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Technology / Cloud

Crown Hosting Migration and Getting a Configuration Management MOT

Crown Hosting data centres are at least 66% cheaper than the equivalent commercial offer. So why hasn’t every public sector department moved over to it?

Romy Hughes, director at Brightman

Sure, moving a live environment is complicated, but we already knew that.

The real challenge is less about how to move to Crown Hosting (or any other platform for that matter), but determining what specifically at the most granular level can and cannot be migrated.

It is here where cracks in an organisation’s Configuration Management processes will come to light and must be addressed with a Configuration Management MOT.

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How much?

Let’s start by clarifying those savings. According to information published by the Crown Commercial Service itself, operating savings using the Crown Hosting Services (RM1069) framework start at a staggering 66%. Yes you read that right and these savings already factor in the costs of transition.

The CCS also points out that moving to Crown Hosting will help to reduce operational risk by hosting equipment in the improved environment of a dedicated data centre. Crown Hosting data centres are a great stepping stone onto the cloud, while also delivering significant savings to legacy systems in the here and now.

Defining Configuration Management

To understand a Configuration Management MOT, we first need to identify what constitutes Configuration Management.

The main principles of Configuration Management or “Service Asset and Configuration Management” (SACM) as it is also known, is to provide a logical data model of the IT organisation’s infrastructure.

In particular looking at configuration from a service-orientated view point. Basically, what do our services look like and what infrastructure do they run on?

Also, documentation to support the services i.e. who uses the services, when they are used, where are the users, what are they used for and importantly do they exchange data with other services/systems?

This data is stored in the Configuration Management System which is a set of tools and data used for collecting and storing information used for presenting data in an understandable format to support other functions.

So what would constitute a Configuration Management “MOT”?

Just as with a car MOT, a Configuration Management MOT is needed to assess the effectiveness of the SACM to do its job effectively and to meet a minimum standard.

Yet, just as a traditional MOT may give you advisories about partially-worn tyres or misaligned steering, the Configuration Management MOT would also look at how things can be improved

Since it is no longer viable to try and manually document your infrastructure, as you can never keep up-to-date with complex infrastructure and the latest technologies, organisations use SACM Systems for the day-to-day documentation.

However, in keeping with the car analogy, it is best not to conduct your own MOT. The public sector relies on the independent advice and experience of specially-trained SACM mechanics independent consultants who will conduct an unbiased MOT (assessment service) to look at how things can improve and move forward.

In a change and incident management scenario (somewhat critical during a migration to a different platform), a good Configuration Management mechanic will go even further to ensure that configuration is an integral part of the Service Management processes.

The role of Configuration Management in a transition to Crown Hosting

In any migration project to a new platform or data centre, the first thing to do has always been to look at what the current system looks like. What versions are they running on, where is the data, who uses it etc. and most importantly, what are the interfaces with other services?

Any change, large or small, needs to be considered and documented. You need to know the impact of the change on the service that you are moving and on any other service that it interfaces with. This information all feeds into the project plan to ensure a successful smooth move with minimal downtime.

Untangling the infrastructure is incredibly difficult without the background of knowledge that a good Configuration Management System (CMS) gives an organisation.

Good, but could be better…

On the whole, we have found government organisations have a good understanding of Configuration Management and train their staff well. Areas where Government organisations often get it wrong is when they outsource the management of their IT infrastructure (a very common approach across government today) but do not maintain control of the Service Management functions themselves.

What other common SACM mistakes must you avoid?

  1. Not documenting anything: This is usually preceded by the cry “it is too hard to manage all this data and make sense of it, so we won’t bother.” You can only rely on your technical experts, suppliers and heroes for so long. What will you do once these people leave the organisation or you change supplier?
  2. Lack of buy in from management: Often managers are not IT specialists and don’t understand that investment in tools and training is key to the success of any business change.
  3. Not defining a set of configuration requirements for transitioning services into the live environment. Change Management and Config Management must work hand-in-hand, so the Configuration Management team must understand what it is that Change Management requires.
  4. Building services without first liaising with the SACM function.  It is not uncommon for those in Configuration Management to see a new server pop up in the live environment and have no clue as to why it’s there. This wastes the team’s time and effort to ensure it’s legal and should be there.
  5. Not investing in the right tools and staff to support the SACM function. Modern infrastructures need modern, intelligent tools to help understand the technologies and to document them effectively. Data centres are rapidly-changing environments, so this cannot be done manually anymore.
  6. Confusing Asset Management with Configuration Management. Although these two processes will often work hand-in-hand and support each other, they have different aims.
  7. The SACM is not visible enough. SACM need to be integrated with all of the other Service Management functions so that they can answer all those “what if” questions at the design stage.
  8. Not reassessing processes. It is easy to get bogged down in the weeds. Get an assessment done to compare yourself with other organisations and keep on track.
  9. Trying to eat the whole cake in one sitting! Configuration Management is a deep and technical process that cannot be rushed. Don’t give yourself indigestion by attempting to document everything in one afternoon.

In every large-scale migration project we have been involved in, including a number to Crown Hosting specifically, it has quickly become clear that a review of the organisation’s Configuration Management processes and documentation has to be the first step.

After all, if you haven’t documented what you have, how can you know what to change and what impact this change will have on everything else?

Every migration will hit a stumbling block if Configuration Management is not up-to-date, so don’t let it fall to the wayside and hold back your ability to exploit the significant cost savings out there from lower-cost services such as Crown Hosting.
This article is from the CBROnline archive: some formatting and images may not be present.

CBR Staff Writer

CBR Online legacy content.