How Containers Improve Application Configuration Management

  • Posted On: 17th May 2018
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How Containers Improve Application Configuration Management

What prevents your organization from retaining technical talent and avoiding expensive recruiting campaigns? Market factors like pay and benefits are a big part of the story. However, we find that most managers tend to miss the more subtle elements that push talented professionals to disengage or even resign from your organization.

Highly skilled developers, engineers, and technicians have options. If your organization’s antiquated tools and processes force them to perform routine tasks like configuring test servers and applications over and over again, boredom and frustration will eat away at their contributions. Some commentators think this problem is generational, but that misses the broader trend. As Forbes pointed out, turnover in the tech industry cannot be explained by pointing the finger at job-hopping millennials. You can reduce that risk by using tools that ease the burden of tedious IT tasks like application configuration management.

Three Reasons Why Application Configuration Management Matters

With all the technical priorities on your desk as an IT manager, why should you give attention to application configuration management? You might be concerned about hacking incidents, managing contracts with cloud vendors or managing a new acquisition. There are three key reasons to keep in mind:

  •   Support your software developers. Earlier, we looked at how technical professionals may disengage and leave the organization if they are bored with routine work. Robust application configuration management means your staff will have more time to work on new ideas instead of repetitive maintenance activities. This also means less time spent on debugging problems caused by inconsistent application arrangements.
  •   Consistent IT performance. Senior management measures IT on its ability to deliver reliable results day after day. Small errors in application configuration are one of the easiest ways to kill performance. If applications fail, your likelihood of winning support for your next technology proposal will suffer. After all, the executive team may reasonably wonder if you cannot handle the basics of keeping applications running smoothly, why they should give you more responsibility. That is an awkward conversation you should aim to avoid. Implementing consistent application configuration management will raise the profile of IT management.
  •   Enable new projects. By providing a predictable environment, your developers and engineers will feel more confident about executing new projects. On the other hand, if innovation projects are regularly interrupted to fix application issues, innovative projects will keep being delayed. By standardizing application configuration, you can also save time during the testing phase of new releases.

Now that we know why it matters, the next question is how to make it happen. Most organizations start with a simple approach — lots of manual effort. Let’s take a look at that approach next.

Eliminating the Application Configuration Management Problem With Blood, Sweat, and Tears

Achieving consistent application configuration management is not easy. You might decide to create a dedicated team with a sole focus on application configuration management. That approach makes sense in huge organizations with hundreds or thousands of applications to manage. However, that team of people will still face the challenge of deciding priorities. Which apps should they focus on configuring first? It is a tough decision to make. There is a way to make the decision easier — get more capacity on your team. We are not talking about hiring more people. It is about leveraging technology to systematize your approach.

Resource: To systematize your application configuration management methods, use existing standards. We recommend looking at ITIL’s guidance on the topic. For added consistency, propose ITIL certification training for your team to help them to learn the methodology. Start here: ITIL: What goes into a Configuration Management Plan?.

What Would You Do If Application Configuration Management Was Easy?

Imagine for a moment that application configuration management was straightforward. The answer: use a container. As we have previously covered on this blog, 7 Productivity Benefits of Using Containers. Those productivity gains extend to managing applications. What does that look like? We will explore a few of the possibilities next.

Easy Application Configuration in a Box: The Container Solution

Assuming you are already using ITIL or a similar methodology to guide your approach to application configuration, containers can help. Think of containers as a way to enhance your application management performance.

So what are the options to improve application configuration management?

  • Add the configuration to the container. If you are using Docker containers, there is a way to add application configuration into the Docker image. Take a look at this example of automated build Docker builds for Atlassian Jira. With this approach, any future changes to the configuration will require changes to the Docker image. Used correctly, this approach ensures that your development and production environments run on the same operating system. That means fewer headaches and last minute bugs when you work toward a new release.
  • Place Config Files Directly Using Docker Volumes. Unlike the above approach, this method loses synchronization between the development and production environment. It does provide more flexibility.

 

You might also look at using specialized tools to manage configurations such as Chef. As you pursue this automation, there is one issue that you need to keep in mind.

 

The One Deal Breaker That Can Sink Your Effort To Pursue Easy Application Management

What is the single issue that could undermine all your efforts to simplify application management using containers? Security breaches! The security risks become even more challenging if you are working with third-party experts, cloud services and shadow IT. If developers can create containers however they wish, how do you provide reasonable governance over that?

The solution is simple. Adopt broad principles to guide security rather than trying to imagine every edge case. To support your security principles, you need the right tools. To streamline security oversight for your containers, we recommend using Identity Anywhere. It is designed to work with Docker containers so you can put it to work quickly. Using Identity Anywhere might be just what you need to finally achieve your continuous delivery goals.

Written by Avatier