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Automatic Provisioning Problem #2: "Crap Configuration Management"

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Following up on my previous post, the second reason why automatic provisioning has been so difficult for IT to master is what Jonathan Eunice of Illuminata, called "Crap Configuration Management."

According to Jonathan, IT has done a lousy job at knowing how their systems are configured. "When you automate, you're trying to codify or put into technical language what people have kept in their heads, on sticky notes, in binders, or encoded into scripts. We've relied so much on people that we haven't encoded how systems should be configured and codified in a repeatable, scalable way," Jonathan said.

Because such rules haven't been rigorously laid out, data centers wing it using a patchwork of human labor and knowledge to remember what drivers are needed, how to install those drivers, how to integrate the Apache web server with the SSL server, how to bring up Python or another programming language, and so forth.

Other industries like telcos and cable companies go through a more disciplined service management process. "It's not because they're geniuses. They've just been through the wars. If you're Comcast, and you had to ad hoc add every single Comcast subscriber, however many million of them, you're screwed. You'll have to break fix all day long because this installer won't remember how to do this, and the whole system will be screwed up," Jonathan explained.

As a result, these companies have codified such processes as billing customers and escalating performance complaints. And IT departments need to learn how to create policies and processes and learn how to lay them down in a clean way.

In contrast, the majority of IT shops have maybe a couple of years worth of concern about configuration management under their belts. "The most frightening call I've ever had was from a brand name company about to go live with their [SaaS] offering, and they had just seen a news report about a big failure. And they asked, 'How do we avoid being the next big failure?'

"I said, 'You have your configuration management control discipline down, right?' Their response was: 'What's that?'"

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