Environment Configuration Testing 101

Updated on July 4, 2017 by UpGuard

Testing environment configurations in enterprise environments manually with scripts is difficult, just because there are so many factors involved. These can include applications, hardware, and device compatibility issues that can arise at any point within the implementation, areas which may be difficult to determine in the pre-implementation stage. Worse yet, the larger the network infrastructure, the more time consuming and complicated the test and the implementation processes are. This is when Environment Drift and Stateless Systems can come into play.

What Can We Do Now to Stop It?

As the number of new devices and computer technology grows, so do the needs of enterprise computing. As a result, a redefined data center infrastructure and a newer model for the Configuration Management Database (CMDB) centers has developed, offering improved flexibility, better time management, better management of network resources and, ultimately, lower operational costs.

However, to get these benefits, an IT admin manager must have a real understanding of every aspect of the system and implement the right tactical processes to be performed by each IT team member. This is critical to managing a successful CMDB in today's enterprise environment. The development of device and computer technology now requires the integration of various vendor technologies, which have certain interoperability standards. This means that when even the simplest of system upgrades is implemented, each step needs to be tested and validated to ensure this integration functions properly. Validating each upgrade with scripts can be extremely time consuming, especially if you lack the IT infrastructure necessary to carry out this manual testing.

The Old CMDB Process

Today, there are enough software and hardware components in the data center to easily lead to conflicting component interoperability and configuration issues. Additionally, while server performance has improved, the basic architecture remains the same, with each server being its own management island, requiring specific deployments and management processes. When system admins need to configure more than one server, manual testing of configurations and deployments through scripts can take a significant amount of time, and the larger the enterprise, the more time consuming the testing process. To obtain more flexibility, security, and better time management, IT managers are turning to automatic testing management tools. These can significantly increase the efficiency of configuration implementation when used in a phased deployment environment.

The Current Issues Experienced in Data Center Management

With archaic data server management systems in place admins face several problems. These include:

- Disjointed Networks - Even more concerning and time consuming is the management of data center operation, storage, and networking solutions when technology is separated into different management silos.

- Business Continuity - Data center management personnel have to keep business processes up all the time, even in a disaster situation.

- Inefficiency - System slowdowns occur as a result of poor Application Lifecycle Management (ALM), inconsistent server policies and poor integration of hardware and software practices.

What Does This Imply?

When an administrator adds new software, performs an update or a new configuration, adds hardware, or any other implementation, they should test the configuration and the implementation. This is a process that can be extremely time consuming and can cause server down-time or even more inconsistencies.

Why Test Before Deploying?

Planned implementation significantly reduces system issues and implementation risks that can occur as a result of poor ALM, system conflicts, or hardware conflicts.

Manual Implementation Testing

Many Network administrators decide manual testing is the solution, but again, the various factors of the network interfere. Keeping track of the server database, the different OS systems, system slowdowns, ALM, and Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC) can be extensive, so figuring out if an implementation works across all platforms and with all systems can be time consuming and inefficient.

The Solution

The solution to running efficient implementation is to use phased implementation strategies with automated testing solutions like those offered by Puppet, Chef, or UpGuard. Configuration Management teams that implement phased implementation strategies with automated processes save time, keep the network running efficiently, and reduce implementation issues and risks.

Phased Implementation

This type of implementation significantly reduces implementation risks and is a more sensible option, especially as computer technology continues to evolve so rapidly, and integration standards constantly change. These changes and newer software and hardware needs could mean your system is not ready to immediately support all of your deployment needs, so the following best practices are recommended for successful implementation of new applications, hardware, network processes, and more.

- Assign key staff functions – a variety of different technical skills are needed to build and maintain an effective enterprise operation. Key staff functions involve data management, planning, analysis, operational positioning, and system administration. By identifying personnel with key functions, you increase the efficiency of the management and deployment team. Company network admins should maintain a comprehensive training plan to make sure teams have all the skills and resources needed to effectively complete their job.

- Planning - This is one of the first steps in creating successful configuration and system deployment. A system design team will review the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC) of each and every application used in the network and the system architecture design, and then make appropriate decisions based on the enterprise workflow needs.

- Pilot phase – The process where critical hardware components are tested and planned for in the final system solution. In this process automated testing application programs such as Chef, Puppet or UpGuard are used to test the configuration and reduce implementation risk or any uncertainty that could arise.

- Qualify and suggest hardware or software solutions for implementation.

Production Phase

The production phase should be put off until the pilot phase is accepted. Once completed, you should complete the following steps:

- Deploy an initial production phase.

- Offer technical solutions authorized in the pilot phase and backed up by the automated testing statistics.

- Authorize organizational readiness.

- Implement advanced solutions after automated unit testing for infrastructure to prevent Configuration Drift.

Conclusion

IT admins need to integrate proper Information Infrastructure Library (ITIL) practices, and align the proper IT services and configurations to the needs of the business. To do this, IT personnel need to perform production upgrades to enable the system to work efficiently with the newer technology. Even so, testing for infrastructure must take place at every implementation phase thereby minimizing the risk to the system and to the new deployment.

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