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Volume 31, Issue 2

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Wednesday, 13 April 2011 02:26

Configuration Knowledge Must Be Collaborative: Disaster Recovery Depends on Configuration Knowledge

Written by  Jason M. Drinen

The weakest link in most disaster recovery strategies is the one most easily and often over-looked. Configuration documentation is the single element that can make or break business continuity in many scenarios, including natural disasters, true emergencies and also in more subtle organizational changes such as employee turnover and software malfunction. Accurate, timely, and complete documentation of your application and infrastructure configurations will decrease your time to recovery.

Enterprise software in areas such as messaging, virtualization, identity management, security, systems management, backup, accounting, and CRM provide critical services to organizations where interruption can drastically impact operations and the bottom line. Although everyone acknowledges the need for and value of good documentation, it often falls to the bottom of the priority list in hectic days in IT that are packed full of projects and deadlines, but also daily operational demands. But in not taking the time to maintain ongoing configuration documentation, organizations are throwing away the investments made in acquiring the configuration knowledge in the first place. It is an investment that needs to be preserved.

IT's investment in configuration knowledge comes in the form of personnel research, trial and error, and assistance from professional services. The fruit from these investments--functional configuration--is often not persisted outside of the software itself. Furthermore, the rationale--the "why" behind configuration--often lives only within the volatile human memory of the individuals of the IT organization. It is not uncommon for only one or two people within an organization to “own” an application and know everything about it. Do you know the “why” behind the configuration of every application in your organization? Does anyone know it all? Why not?

Why Missing Configuration Documentation?

In today's IT landscape, the projects and responsibilities often outrun the available staff. At the same time, the complexity of IT environments continue to escalate as technology is chosen to address more and more demanding business needs.

Historically, configuration documentation methodologies are very time consuming--using copy and paste into word processing documents. There is no wonder why IT workers are not able to capture the details reliably and effectively collaborate on the essential details.

Typically, even if workers manage to make a document describing the "why" and collected knowledge about configuration, it is often not shared with other IT workers, referenced later, nor updated when changes are made to a configuration.

There needs to be a standardized, common repository for this information that makes documentation fast to create, simple to update and keep current, and immediately "reference-able" for the entire team.

Build an Application Configuration Repository

To conquer the complexity and prepare for unforeseen situations, it is vital to every IT organization to have information that details how enterprise software is configured, why it is configured that way, and what knowledge has been accumulatively collected about each setting.

An organized “Configuration Repository” becomes a tangible resource that preserves the organization's investment in configuration over time, which is traditionally an intangible asset. The repository can be consulted when negative, unexpected events occur requiring re-configuration or configuration adjustments are needed to accommodate emergent conditions.

Disaster Recovery and Limited Staff

During times of disaster, it is very likely that organizations will be operating with a limited staff. During these times, the knowledge-set of the entire team is demanded since enterprise applications may need to be reinstalled/redeployed or reconfigured to work within a new operational scenario. If configuration knowledge of critical applications is clustered in the cognitive memory of human resources--and those human resources are not available during the recovery event because they are unable to make it to work, the recovery effort is seriously impeded.

In today's busy IT environments, clustering of knowledge is very common as personnel focus on certain disciplines. The only solution to this problem is up-to-date and accurate configuration documentation that clearly articulates not only the "how" (current state) of settings but also the intrinsic "why" (rationale) of the settings. The rationale may reflect the knowledge gained while working with a particular configuration point--"turning on this setting causes the server to behave this way: ...". This knowledge is incredibly valuable and protecting the investment not only makes good business sense but will also speed your time in returning to normal operations during unfavorable circumstances.

Jason Drinen is the President & Practice Lead of ExpressAbility, a systems management consulting firm in St. Louis, Missouri. ExpressAbility is the creator of Appitory, an enterprise configuration repository that provides a standardized approach to documenting, collaborating, referencing, and publishing software configuration details. Appitory helps IT maintain up-to-date configuration documentation for disaster recovery. Please contact Jason at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with questions. www.expressability.com www.appitory.com