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Coming Out of the Closet... The CMS Can Too

     I get up for work at 3 AM. In an effort to disturb my wife as little as possible when getting ready, she uses the big closet in the bedroom and I have the two smaller closets in the office (spare bedroom). One of these closets is dedicated for work clothes (dress shirts, plain t-shirts and jackets). The other closet is the rest of my shirts. Regardless how hectic my work, my life or my house may be, my work closet is always very well organized. At a glance, I can see not only which shirts are clean, but which shirts I haven’t worn in a while and are prime candidates for charity during the next great purge event.

     Best of all, I never have to organize it.

     As I see it, organization has three essential aspects to consider:

Functionality – Is what you need where and when you need it?
     We keep most of our books up in the office, but we always ended up with a big mess of books in the living room, because that’s where we read most often. Not only is it inconvenient to have to trudge upstairs to get the book I was just reading yesterday, but they never found themselves back upstairs, anyway. Rather than fighting our laziness and forgetfulness, we used it. We bought an attractive bookshelf for downstairs. Most of our books are still upstairs, but the ones we’re currently reading have a place to live downstairs.

Usability – Is it easy to find?
     My wife and I have a bit of a disconnection when it comes to this. If I know where it is, it’s organized – even if it looks like a mad professor’s laboratory. In her view, if it looks tidy, it’s organized – even if I may never see that screwdriver again. I suppose the ideal house set-up is somewhere in the middle, but the fact remains, if I put my hand down where I expect something to be and it’s not there… it’s simply not organized.

Maintainability – Is it easy to keep organized?
     This is where my closet really shines. It’s not a big walk-in closet with a thousand custom-made drawers, nooks and hooks to keep all my sundry haberdashery (one of these days I will do a blog post about my dismay and despair over all the haberdasheries disappearing – it’s a damned shame, I tell you). It’s just a pole – a pole with a support in the center. Fact is, if it had those thousand drawers, it would likely be difficult to maintain (though I still aspire to that one day). The beauty of my closet is that I don’t maintain it at all.

     When I put my clean clothes away, the support bracket in the middle is the divider. I put my hands in the middle and spread. Now I have a big, empty hole to hang all my shirts in… dress shirts on the left, t-shirts on the right and jackets on the far right (out of the way, because I don’t wear them very often).

     When I get dressed, still bleary-eyed after my morning shower, I look in the middle first – not only is it where my eyes are naturally drawn to, but I am going to take one from the left and one from the right for the day, so that’s the most reasonable place to reach toward. In addition, all my favorite shirts will be found in the middle (as they are the most recent to come back from the laundry). Given that the more toward the center the shirt can be found, the more often I wear it… when clean-out day comes along, I know that I should be looking at the shirts on the far left only. It takes me about one minute to figure out which shirts are going to charity this time.

     The organization is functional, it’s usable and (most significantly for a lazy bastard like me) it’s maintainable. It maintains itself, in fact. The organization of my closet is an organic byproduct of the processes of getting dressed and hanging clothes in the simplest, most convenient way.
     It’s ideal.

     Whenever I have an organization project, I start thinking about the organization of my closet.

     I was doing laundry the other day and had a thought about the elusive Configuration Management System.

     In IT, data is has never been our problem. We could never hope to find a use for most of the data we produce – and if there is anything we don’t produce, that’s rarely a significant challenge to overcome. The real difficulty is organizing that data into usable information. It’s a country full of cities full of warehouses full of closets full of tiny drawers.
     The thought…
     “What if there was a way for that data to organize itself, the way my closet organizes itself? What if the organization were an organic byproduct of the process of introducing change into the infrastructure in the simplest, most convenient way?”

     Why not? Don’t scoff!

     Organized, service-oriented information could be an organic byproduct of your Change Management process and an automatic output of your Change Management tool. Furthermore, when your organization is ready to institute Adroit Infrastructure, you’re halfway there, already!

     Allow me, if you will, to paint you a picture…

     You’re a Service Manager. Your service has been running hot, and you want to add more CPU cycles. You get the approval to procure a new server and the process begins. As part of the RFC, your SA has to specify what the server name will be in a change record (built off a simple “New Server” template, of course – with all the criteria that were agreed upon as part of the Release Process being required fields). Once the template makes it past the QA check in the Release Management process, it automatically gets submitted as a Standard Change and the new CI is automatically introduced into the CMDB as a stand-alone server. Once the stand alone server is populated in the CMDB, you go to the Change Management tool, select your service from the list (required) select the server name from the list (required) click the button to add the server to your farm. Once deployment is complete, the information gets automatically associated in the CMDB and is available via your CMS. The next time a change record has to be opened against that server, it can simply be selected from the list (automatically populated from the CMDB, of course) and the SA can select the “Security Patch” template or the “Decommission” template or the “Install Software Package” template…

     I’ll grant you that this is an oversimplification, but the idea could certainly be applicable across many different types of changes – as long as you have your Change Management process nailed down, you have the proper template pre-populated and your Change Management tool is built & configured properly, that is.

     The CMS doesn’t have to be the nightmare that everyone makes it out to be… it doesn’t have to be months of reconciling auto-discovery data – just to end up incomplete & incorrect, anyway… it doesn’t have to be the ongoing manual maintenance melee that nobody will participate in… It can be the organic byproduct of your Change Management tool – while at the same time simplifying your Change Management process, making it more user-friendly.

     Your CMS can build itself.

     Your thoughts?

March 01, 2011, 05:50:36 pm

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Comments

TheITSkeptic

Idealistic tech wet dream.  Sorry.

That's precisely how CMS is supposed to work.

But:
 how do you load the initial data that's already there? By discovering, cleaning up, and manually linking it up
How do you deal with data being automatically created by ops tools? By building federation connector software then maintaining or testing it every time one end or the other  changes
How do you detect change subversion?  By regular autodiscovery then building comparator tools
How do you detect change subversion of stuff that can't be autodetected?  Um...
How do you deal with entities being identified by multiple sources?  By building reconciliation software and manual processes
How do you detect all the info on new devices?  By building yet more integration software to procurement system (even if CMDBf ever means something real, procurement systems aren't going to talk CMDBf)
How do you...

The promise of automagic has been there since the first computer.  It's still a dream: any automation takes huge investment.  The more complex the automation the bigger the investment.  Like any investment you have to ask what problem are you solving, what are the benefits and do those benefits outweigh the costs?  I reckon about 5% of sites answer "yes" to CMDB/CMS - the big, complex, fast moving ones.  For the rest it is techs pursuing idealism without a business rationale.

The IT Skeptic

Craig Wilkey

How do you detect change subversion?  By regular autodiscovery then building comparator tools
How do you detect change subversion of stuff that can't be autodetected?  Um...
Introduction of a CMS does not introduce these problems.
Change subversion is a process & culture issue.
I know you’re saying that these things will force the information to be out of date, but regardless what method you use (even “wetware”) the same issue applies, so these are moot points at best.

In fact, I would argue that integration of the Change Management tool with the data repository would be a significant step toward streamlining the process by allowing for auto-population of required fields, making it less painful to follow – thereby making compliance MORE likely.

Techs don’t like dealing with documentation. That’s not news – it’s a challenge in every organization, at every level. The easier you make it and the more value you demonstrate to those providing the documentation, the easier it becomes to overcome that challenge.

Change Management compliance is absolutely critical for security, governance, cost control, and on and on…
Compliance with Change Management should, in my view, be adamantly enforced with a zero tolerance policy.
Given that, if the Change Management tool were designed to effectively capture the change data (which it seems rather silly to NOT do) then the CMS is an organic outcome.

how do you load the initial data that's already there? By discovering, cleaning up, and manually linking it up
That is certainly one option (and almost certainly the most common).

How many organizations do you think already have some level of an Asset Management database system already available? I’d wager a Hell of a lot more than 5%, wouldn’t you? Seems like an ideal seeding ground to me.
From there, the initial relationships can be built by the teams responsible for maintenance of those systems. Those same support personnel that you would be calling at 3AM to answer the question in the event of an outage will be responsible for configuring the logical links within the tool.
Priority would be based on a simple risk assessment – which should really be done anyway.

Another option would be to just let it get populated as changes are introduced.
Depending on the rate of change in your organization, this may take a while – but given the industry standard for change failure rate, it just may be suitable for your business needs to only populate the data as it changes.
If 75% of your incidents are caused by change (which is certainly not unheard of) then this works out to be an automated “just in time” approach and just may be the ideal approach.
Install the tool and your work is done.

How do you deal with data being automatically created by ops tools? By building federation connector software then maintaining or testing it every time one end or the other  changes
How do you deal with entities being identified by multiple sources?  By building reconciliation software and manual processes
How do you detect all the info on new devices?  By building yet more integration software to procurement system (even if CMDBf ever means something real, procurement systems aren't going to talk CMDBf)
That was kind of the whole point of this post. If the Change Management tool were designed appropriately, none of this would be an issue at all.

The size of the up-front investment is not solely based on the size & complexity of the environment – but the purpose of the tool, the state of the environment and the state/maturity/effectiveness of your processes.
The worse off your infrastructure & process compliance are, the greater investment it is likely going to require – but then, the worse off your infrastructure & process compliance are, the greater the justification of that investment.

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