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Client Configuration Management

March 6th, 2006

In today’s information technology marketplace, necessity remains the ubiquitous mother of invention. Stakeholders now value technology as a business tool enabling them to do more with less in an increasingly complex and changing business environment. IT administrators are thus expected to facilitate business continuity even while juggling the challenges of security, availability, and compliance.

To meet these demands, IT teams must be able to leverage the expertise of a variety of functional IT groups to ensure that corporate assets and the information they hold are both secure and available. Client/Configuration management provides the means by which key technologies from different areas combine and work together to preserve business service availability.

What is client/configuration management?

Client/Configuration management is found in the combination of different technologies, from systems management to security management and storage management, to optimize the flow of information throughout an organization and preserve business service availability. Although traditionally regarded as separate functional spheres of activity, these technologies are converging to provide cost-effective, flexible client/configuration management.

How did client/configuration management emerge?

The evolution of client/configuration management began when traditional systems management transitioned from its primary focus on software distribution to include technologies that would meet the new challenges that IT administrators faced. As the complexity and connectivity of computer systems grew over time, so did the complexity of an organization’s IT infrastructure. Instead of having to manage computer systems in a predominantly centralized, site-by-site environment, IT administrators had to support increasingly distributed and heterogeneous infrastructures.

How, in your opinion, does client/configuration management help IT administrators support growing infrastructures?

Organizations need a tool that automates the process of identifying all systems and networks that make up their IT infrastructures, including all hardware and software components. This information provides IT administrators with an overview of the components of a computing device and details on what is on the device, where it is located, who is using it, and if and how it might change. This, in turn, allows administrators to determine if the device is configured appropriately. Risks are better assessed because asset and inventory management capabilities, which are part of client/configuration management, became a key component of risk mitigation, helping IT administrators ensure that only approved programs were running on employees’ systems, creating a safer infrastructure.

What role does security play in the development of client/configuration management?

Mounting security concerns brought patch management to the forefront of many IT organizations. As more and more software vulnerabilities were disclosed—and exploited—it was clear that ensuring system and data security and availability would be virtually impossible unless systems were kept up-to-date with the latest patches, service packs, and other security updates. At the same time, IT administrators had to ensure that changes made to one system did not adversely affect its configuration or the integrity of other systems in the infrastructure.

Given the increasing mobility of employees, what are some specific challenges that IT administrators face in client/configuration management?

The need to manage endpoints in highly distributed infrastructures with limited resources lead organizations to add remote control to their systems and configuration management toolboxes. With remote control, IT administrators can solve endpoint problems more quickly and cost-effectively while also increasing the productivity of remote users. The increasing mobility of users and the explosion of the amount of corporate information definitely add to the need for a more efficient storage management plan. Storage management transitions from being a data center concern to including all devices that access the corporate network, melding with systems and security management to keep critical systems and data secure and available. For IT organizations, this convergence promises to enable IT administrators to understand and manage the state of any system at any point in time, from deploying antivirus definitions to patching systems, blocking behavior or applications, forcing a backup, or restoring systems to a working state.

How does the compliance issue factor into client/configuration management?

The emergence of new industry and government regulations call for organizations to verify the security of their data and demonstrate their ability to meet certain fiduciary and governance responsibilities. To that end, IT organizations now deploy a wider variety of traditional security technologies to protect corporate assets at the gateway, server, desktop, and mobile client levels of their infrastructures. To satisfy these regulatory and license compliance requirements, IT audit and reporting capabilities are now an important part of an organization’s infrastructure management implementation. All the while, limited budgets and the need to do less with more require IT organizations to take a closer look at IT purchases and operating expenses. Overspending on IT assets and not optimizing IT operations will remain a concern. Client/configuration management ensures that IT organizations can stay on top of new management challenges.

Today, managing the state of the corporate infrastructure involves different areas, from security to storage. How can IT administrators accomplish that in the infrastructure?

The intersection of systems, security, and storage management calls for a new infrastructure to manage and administer a wide variety of previously distinct disciplines of activity—across multiple platforms. Today, managing the state of the corporate infrastructure is about ensuring systems security and availability, proactive protection and disaster prevention, policy and license compliance, disaster recovery, and more. To that end, solutions that manage the desired state—or live state—of an organization’s infrastructure are emerging from the pool of client/configuration management offerings available today.

What will these “live state” solutions accomplish?

These solutions have the ability to incorporate or wrap around virtually any technology, including third-party packaging technologies. They are also highly scalable—from just one server to thousands of systems—and extensible to allow IT administrators to add additional modular components, such as disaster recovery capabilities, to meet specific business needs.

How do you ensure the successful integration of the client/configuration management process into existing IT processes?

As organizations face new business demands and an ever-changing IT environment, the market continues to move from individual point-solutions toward solutions that address more than one functional area. The demand for integrated and interoperable end-to-end management solutions will continue to increase. Solution sets that are easy to install, use and maintain will result in a better return on investment and lower total cost of ownership. At the same time, systems management will continue to blur with security and storage management as the dependencies of the different functional areas become increasingly obvious. To stay ahead in the game and to prevent disasters from occurring in the first place, the traditional mindset of solving problems reactively will change toward a more proactive approach. To that end, policy-based management capabilities and the implementation of IT processes will become increasingly critical. IT organizations look to automation to ensure the availability and security of their systems and the information they hold, to obtain maximum value from their IT infrastructures, and to satisfy internal and external auditing requirements—even as IT budgets shrink.

How has client/configuration management remain competitive in the ever-changing IT environment?

To adapt to today’s IT challenges and to stay competitive, a growing number of client/configuration management offerings are now comprised of comprehensive solution sets for software distribution, system migration, patch management, asset discovery, IT audit, application and security configuration management, helpdesk and secure remote control, and system retirement. The combination and interoperability of these components provide organizations with a more holistic approach to security and systems and storage management to ensure that the organization’s systems and information are both secure and available.

What do you see as the future for client/configuration management and how will this help IT infrastructures and corporations?

Client/configuration management solutions will continue to evolve as IT environments are likely to continue to increase in complexity and importance. With a unified, extensible and scalable solution, IT organizations are better prepared to adapt to change and to gain control of their IT infrastructures. Corporations, in turn, will see greater productivity and efficiencies, improved governance and compliance, enhanced security and availability, and a significant competitive edge as they thrive in a rapidly evolving and highly challenging market.

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