13 Best Configuration Management Tools of 2021

Configuration Management is a subset of the systems engineering process that focuses on designing, integrating, and managing complex systems over their life cycles.

It involves implementing the policies, procedures, tools, and technologies that can efficiently manage and analyze proposed changes, track the status of changes, and maintain the system’s integrity over time.

Most of the software configuration management tasks are automated, minimizing the likelihood of manual errors and freeing up employees to focus on other important matters. Today’s market is flooded with such tools that make system management easier and scalable.

Although there is no such thing as the perfect software, maybe there is a tool that’s perfect for your unique requirements. Below, we have listed some of the best configuration management tools out there, each one with a unique set of features and different complexity levels.

13. IBM Rational Synergy

Pros
  • Advanced baseline and release management capabilities
  • Easily determine all files and logical changes
  • Supports software reuse and component-based development
Cons
  • Sometimes it gives unexpected errors while working with large files

Price: Starts at $1,690 per year

IBM Rational Synergy is a task-based configuration management tool that allows software and systems development teams to collaborate faster and boost overall productivity. It consists of a single repository for managing all artifacts related to software development, including documents, code scripts, software executables, and libraries.

Rational Synergy works on many operating systems, including IBM AIX, Linux, Windows, and Solaris. It integrates with several other IBM software, such as Rational Change, to provide real-time visibility of your development status along with the impact of change requests.

The tool makes it easy to determine all the files and logical changes that are contained within a specific release. It comes with an automatic detection function to help you ensure complete and consistent builds. It also offers rapid backup capabilities to minimize downtime.

12. ServiceNow Configuration Management Database

Pros
  • Provides accurate, up-to-date view of your IT environment
  • Understand complex with a clear, graphical view
  • Import certified data from external sources
Cons
  • Modules and functions are not supported on mobile devices

Price: Not fixed — depends on the number and type of licenses

ServiceNow Configuration Management Database is a database containing all relevant information about the hardware and software components used in the company’s IT services. It also tracks the relationship between those components. 

The tool uses this extensive information to provide an organized view of configuration data so that you gain the full visibility of your company’s infrastructure and services and make informed decisions.

ServiceNow is built on a single data model with a standard taxonomy, data quality standards, predefined semantics, and common processes. Its core features make it easy to monitor and identify health issues, reconcile data integrity issues, and manage the data life cycle.

11. Docker

Pros
  • Improves your developments productivity
  • Seamlessly integrate with Windows/ Linux command line
  • Works with any operational infrastructure or multiple clouds
  • A very large community is supporting docker
Cons
  • Has a steep learning curve
  • Consumes significant system resources

Price: Starts at $5 per month | Free version (with unlimited public repositories) is available

What makes Docker unique is its lightweight containerization technology. It deploys applications with all the necessary components in a container, ensuring it will run on any Linux server, regardless of configurations or settings.

Users can create, configure, and save containers as templates for use on other hosts running on the Docker engine. These templates can be further used to make more containers with the same configuration. This is how Docker simplifies and speeds up your workflow.

You can deploy applications in independent containers and in different languages. This reduces the risk of conflicts between language, frameworks, or libraries. Docker works with all popular development platforms, including GitHub, CircleCI, and VS Code.

10. Octopus Deploy

Pros
  • Deploy just about anything without scripting
  • Automates routine and emergency runbooks
  • Takes care of all of the DevOps automation
  • Supports advanced deployment patterns
Cons
  • Hierarchy and settings can confuse first-time users
  • Sometimes it shows wrong version details for few hours

Price: Free for up to 10 deployment targets | $9 per target per month

Octopus Deploy makes it easy to automate deployments of NodeJS applications, ASP.NET web applications, Java applications, and custom scripts in the cloud and on-premises infrastructure.

With more than 400 pre-designed step templates, Octopus simplifies some of the most complicated deployments of modern or legacy apps. It supports modern deployment patterns such as rolling, canary, and multi-tenancy.

Octopus is also used for managing releases and automating routine and emergency operations tasks. They have over 25,000 customers around the world, including CISO, NASA, StackOverflow, DocuSign, and 25 of the Fortune 100.

9. Rudder

Pros
  • Can manage over 10,000 machines with a single installation
  • Intuitive UI with built-in template library and editor
  • Continuous vulnerability management
  • Dynamic generation of per-host policies
Cons
  • Small community compared to other tools

Price: $70 per year per node | Free version is available

Rudder is an open-source tool that allows you to continuously deploy, audit, and remediate the configuration of your critical systems.

Its working principle relies on a lightweight local agent installed on every managed machine. More specifically, the agent deployed on each machine operates in pull mode and recovers its configuration from the central server, and then applies it continuously in an autonomous way.

Rudder offers you a web management interface to configure machines on a daily basis. You can apply security policies, manage vulnerabilities, and analyze your infrastructure through detailed reports. It doesn’t require any programming skills, even for executing the most specific business tasks, thanks to its drag-drop configuration editor.

8. Juju

Pros
  • Provides fastest way to quickly model and deploy an OpenStack cloud
  • No prior knowledge about the application sack is needed
  • It excels with scale-out workloads such as like Big Data and PAAS
Cons
  • Some tasks take too much time to complete

Price: Free

Juju is an open-source modeling tool that allows you to efficiently deploy, configure, and manage cloud applications via the command line or graphical UI. You can create your own solution in the GUI or browse the store to get started.

It provides different sets of scripts, called charms, that contain everything you need to deploy, configure, and maintain applications. Charms encapsulate application-specific knowledge such as dependencies, interaction options, scale-out practices, and operational events like backups and updates.

Charms can be written in any programming language or configuration management scripting system and deployed right alongside Linux applications. They are available for hundreds of open source applications, including MySQL and MongoDB. All you have to do is write your own charm (or call an available one), and the corresponding service will be deployed in seconds.

7. SaltStack

Pros
  • Execute remote systems in parallel
  • Virtual machine automation
  • Designed to control ten thousand minions per master
  • Low maintenance once after the initial configuration is done
Cons
  • Documentation is less compared to other tools
  • Involves a little bit of a learning curve to figure out the configuration syntax

Price: Starts at $150 per node per year | 30-day free trial available

SaltStack an event-driven automation tool that helps IT companies manage and secure cloud infrastructure at massive scales. The architecture of this open-source tool is based on the idea of executing commands remotely. This includes executing tasks as complex as using a shell session to interactively issue commands against a remote server, or as simple as telling a remote webserver to show a static web page.

It allows you to explicitly target and issue commands to numerous machines directly. The tool is based on the idea of a Master, which controls one or multiple Minions.

Users can issue commands from the Master targeting a cluster of Minions, which then executes the tasks specified in commands and returns the data back to the Master. You can maintain different types of modules to manage certain actions.

SaltStack is built to be fast and scalable. It is used to manage large infrastructures with thousands of servers at Google, Wikimedia, and LinkedIn.

6. Bamboo

Pros
  • Simpe user interface
  • Deploys the build automatically saving a lot of time
  • Error logs are very descriptive
  • Incredible support team
Cons
  • Documentation and video tutorials are very limited

Price: $10 for up to 10 jobs and unlimited local agents

Bamboo is a continuous delivery and release management tool. It gives build engineers, developers, testers, and system administrations a common platform to work and share data, while keeping sensitive tasks such as production deploys private.

It works with any programming language and popular technologies like Docker, AWS CodeDeploy, and Amazon S3. You can select from a number of predesigned tasks for both build and deployment projects, or look for free add-ons.

Bamboo supports nearly 100 build agents, giving you enough power to run multiple tests in parallel, keep the queue flowing, and get feedback quickly.

Furthermore, Bamboo, JIRA, and Bitbucket software are fully integrated. This gives users complete traceability from the time a feature request is made all the way to deployment.

5. SolarWinds Network Configuration Manager

Pros
  • Real-time notification of configuration changes
  • Deploy changes to a large number of devices at one time
  • Run reports on firmware version and compliance to standards
Cons
  • Expensive
  • Non Cisco device information is not as detailed

Price: Starts at $1,687 | 30-day free trial available

SolarWinds Network Configuration Manager allows you to develop a precise inventory of your network equipment by utilizing network scanning and discovery to get the latest status on all network devices.

With this tool, you can enhance network security and reliability by managing configurations and compliance for switches, routers, and other network devices from HP, Cisco, Dell, Juniper, and more.

It simplifies crucial processes like executing scripts, highlighting configuration errors, and scheduling regular backups. You don’t necessarily need to put a lot of effort into managing various device configurations in a heterogeneous network. The tool takes care of everything while minimizing network downtime.

SolarWinds Configuration Manager also ensures that network device files are backed up to protect against uncertain events. It also provides detailed reports of each device, which you can modify as per your needs.

4. CFEngine

Pros
  • Provides comprehensive, infrastructure visibility at-a-glance
  • Custom alerts and actions
  • Works great on low power devices
  • Has strong user communities
Cons
  • Steep learning curve
  • Lacks ready-to-use modules

Price: Connect up to 25 hosts for free | No credit card required

To help you securely manage the mission-critical IT infrastructure, CFEngine offers both open-source and commercial options. Its decentralized architecture allows it to easily scale to thousands of nodes.

The first production version of CFEngine was released in 1993, so it has a long development and usage tradition. This also means that its code-base is efficient and not error-prone.

The software provides visibility into potential configuration issues, infrastructure inventory data, and compliance information through intuitive dashboards and reports. It has a feature called Policy Analyzer that gives real-time information about how each line of policy is performing on servers, allowing you to troubleshoot without guesswork.

CFEngine runs many large datacenters that have thousands of servers, and has users registered from over 100 countries. It is trusted by numerous popular brands, including Samsung, Panasonic, Pfizer, and LinkedIn.

3. Chef

Pros
  • One stop shop for deploying apps and testing infrastructure
  • Provides a programmatic approach to automation
  • Excellent integration with cloud
  • Great Windows support
Cons
  • Lacks proper documentation
  • Its complexity sometimes backfires when managing large clusters

Price: Starts at $250 per user per year | Free version is available

Written in Ruby and Erlang, Chef is used to streamline the configuration and maintenance of an organization’s servers. It can be integrated with many cloud-based platforms, including OpenStack, Microsoft Azure, Amazon EC2, Oracle Cloud, and Google Cloud Platform, to automatically provision and configure both small and large systems.

What makes Chef unique is its declarative approach to programming. It eliminates the need to write lengthy and complex code that may wreak havoc in the long run. This automation tool allows you to deploy and manage software applications across all devices with a few clicks.

It can be used by team members who are not very well-versed with programming. But since Chef uses a pure-Ruby, domain-specific language, some basic skills of Ruby are required to write system configuration “recipes.”

Chef develops 100% of its software as open-source under the Apache 2.0 license with no restrictions on its use. Its commercial distribution, Chef Enterprise Automation Stack, is built solely from that open source code and unifies compliance, application automation, and security. It is currently used by more than half of the Fortune 500 companies.

2. Ansible

Pros
  • Simple setup process with a minimal learning curve
  • Describe infrastructure in a human-friendly language
  • Manage new remote machines instantly
  • Good documentation and support
Cons
  • Struggles with large and complex inventories
  • Requires buy-in into the Red Hat ecosystem

Price: Starts at $5000 per year for up to 100 nodes | Free trial is available

Ansible is a simple IT automation engine that automates application deployment, configuration management, intra-service orchestration, and several other IT needs.

Instead of managing a single system at a time, it models the IT infrastructure by describing how all underlying systems can interrelate. Since Ansible doesn’t use any agent or additional custom security infrastructure, it is quite easy to deploy.

It uses its own declarative language, allowing you to describe your automation tasks in a way that approaches plain English. You can write standalone modules in different languages like Python, Ruby, Perl, and Bash. Ansible runs these modules (over SSH by default) and removes them when their job is completed.

Using Ansible, you can configure both Windows and Unix-like systems. It works on bare-metal hosts, virtual machines, and various cloud environments, including VMware, KVM, Linode, OpenStack, Azure, Atomic, DigitalOcean, CloudStack, Amazon Web Services, and Google Cloud Platform.

1. Puppet

Pros
  • Allows resource abstraction
  • Schedules specific maintenance actions
  • Rapid releases and evolution
  • Integrates seamlessly into other server life cycle technologies
Cons
  • Can be difficult for new programmers
  • Open-source version doesn’t come with a reasonable dashboard

Price: Provides 10 free nodes, and then charges $99 per node per year

Puppet is widely used for server configuration, deployment, management, orchestration of several applications and services across the entire infrastructure of a company.

Written in Ruby, Puppet is specifically built to manage the configuration of Windows and Linux systems. It uses domain-specific language to describe system configuration.

Puppet is based on a Master-Slave architecture, where the Master and Slave communicate via a secure encrypted channel using SSL.

It comes in two main versions:

  • Open source Puppet: provides freely downloadable OS-specific agent packages, a massively scalable server, and data warehousing capabilities.
  • Commerical Puppet: features GUI, role-based access control, API, and event-driven automation tools for effective management of nodes.

The software automatically keeps everything in its desired state, while giving you the control to make alterations as your business needs evolve. Unlike other tools, Puppet features situational awareness and desired state conflict detection. It also includes more than 5,000 community-contributed modules.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between Configuration Management and Asset Management tools? 

The asset management tool follows a systematic process of developing, managing, upgrading, and disposing of assets in the most effective manner. It is mostly used in the finance and public infrastructure sectors. A configuration management tool, on the other hand, doesn’t manage the financial accounting aspect but supports all other service management processes.

What are the common functions available in a Configuration Management tool? 

The primary objective of all these tools is to keep an accurate and detailed record of systems and services and update them regularly. They perform dozens of important tasks, such as

  • Application deployment
  • Infrastructure automation
  • Automated provisioning
  • Node management
  • Task management
  • Role-based access control
  • Visualization and reporting

What are the benefits of using such software? 

A software management tool accurately identifies all installed hardware and software in the network, configures different pieces of hardware, creates scripts that can be used to quickly update devices or restore them to a predefined baseline. This

  • Reduces the risk of outages and security breaches
  • Reduces the need for duplication of technology assets
  • Enforces formal policies and procedures for faster problem resolution
  • Enables efficient change management and quicker restoration of service

Other advantages include

  • Adherence to coding conventions, which makes it easier to navigate code
  • Efficient design distribution, which improves managing thousands of remote servers
  • Reduced costs due to low asset duplication

Are there any downsides?

Outdated or poorly configured tools can be a huge cybersecurity risk, which could ultimately lead to data breaches and other cyber attacks. If you want to automate your infrastructure, you must keep three things in mind: cybersecurity, information security, and information risk management.

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What is the future configuration management software? 

In 2019, the global configuration management market size was valued at $1.6 billion. According to the MarketandMarkets report, this figure will reach $3.3 billion by 2024, at a CAGR of 15.1% between 2019 and 2024.

The major factors driving the growth include the emergence of digital technologies and increased demand for simplifying and synchronizing IT resources. Information Technology Enabled Services and Telecom sector hold the largest market size during the forecast period.

Written by
Varun Kumar

Varun Kumar is a professional science and technology journalist and a big fan of AI, machines, and space exploration. He received a Master's degree in computer science from GGSIPU University. To find out about his latest projects, feel free to directly email him at [email protected] 

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