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IT Gets It

Articles and Tips: article

Jason Werner

Mark Schouls

01 Apr 2005

Open any IT or business magazine, Web site or product brochure and chances are you'll be bombarded with promises of cost savings, high ROI and improved service levels. It's all appealing in a business environment where organizations continually search for ways to lower network administrative cost and stretch limited budgets.

One method of driving down cost through more efficient human and technology processes is outlined in the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL). ITIL was developed in the 1980s as a management framework for the UK government and has become a standard for IT service management. Although it's still early in the adoption cycle in North America, ITIL is well-established as an accepted service management framework in Europe and Asia Pacific.

ITIL is a comprehensive set of best practices that focus on high-quality IT service delivery and business efficiency. ITIL outlines methods for IT planning, models and processes and establishes the required roles and relationships to execute those processes.

The ITIL framework also establishes the working relationship among an organization's service providers, which could include the service desk, application developers, roll-out teams, network managers, building technicians and outside contractors. It calls for unified processes for all service providers in an organization, helping them work together and coordinate projects more easily.

The unified processes include common language and terms across both internal and external IT groups. For example, a Change Advisory Board comprises representatives from various IT and service organizations and is responsible for analyzing and approving changes to the standardized environment. Decisions made by the Change Advisory Board, along with reported incidents and their resolutions, are captured in the Change Management Database. This database of knowledge is made available across all service support groups for better communication and cooperation.

Repeatable, documented processes are essential to improving IT service delivery, management and flexibility. The ITIL framework provides an effective foundation for quality IT service management. But the ITIL framework is just that-a framework. The methodologies have been defined, but as you implement them, you need to refine them to fit your organization and goals. If one of the processes is bad, it will have an effect on your service quality until you resolve the issue. Defining your processes is an ongoing effort. It takes time and you should look at it as time well-spent if you're serious about implementing ITIL.

ITIL will lead you to invest in fine tuning and documenting your service management processes to achieve your service management and delivery goals. Don't settle for how things are; target your desired state and invest in it.

Today's IT manager is less interested in technology as a single means to solve problems and save money. IT technology and products alone don't yield the desired end result and return on investment. Both people and processes must be aligned for maximum benefit. Good processes comprise both technology and people to define work flow, operations, decision making and approvals.

Think of it in terms of rolling out a new desktop operating system. Several organizations must work together to ensure minimal disruption to service and to maintain high user satisfaction. Tools may automate the physical delivery of the operating system and software, but if the local building technicians learn about the roll post-facto, the results would be disastrous.

ITIL Components

ITIL looks at two major components, Service Delivery and Service Support. (See Figure 1.) Service Support covers more of the day-to-day operational processes of the service desk, the inventory/asset and hardware/software management teams. In ITIL terms, these are:

Figure 1

  • Configuration Management

  • Release Management

  • Change Management

  • Incident Management

  • Problem Management

  • Service Desk

Service Delivery comprises services that are often transparent to the users but are central to their productivity. These include:

  • Capacity Management

  • Financial Management of IT Services

  • Availability Management

  • Service Level Management

  • IT Service Continuity Management

  • Customer Relationship Management

In this article, we'll look at the role of ZENworks management products and practices within three key ITIL components: Configuration Management, Release Management and Change Management. (See Figure 2.) A previous Novell Connection article provides a prospective on ZENworks and two other critical ITIL Service Delivery components: Incident Management and Problem Management. (See Thinking Ahead in the September/October 2004 issue.)

Figure 2

Configuration Management consists of the identification, accounting for and reporting of IT components under management. Inventory and configuration reporting of this ITIL component provides a clear picture of the available resources and how they are configured.

Release Management takes a holistic view of an IT service change. Regardless if the change effects a large number of devices or just a few, Release Management processes take into consideration all appropriate aspects to ensure proper procedures are followed in the planning, development and testing of a Change to the standardized environment. Ultimately, the processes protect network integrity and business continuity.

Well-thought-out, day-to-day operations are the basis for Change Management processes that minimize the impact of changes. These processes should be repeatable methods and procedures that are agreed upon for handling all Changes to the network environment.

Configuration Management

Understanding the mix of devices which make up your network and their appropriate or approved configurations is at the heart of Configuration Management.

It doesn't matter how large or small your organization is; you must use tools that capture and assess your corporate asset data for both financial and regulatory compliance needs.

The Goals of Configuration Management

You should have a number of goals that are fairly consistent across the board when implementing a configuration management solution within any organization. They are:

  • Deciding which IT components should be tracked.

  • Collecting and readily reporting on IT-related assets within the organization. This allows you to both document and account for assets on an ongoing basis. Many organizations fall behind on collecting and recording their corporate-sponsored applications and they struggle to pull this information together when they need it.

  • Providing asset and configuration information for other ITIL components, including Incident Management, Problem Management, Change Management and Release Management. Remember, part of Configuration Management defines a central repository where you store all IT asset information and easily retrieve it.

  • Reconciling of the recorded configuration against the existing infrastructure and the correction of any inconsistencies.

Common Activities

Several activities surround proper Configuration Management creating a formal structure around it:

  1. Configuration Management Planning

    Planning must establish not only the goals and objectives of this effort, but also all required scoping, policies, procedures and tools. Processes, with needed approval and schedules, should be established as well as goals, roles and responsibilities.

    Change Management also requires that all tracked items are identified by an organizationally accepted naming convention. Configuration Items are those items that will be identified and tracked throughout the system. These items are the components used to deliver a service and include hardware, software, documentation and service.

    Ownership of Configuration Items is important to establish as part of the process. Once Configuration Items are created, they provide a permanent identity from which other processes can work, such as the recording of incidents, resolutions, problems and financial information.

  2. Control of Configuration Items

    The objective of configuration control is to ensure that only authorized and identifiable Configuration Items are recorded in the Configuration Management Database (CMDB).

  3. Configuration Status Accounting

    You should run status reports on a regular basis that list all Configuration Items' current version and historical states. You should also include status accounting reports on the current, previous and planned states of the Configuration Items.

  4. Configuration Verification and Audit

    Your Service Desk, building techs and automated inventory systems can all be used to routinely verify and perform Configuration audits. You should perform audits on a regular basis as well as after significant events, such as before and after major changes in infrastructure, in response to recovery activities and in random intervals.

Benefits of Configuration Management

Benefits of having a formal Configuration Management methodology in place include:

  • providing accurate information

  • controlling valuable Configuration Items

  • facilitating adherence to legal obligations

  • helping with financial and contingency planning

  • making software Changes visible

  • improved network security and reliability by controlling the versions of Configuration Items in use

  • elimination of unauthorized software

  • providing Problem Management with data

Where Does ZENworks Fit?

Getting accurate configuration information in front of those who need it, such as network planners and help desk technicians, is a critical step in streamlining support processes.

Novell ZENworks inventory provides accurate inventory and devices counts. Accurate counts are crucial when the scope of a proposed Change is being evaluated. ZENworks continually collects and confirms device hardware and software inventory and asset information. This inventory is also vital for day-to-day Incident Management operations, providing device configuration specifics that help technicians troubleshoot software and hardware.

Another key product that adds to the capabilities of ZENworks is Novell Identity Manager. This identity and information provisioning solution feeds identity and asset information to other systems, such as the help desk (e.g., Remedy). Through this integration, technicians have access to asset information from the tools they use for Incident resolution. As a result, problems can be diagnosed faster and Incident resolution processes can be streamlined.

Configuration Management processes assist in license and regulatory compliance as well. ZENworks asset reports and queries provide a critical view into the system to confirm standard hardware configurations, approved patch levels and software deployment counts.

Release Management

In ITIL vernacular, a Release is a collection of new and/or changed items that have been tested and introduced into the live environment.

IT operations groups continue to struggle with the incorporation of application, infrastructure and operational Changes into their IT production environments. According to Meta Group, through 2008, IT operations groups will increasingly seek to maintain/improve change-management service levels by formalizing and adopting processes that enable improved acceptance of change into the production environment (for example, production acceptance, production control, quality assurance and Release Management).

The Goal of Release Management

Release Management provides methodical processes, workflows, and checks and balances throughout the development and testing of a Release. Release Management's end goal is to ensure that a Release has passed through necessary checkpoints before it is put into production. This includes both the technical and the nontechnical aspects of the Release.

You need to understand and resolve, or at least account for, all dependencies before a Release goes live. As a result, you protect the production environment from real, and potential, instabilities and ensures business continuity.

A management tool such as ZENworks is efficient at rolling out Releases to the network. Releases that slip by appropriate levels of due diligence can quickly introduce uncertainty into the network and in the worst case, instability. Don't overlook this one area of service management.

Common Activities

Like other ITIL models, Release Management provides the framework for mapping and implementing processes. However, each organization must decide how best to prepare, test and document a change before they introduce it into the network.

Some changes may meet predefined criteria that classify them as so minor they may be rolled into production with little testing. On the other end of the spectrum, major changes must pass through significant processes involving several people or groups. The key, however, is that processes be pre-established and followed in each case.

Some of the more common activities of Release Management include:

  • plan the Release policy to include requirements gathering and design

  • test extensively to predefined acceptance criteria

  • take ownership of the Release as a project champion and to provide final sign-off

  • define clear Release acceptance, as well as sign-off procedures for implementation so all involved parties agree to final quality

  • plan a formal roll out; you should "plan the work, then work the plan"

  • communicate, prepare and train

  • perform audits to ensure predicted and desired outcome

  • store controlled software in both centralized and distributed systems

  • release, distribute and install software

  • create back-out plans for each Release as a contingency

Benefits of Release Management

You'll have fewer mistakes and surprises with consistent processes guiding Release Management. Benefits of Release Management include:

  • higher success and efficiency rates in hardware and software Releases

  • fewer regression-testing requirements

  • fewer errors throughout the Release process

  • higher rates of Change to the live systems

  • lighter loads for remote site administrators because building and testing processes are centralized

  • lower support costs by maintaining consistent software across many locations

  • faster and fewer Release cycles

  • less disruption to the business environment

  • smoother transitions from the development environment to the production environment

Where Does ZENworks Fit?

ZENworks can help you establish and facilitate a Release Management plan and its needed procedures. ZENworks, in companion with well-defined Release Management processes yields a framework that allows the administrative and testing teams to create applications and move them throughout development and testing processes in an automated fashion reducing the time required to manually move applications into the production space.

You should create and maintain an isolated development and test environment. Keep testing and production environments separate to ensure consistency and reduce the likelihood of failures. Use ZENworks Tiered Electronic Distribution to move all Releases through the process and into the production environment.

ZENworks Tiered Electronic Distribution also helps you automate your documented distribution procedures such as versioning, scheduling, distribution paths, roll back and distribution reporting.

ZENworks Patch Management enables good Release Management processes, allowing patches to be automatically queued and fully tested for dependencies and conflicts before release.

Change Management

Change is inevitable, and the rate of change in technology increases every day. Businesses, business processes and business models must constantly adapt to the change in economic climate, competitive pressures and the opportunity to create through change and innovation.

Well-defined Change Management enables an organization to adapt business processes and business models that are intertwined with technology.

Ideally, Change Management is a tool to take advantage of, or create, opportunity, not react to emergencies. Any business process change is likely to require significant technology changes, but that's OK. One of the objectives is to keep efficient technologies and eliminate those that don't provide value.

Strong operational change management reduces errors, as well as planned and unplanned downtime because of unforeseen issues and incorrect planning.

The Goal of Change Management

Change Management focuses on the change process once Changes pass through the appropriate Release Management processes and receive approval from the Change Advisory Board.

Change Management processes need to be in place to ensure consistent methods are followed whenever any Change is made to the production environment. These procedures must allow input and integration of operations from all service providers in the organization to minimize the possible negative impact and to keep service quality high.

In other words, the goal is to make huge, daunting changes without giving yourself an ulcer, while continuing to make the cash register ring. Downtime is enemy number one.

Benefits of Change Management

Solid Change Management practices obviously yield high levels of IT efficiency, even when mass change is involved. Other benefits include:

  • better alignment of IT services to business requirements ensuring that the IT organizations are being utilized properly and are having a positive impact on the organization's bottom line

  • better communication, both within the IT organization and to business and knowledge workers

  • better understanding of the cost and effort needed to effect a Change

  • reduced risk of service levels dropping as a result of a Change

  • fewer Changes will need to be rolled back because of errors. When rollbacks are needed, they are easier and corrected faster

  • improved attitude toward IT Changes by business staff as Changes are managed professionally and regularly

  • better service levels for the organization

Where Does ZENworks Fit?

Obviously any automation of Change Management processes will save money and reduce the time it takes to roll out a Change. Automation removes the variables that can make planning efforts and cost justification inaccurate. Also, roll outs are faster, more predictable and there is less chance of disruption to business processes.

ZENworks provides a full stack of tools to help administrators manage their network. Operations policies within ZENworks, such as configuration management and software distribution, allow processes and procedures to move from IT operation books into the network itself, eliminating much of the normally required manual execution and enforcement.

Policies deliver and enforce changes to your network based on the device's current user or user group, the device itself or device group, or even the device's software or hardware configuration.

Effecting significant changes to the standard environment are more easily accommodated when Change Management processes rely on ZENworks because of its highly repeatable and automated distribution capabilities. Even required Changes, for example, when a user moves location or position with an organization, can be highly automated with ZENworks policies.

Another good example of the role ZENworks plays within Change Management is enforcing a new password policy. Once the policy is set, users are required to comply with it, eliminating administrative intervention.

Organizations commonly enhance their Change Management policies for more efficient management after they deploy ZENworks. For example, in highly standardized environments it's more cost effective to re-image a device than to troubleshoot a software problem for more than 15 minutes.

ITIL Results

Both processes and people must be working in sync to fully realize the potential of your IT service organizations. Technology, without the backing of efficient service policies and procedures, can only take you so far, and rarely reaches its potential return on investment. When IT service providers work in concert under the guidelines of well-developed procedures, return on technology investment is magnified.

ITIL provides a reputable approach for the development of IT service processes. These processes must be appropriate to the individual organization and focus on returning a real business value if a return on the effort is to be realized. As you refine and adapt best practices and processes for your business, you'll achieve greater efficiencies.

For more information on ITIL, check out the official UTIL web site at and - the IT Service Management Forum Web site

The Top Ten Suggestions Related to Your ZENworks Implementation

  1. Secure executive sponsorship from someone that will champion the project's objectives and successes to their executive peers.

  2. Create an Application Steward to be responsible for organizing your applications and work with your Release Management teams to ensure proper processes, including authorization and deployment.

  3. Maintain documentation of your Configuration, Release and Change Management processes.

  4. Define policies that outline the amount of testing required of a Release based on acceptable risk and criticality.

  5. Develop a remediation plan for the deployment of application and operating system patches.

  6. Standardize the configuration of as many devices as possible to eliminate "one-offs" in your environment.

  7. Utilize an isolated ZENworks environment for the development, scripting and testing of Releases before they are introduced into your production environment.

  8. Review and standardize your production ZENworks architecture, directory structure and naming conventions.

  9. Centralize management processes where possible, while allowing for deviations because of efficiencies and costs.

  10. Invest in training to fully understand the ZENworks capabilities.

ZENworks and ITIL Management

All applications should go through an application synchronization flow prior to their release into production. (See Figure 3.) ZENworks fits nicely into this area giving the organization far reaching control into the build, quality, publication and installation processes.

Figure 3

Everyone should complete their processes for building and testing prior to entering into the ZENworks project. Alternatively, you can make this part of the project and assign/resource an Application Steward to build this process and define the corporate-sponsored, and published applications. (For more information, see The Top Ten Suggestions Related to Your ZENworks Implementation.)

* Originally published in Novell Connection Magazine


The origin of this information may be internal or external to Novell. While Novell makes all reasonable efforts to verify this information, Novell does not make explicit or implied claims to its validity.

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