Who says configuration management can’t be fun?

In my various IT wanderings, I’ve worked with and written about the Windows Server platform a lot. And I can say without hesitation that it generally isn’t fun to manage the configuration of Windows Servers. Especially as your environment changes through the application of software updates, installation of new server applications, and migrations from physical hardware to virtual machines running in IaaS clouds. Change and configuration management isn’t easy regardless of whether you’re still using System Center Configuration Manager or have migrated to Microsoft Intune. Or perhaps you’re just using Group Policy to manage your server systems. Or maybe some other third-party systems management platform or solution, either installed or from the cloud, is helping you keep a lid on what changes are happening in your IT infrastructure.

But being an IT professional with technology always in your face, you might be excused for having forgotten that configuration management isn’t only something that IT has to deal with. There’s actually a whole background of theory and practice associated with configuration management, or CM, and it applies to almost everything that happens in the various fields of engineering including network engineering and software engineering. configuration management involves not just hardware and software inventory and tracking but also the planning and management of configuration, the identification of system elements, change management, status accounting, plus configuration verification and audit. Windows server administrators and IT managers in enterprise environments aren’t the only ones who deal with configuration management and to be really good as a CM practitioner you need to know more than just the software or cloud service you use to manage your configurations.

That is why I eagerly recommend the CRC Press book by Jon M. Quigley and Kim L. Robertson, “Configuration Management: Theory and Application for Engineers, Managers, and Practitioners (Second Edition)” to any of our TechGenix readers who work in enterprise environments and are involved in any way managing the hardware or software of their environment. I recommend this book first of all because it’s important to know the fundamentals of configuration management as an engineering discipline if you’re responsible for configuration management for your organization’s infrastructure. Even if you’re not a professional engineer. And I recommend it secondly because the book is a lot of fun to read!

As a reasonably prolific author of IT books and numerous articles, I tend to read a lot of other people’s books and articles on various subjects associated with different kinds of technology. And I have to say that most of what I read by other authors (and probably most of what I’ve written myself) is pretty dull reading! This book by Quigley and Robertson, however, had me laughing in stitches as I read through it, with its numerous diagrams and historical references used to bring to life through example the principles and points the authors are trying to make. From illustrations of different kinds of ancient Roman weapons (p. 14) to illustrate the importance of establishing specifications, to a photograph showing a variety of spoon-shaped fishing lures (p.33) illustrating standardization of product lines; from a labeled diagram that explains how to decode the various information encoded in a U.S. one-dollar bill (p.120) illustrating what defines a configuration item, to thoughts by Elon Musk on how 3D printing will revolutionize manufacturing; from mass production by Microsoft of exact copies of executable software to Blu-ray discs of movies like “Iron Man,” “Saving Private Ryan,” and Madonna’s MDNA World Tour. Quigley and Robertson’s book is packed with interesting examples used to illustrate CM theory and practice in a way that drives home our understanding of the subject to make IT pros like us better practitioners of configuration management.

Being a fan of ancient history (I like to read ancient Greek and Roman authors), I found their discussion of variance fascinating because it’s something I’ve often come up against as I’ve worked with what were supposed to be identical hardware systems. The example they show on page 173 of their book is a photo of a Carthaginian ship in the Museo Archeologico Baglio and it’s used to illustrate the fact that during the times of the Punic Wars between 264 and 146 BC, the engineers of ancient Carthage were sophisticated enough to manage change management by standardizing ship keep components, making them interchangeable on the ships they built for their navy. This simple example got me thinking again how important it is to standardize Windows images, software update settings, and many other configurations of an enterprise IT environment to make them easier to maintain, troubleshoot, and repair. The authors also make the point that such component standardization intertwines with safety, quality, and reliability, and that enforced configuration management is vital to achieving these desirables.

Of course, there is certainly some stuff in the book that the average IT pro or manager or system administrator will probably find too theoretical or simply goes over their head. But I’ve never seen a book on an academic subject that tries so hard to make its subject accessible to those who can profitably learn from its subject. I mean, who wouldn’t want to know that it was Jean-Baptiste Vaquette de Gribeauval, Honore Blanc, and Louis de Tousard who can be credited as being the true pioneers of parts interchangeability as we see it today? Blanc used his innovative ideas to manufacture 10,000 muskets a year that had interchangeable parts for the army of Napoleon Bonaparte. And when Thomas Jefferson read a pamphlet written by these Frenchmen, he passed it on to Henry Knox, who was U.S. Secretary of War at the time. Knox then passed the pamphlet on to Eli Whitney, the American inventor best known for inventing the cotton gin, who then popularized the concept of mass production of interchangeable parts on which much of our modern world is based, and especially our technological world of IT.

I mean who in IT wouldn’t want to know about such a story? Get the book and read it. You’ll enjoy it.

Featured image: Pixabay

Mitch Tulloch

Mitch Tulloch is Senior Editor of both WServerNews and FitITproNews and is a widely recognized expert on Windows Server and cloud technologies. He has written more than a thousand articles and has authored or been series editor for over 50 books for Microsoft Press and other publishers. Mitch has also been a twelve-time recipient of the Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) award in the technical category of Cloud and Datacenter Management. He currently runs an IT content development business in Winnipeg, Canada.

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