Do you remember the last time you purchased a new laptop, tablet, or smartphone? As you excitedly powered it up for the first time, you eagerly explored the device’s capabilities, tried out some of the pre-loaded software, and got familiar with its look and feel.
But probably before you even tossed out the packaging, you were doubtlessly changing the settings, uploading new wallpapers, changing fonts, adding your favorite sound files for notifications, and inevitably deleting some of the extraneous pre-installed “free” software.
As time goes by, you get updates to the operating system, add new software and apps, and over time make the device your personal property. This behavior is perfectly normal and expected!
Now, instead of owning just one device, you’re running a network of 100 devices. Each user, unfortunately, has their preferences on how to do things. Over time, the machines are no longer standardized, and problems ensue—some minor irritations, and others far more severe.
This is a job for configuration management!
This article explores the concept of configuration management, what it is, why it’s needed, what kind of tools does it require, and which tools are best for the job.
Let’s begin with a primer.
What Is Configuration Management?
Before we figure out the best software configuration management tools, we must ask ourselves, “What is configuration management, and why is it important?” By getting a solid grasp on the process, we can better ascertain which tools are the most effective.
Configuration management is considered a subset of systems management, a process for keeping servers, systems, and software functioning consistently within a set of established parameters. The process ensures the system and its resources perform as expected, despite updates, additions, and deletions.
So, configuration management ensures that all the devices in your network infrastructure march to the same beat, keeping everyone in line.
What Are Configuration Management Tools?
Configuration management tools perform various tasks to keep physical and logical assets consistent. These management tools identify and track all configuration items and document functional dependencies, helping the IT department understand how changing one configuration item affects all the others.
Many configuration management tasks are automated, reducing the likelihood of human error while freeing up staff to handle other matters.
Why Do We Need Configuration Management Tools?
Configuration management tools make life easier for everyone using digital assets. Their primary purpose is to keep an accurate, detailed record of computer system information and standards and update them as necessary.
Here are the most common configuration management tool functions:
- Application deployment
- Automated provisioning
- Infrastructure automation
- Node management
- Role-based access control
- Task management
- Visualization and reporting
These are the chief benefits of configuration management tools:
- Diminished likelihood of outages and security breaches
- Cost-effective due to avoiding technology asset duplication
- Tighter process control by enforcing established policies and procedures
- Quicker problem resolution
- Efficient change management by reliance on the baseline configuration
- Faster service restoration turnaround
Configuration management tools in DevOps handle crucial tasks such as deploying applications, maintaining infrastructure, and provisioning environments. These functions are delicate and labor-intensive, but the tools can save time and reduce the chance of human error if they are automated.
Configuration management in DevOps is referred to as "comprehensive configuration management" and consists of:
Source Code Repository
Used mostly during the development phase, it is the main container for all code versions. Additionally, the repository usually stores build scripts, test scripts, deployment scripts, and configuration files.
Used during both development and operations phases, it is a database for storing test data, binaries, and libraries. The artifact repository stores machine-readable files.
Configuration Management Database (CMDB)
Also used during development and operations phases, this is a repository of the organization’s infrastructure devices, databases, applications, and services. It also contains the relationships between the various elements in the CMDB.
DevOps’ purpose is to develop and release software as quickly as possible. Configuration management makes that goal more attainable.
The Best Software Configuration Management Tools
Here are twelve of the top configuration management tools available today. There is no such thing as the perfect tool, but maybe there’s a tool that’s perfect for your unique situation.
Alibaba Application Configuration Management
Also called ACM, Alibaba lets you centralize application configuration management, which enhances service capabilities for big data, DevOps, and microservices. Alibaba also offers multi-level cache and ensures 99.99 percent server availability. Cost: Paid plan.
Ansible Configuration Tool
Many pundits consider Ansible to be the most popular configuration management tool. It provides a simple automation solution that helps IT professionals bypass time-consuming grunt work, freeing them to handle more challenging development-oriented tasks. Ansible automates things like intra-service orchestration and cloud provisioning. Ansible Tower also lets you manage your entire infrastructure. Cost: Free trial and paid plan.
CHEF Configuration Tool
Chef configures software and files on machines, focusing on virtual machine setups in the cloud and servers. It’s an automation platform that offers a suitable method of configuring and managing the infrastructure. Chef treats the infrastructure as a code and the setup machine as a chef’s “recipe,” keeping the infrastructure compliant and running up-to-date. Every recipe is stored in a “cookbook,” where it’s considered a single task. Chef distinguishes itself as a tool that helps you best increase service resiliency and develop more bug-free software. Cost: Paid plan.
CFEngine Configuration Tool
CFEngine is an automation tool primarily used for managing and provisioning software deployment in an operational IT environment. It is best suited for providing configuration and maintenance for heavy computer systems, servers, embedded network systems, laptop computers, mobile devices, and other related tech. Cost: Open-source.
ConfigHub helps IT teams secure, manage, and deliver configurations across a whole stack. Developers can store, manage, and distribute software configurations for either a single application or an entire distributed system. ConfigHub is particularly good at dynamic modeling for system topologies, eliminating config errors and duplication, and centralizing all configuration control in one place. Cost: Open-source.
Juju focuses mostly on decreasing the operational overhead of newer generation applications and software. It lets you configure, integrate, scale, and quickly deploy cloud applications on OpenStack, public cloud platforms, containers, and physical servers. Juju also provides controller, dashboard, DNS, and multi-node deployment. Additionally, it supplies Transport Layer Security (TLS) between nodes. Cost: Open-source.
Puppet Configuration Tool
Puppet shines in centralizing and automating configuration management processes. It is primarily used to configure, manage, and deploy various applications and services. Users can automate provisioning across their IT infrastructure and make rapid changes or mediate urgent issues alongside model-driven automation management. Its cross-platform capability works with Debian, Fedora, Gentoo, RHEL, Solaris, Windows, and OS. Puppet uses an easy to learn declarative language and is supported by a large community of users. Cost: Free trial and paid plan.
RackHD is an automated, platform-agnostic hardware management and orchestration tool that works with cohesive application programming interfaces (APIs). You can automate many management tasks, including installing and updating firmware, creating feature requests, provisioning server operating systems, and providing data feeds and raw telemetry from the hardware. Cost: Open-source.
Rudder is a server-side, role-based web interface written in the Scala programming language. The local agent is written in C. Rudder is an excellent tool for automating and maintaining production infrastructure. It provides an automated inventory for both software and hardware, lets you generate host policies dynamically, manage nodes, and define policies within your environment. Cost: Open-source.
SaltStack is written in Python and works on either a non-centralized or master-client setup model. This tool helps maintain event IT automation, remote task execution, and configuration management in defined states. SaltStack uses the “infrastructure as code” approach to manage network deployment, vulnerability, and configuration automation. Additionally, SaltStack integrates well with cloud providers like Google Cloud and Amazon Web Services (AWS). Cost: Paid plan.
Server Configuration Monitor
Server Configuration Monitor detects and compares configuration changes to servers, databases, and applications. It lets users configure applications and servers in real-time. IT teams use Server Configuration Monitor to monitor output changes, track server hardware and software inventory, create reports and alerts on deviations, and compare the current configuration version with previous ones. Cost: 30-day free trial and paid plan.
Vagrant is a cross-platform tool, ideal for setting up and managing virtual machines in a single workflow. It works smoothly with virtual machine (VM) solutions like VMWare, VirtualBox, Hyper-V, etc. Vagrant is considered one of the easiest and fastest ways to set up a virtual environment. Cost: Open-source.
Enroll for the DevOps Training Course and gain expertise in several aspects of the delivery model using DevOps tools like Docker, Jenkins, and more.
Do You Want to Be Ansible Certified?
Ansible is one of the most well-known and well-used configuration management tools available today, so professionals who want to improve their skillset and marketability should become acquainted. Simplilearn offers an Ansible Foundation training course tailored for beginners. The course begins with Ansible 2.0 installation, then gradually guides you towards creating your own playbooks, managing an entire cloud region, and configuring network devices across Linux or Windows operating systems. Once you’ve mastered Ansible’s basics, you can help boost your team’s productivity and improve business results with the DevOps Certification Program, designed in collaboration with Caltech CTME.
If you are on a DevOps Engineer career path, it’s useful to know how Ansible works. The foundation training course, followed by Simplilearn’s DevOps Engineer master’s program, will be a powerful one-two punch that helps you outperform the competition and boost your DevOps career. Check out Simplilearn today, and become a DevOps superstar!