Tracking IT Assets Poses Challenges

By John Parkinson  |  Posted 12-12-2007

Tracking IT Assets Poses Challenges

Keeping track of every version of each piece of hardware and software in your production infrastructure is key to ensuring that everything is working properly. So when something goes wrong and you must rebuild a system fast and accurately, such controls become a crucial part of recovery.

But the discipline required to build and maintain accurate records about production configuration can be daunting.

A modern enterprise IT production environment contains hundreds or thousands of major items—servers, routers, switches, storage devices—each of which contains dozens or hundreds of significant configuration items. Keeping even minimal information about each item results in a huge database. Most of these items can be discovered using automatic scanning tools, but even the best tools can't always populate every configuration item fully and accurately.

So you also need links to the asset database—usually buried somewhere in finance—which records everything you bought to go into the production infrastructure, and you'll probably need some manual inspection and data entry with appropriate validation and verification to fill in the gaps.

You'll also want to track what parts of the production workload run on which equipment, so if something breaks you know which workloads and customers will be affected.

Getting to the end of all this is extremely taxing, but you are only at the beginning of the real challenge, because next and forever after you must track every change.

If you have 100,000 configuration items in the database and you refresh your production technology every four years, you will have to update 25,000 items every year or about 70 items a day on average. (Averages aren't very useful here because the change process is "bursty," with distinct peaks during major refreshes.) That's a lot of work just to stay up to date, even with automatic discovery and registration of new items as they are deployed.

Next page: Opportunity for Error

Opportunity for Error

And then there are the noise factors—the stream of service requests for minor changes that must be made every day to accommodate upgrades, patches, replacements for failed components and routine configurations for capacity and performance. These move-add-delete changes to the configuration database can easily double or triple the database maintenance effort.

Every change you make is an opportunity for error, too, so you need even more validation and verification processes in place, as well as audit and review procedures.

It would be nice to have more of this fully automated and there are some good tools available, but none really does everything you need, at the scale required, with the ease and convenience you'd like. As system complexity continues to rise, even as we consolidate onto fewer vendors and the number of monitored and tunable parameters in the production environment increases, configuration management is becoming more critical and management technologies aren't keeping up.

This will be a major headache for the next few years, until the management tools evolve, and it won't be helped by services-oriented architecture and software-as-a-service deployments, which are designed to make implementation details transparent.

It won't hurt a bit when everything runs smoothly, but when a problem surfaces, get out the Excedrin Migraine.

John Parkinson has been a business and IT consultant for more than two decades. Please send questions and comments to CIO Insight editors.