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11th Systems Administration Conference (LISA '97)

How to Control and Manage Change in a Commercial Data Center Without Losing Your Mind

Sally J. Howden and Frank B. Northrup
Distributed Computing Consultants, Inc.


Most computer system problems today are caused by change. Change is an innate characteristic of an active computer system. This paper presents an approach whose goal is to minimize and control the impact of problems by controlling and managing change. It is geared towards the system administrator's role in meeting this goal in a commercial data center environment.

System administrators have been given the task of providing reliable, available and supportable computing environments for their clients. A system which does not meet these requirements results in, at the very least, lost productivity, but may also cause a financial loss, and in the worst cases may result in injury to the customers which the business serves In order to provide a reliable, available and supportable computing system it is necessary to minimize the impact on the system's users when problems occur. Almost all computer system problems today are caused by change: changes in hardware components; changes in system or application software; and to a lesser extent changes in processes and/or procedures, or in personnel. The extent to which a system administrator is able to control and manage change is the extent to which they are able to provide a reliable, available and supportable computing system to their client(s).

This paper describes a platform independent approach for pro-actively managing problems in a computing system by managing change well. This approach includes: the process of documenting the computer system's current state; the process of documenting the change; and the process and conditions under which the change is first implemented in a test environment, then in a pre-production environment and finally in a production environment. This approach saves time and effort in the long-term administration of computer systems. The documentation necessary to facilitate this approach is described and some examples provided. This approach is currently being used by Distributed Computing Consultants, Inc. (DCCI) with its clients.

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