depending on the specific needs and requirements of an organization, various tools can be considered.

Configuration management & Fluid Attacks

As we mentioned earlier in this post, Fluid Attacks helps to integrate security to all of the stages of the development and operations cycle, aiming to follow DevSecOps successfully. DevSecOps with configuration management not only ensures that the systems and applications are deployed consistently, but also reliably and securely.

Configuration management pipelines can incorporate continuous security scanning as part of the deployment process. The tools performing it, like those we offer, can check for vulnerabilities and security issues in the software and infrastructure code. We count not only with automated scanning methods, such as SAST, DAST, or SCA, but also with our ethical hacking team that leverages on their expertise to conduct vulnerability assessments. We would argue that ethical hacking is our star performer, since the automated tools have their limits and our hacking team goes beyond these tools’ reach.

You can count on our team to perform comprehensive penetration tests done by our certified pentesters. Fluid Attacks’ pentesters perform manual penetration testing to simulate real-world attacks on systems. Configuration management data is valuable in planning these tests, as it provides insights into the architecture and configurations of the systems or applications being tested. Fluid Attacks’ pentesting solution involves meticulous evaluations performed by experts that vulnerability scanning does not have the ability to replace.

Our penetration testing solution is part of our Continuous Hacking Advanced plan, which also involves ethical hackers assessing the security of your technology. If you’d like, you can try our DevSecOps tools for a 21-day free trial period, as part of our Continuous Hacking Essential plan. You can always contact us in case you have any questions.


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