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Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Meaning of Configuration Management

Software CM is a discipline for controlling the evolution of software systems.

Identification: an identification scheme is needed to reflect the structure of the product. This involves identifying the structure and kinds of components, making them unique and accessible in some form by giving each component a name, a version identification, and a configuration identification.

Control: controlling the release of a product and changes to it throughout the lifecycle by having controls in place that ensure consistent software via the creation of a baseline product.

Accounting: recording and reporting the status of components and change requests, and gathering vital statistics about components in the product.

Audit and review: validating the completeness of a product and maintaining consistency among the components by ensuring that components are in an appropriate state throughout the entire project life cycle and that the product is a well-defined collection of components.

The definition includes terminology such as configuration item, baseline, release and version, etc. At a high level, most designers of CM systems incorporate functionality of varying degrees to support these aspects. But at the implementation level, from the
user's viewpoint, most CM systems have different functionality. Among the many reasons for these differences are: disparate hardware platforms, operating system, and programming languages. But an interesting reason is due to the different kinds of users of a CM system. This stems from the role the user plays in the organization. In particular, a manager, a software engineer developing an application, an application customer, and an environment builder tend to see CM differently. As a result, they may want differing (albeit complementary) functionality from their CM system. For example, to a manager the term "CM" conjures up the image of a Configuration Control Board. To a software engineer, the image of baselines arise. To a customer, versions of the application arise. And to the environment builder, mechanisms such as libraries and data compression arise. All these images obviously result in different requirements for a CM system and hence possibly different functionality.

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