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Disruptive Tech Drives Need for Configuration Management

Technology advancements continually drive the need for adoption of ITIL and ITSM principals, writes ITSMWatch columnist Carlos Casanova of the K2 Solutions Group.
Feb 18, 2011

Carlos Casanova

On a recent frozen but sunny Sunday February morning in the Northeast, I finished my second cup of coffee and scanned the latest online news. There were several mundane and typical events like countries exiling their presidents and others trying to mirror what was happening in the country next door. Stories about how inflation was fueling concern in American investors and how the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science was handing out certificates to technology innovators who, when they do their jobs perfectly, are never seen.

Then there was the little story in Yahoo News titled Wireless advances could mean no more cell towers. Being an electrical engineer who still loves high-tech advances and, like everyone, else a frustrated cell phone user when I can’t get a connection, I quickly clicked on the link to read and see if this might finally help me maintain a cellular connection while I drive through my heavily wooded rural town.

As I read the article, I couldn’t help but to think of the several presentations I have delivered with and without Glenn O’Donnell, co-author of my book The CMDB Imperative, that speak to how “disruptive events” or “accelerants” drive the need for Configuration Management and a Configuration Management System (CMS). We have seen it now with the take off of virtualization in 2008, the economic slump in 2009 and now, for this particular segment of the technology market, I believe we are seeing it with these lightRadio Cubes in 2011.

Let me first explain, very briefly, the concept of the lightRadioCube. It is essentially a new technology that Alcatel-Lucent are developing and hope to make commercially available in 2012 that could replace the eyesores we call cell towers with small Rubik’s-cube sized cubes mounted on street lamps or other non-invasive structures. If the technology becomes commercially viable, it could virtually eliminate the unsightly towering structures that we see today. It also is projected to reduce energy consumption of mobile networks by up to 50%, which is a tremendous step forward for GreenIT and sustainability efforts.

Granted, there is a lot that needs to still happen before the new technology can replace the old but, what will happen to our cellular phone service as we know it today? How will these mobile phone carries adapt to having hundreds or thousands of small cellular zones covering the same geographical territory that maybe only a couple of towers used to cover? Who will know which pieces of technology are handing each instance of a service (i.e., phone call) that is being transmitted? How will they manage the exponential growth of exchanges between cell zones that will occur because of this technological innovation? Will they be able to handle it in the real-time nature that is required in order to maintain or improve the quality of service we expect from our mobile phone service provider? (There are surely even more challenges that I have not mentioned that will need to be addressed.)

The reality is that in order for the mobile carries of tomorrow to do this, they will need to employ a sophisticated CMS along with its associated processes so they have insight into the infrastructure as it grows in magnitudes overnight. As challenging as it might be for them today to understand and manage the relationships between transmissions and infrastructure in an environment with hundreds or thousands of towers, it will pale in comparison to what they will be dealing with when each single tower that is currently standing is potentially replaced by several hundred lightRadio Cubes spread out over the same geographic area of coverage.

Today, it’s easy for the technician to drive out to a tower and make repairs even without a detailed service map. How will he or she do that in the future if they cannot see the lightRadio Cube as they drive down the road in the service truck? How will they know exactly which one of the 50 or so cubes that are within the service area is the one that is failing and needs repair? Who will maintain that service map and will it be updated in real-time?

Remember that Configuration Management is charged with supporting the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) processes and providing insight into the relationships between items that collectively help to deliver and maintain a service. In the case of maintaining a service, the cost to do so increases greatly while the quality decreases if those providing and/or maintaining the service do not know what the devices are, where they are located or what changes were made to them recently.

To provide this insight in an environment that is about to undergo such a transformational shift, the organization must rely on advanced automation and technology integrated with the CMS to help keep the service maps up to date. The governance provided by the Change and Configuration Management process around the services and their devices is vital if the service provider intends to maintain a high level of quality and reliability.

Imagine for a second if the processing capability handled by the servers in your data center were suddenly off-loaded to a distributed model of virtual server instances being processed by the spare CPU cycles on workstations throughout your enterprise. The impact on everything we do today from procurement to maintenance to technology end-of-life in the data center would have to be restructured and the tools to handle this shift would need to be revisited. First and foremost, it would be essential to have a tool and processes with the ability to maintain the constantly changing relationships between devices that factor into the delivery of a service. That tool is the CMS and the processes are those laid out in ITIL.

The introduction of this innovation is a disruptive event that the mobile technology companies are potentially facing if these lightRadio Cubes do become commercially viable. In no way can nor should we try to prevent these disruptive events, we must embrace them, adapt, advance or implement tools and processes that can support the service management professionals in delivering high quality, cost effective, reliable services. This lightRadio Cube technology is just one that I came across on this cold but sunny February morning. There likely many others that I didn’t see in the news that day and countless more I have missed in the previous week.

What we can be sure of is that there will be more innovations in the weeks, months and years ahead. We can also be sure that if we don’t architect and implement strong Configuration Management principles we will not enable the service management professionals of tomorrow to improve the services they deliver. We can also be sure that, in doing so, we will hinder the growth of today’s organizations.

Carlos Casanova is the president and solutions architect for K2 Solutions Group and the co-author of The CMDB Imperative: How to realize the dream and avoid the nightmares. Mr. Casanova delivers executive and practitioner level professional services, training and technology solutions that support the delivery of IT service management and knowledge management initiatives. He is widely published, an editor and writer for the itSMF USA Newsletter, treasurer for the itSMF New England LIG and president of the itSMF USA Sustainable 360 SIG. Prior to K2 Solutions, Mr. Casanova was a senior enterprise architect with MetLife where he was the visionary and manager for the first CMDB deployment and subsequently helped design its second generation, enterprise-wide ITSM platform.

CMS, CMDB, ITIL/ITSM, K2 Solutions Group

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