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When it comes to technology infrastructure, change always carries some measure of risk. Even minor network and server reconfigurations can cause unexpected problems, making complete reviews of any system modification a crucial task. This includes analyzing how each modification can affect your network’s performance and integrity.

But despite the risk, change is also necessary: growing businesses need new servers, new applications have to be installed, security updates need to be applied, and so on. To prepare for these scenarios, a good IT provider will have a Change Advisory Board (CAB).

The CAB is a group of IT strategists who evaluate the potential impact of changes to server or network infrastructure, an approach drawn from the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL), a set of practices for IT service management.

At Ascend, CABs are created when there is a change to server or network infrastructure that could affect multiple people. This process ensures that the engineer preparing the CAB is crossing all their t’s and dotting all their i’s, and that the change will have the positive effect we’re seeking.

Implementation varies by organization, from phone conferences to formal in-person meetings. At Ascend, CAB ‘Change Requests’ are logged as tickets as they arise, and go out to engineers on the relevant team as well as the service and engineering managers so that each can review the change. There is no rigid schedule for when these reviews occur; when a CAB is required, the ticket in question is emailed to the team to review (usually within the same day). 

The issue is reviewed during a CAB Meeting where any questions or concerns are resolved, and the ticket is updated to reflect any changes that need to occur based on the results of the meeting.  Once the change is approved, the work will be scheduled to be completed.

Some typical questions that come up during a CAB are: 

  • What is the business and/or technical need for this change?
  • What is the scope of changes to be made, including clients/users/departments impacted?
  • What is the impact on other systems and network services during the change? After the change?
  • What are the potential issues and risks to this change? What is the worst-case scenario?
  • What is the strategy if these scenarios occur? What is the estimated downtime?

These questions help teams of engineers develop a full understanding of the change to be made, evaluate the effects each change will have on the network (as well as business operations) and prepare for any outcome. Every detail must be considered, from timing, to technical and architectural standards, to the likelihood of success. In doing so, the CAB is able to avoid potential problems and act quickly in the event of unforeseen consequences. In fact, part of every CAB is a verification of the backup and restore process to undo the change if necessary.

If a change is particularly large, complex or risky, then it may involve some major rethinking. However, most changes are relatively easy “standard changes” that do not require more rigorous discussion. Once the CAB presents its recommendations, the engineering manager approves or denies the change.

Once the CAB meeting has concluded, engineers will continue to refer to the conclusions and details compiled from the exchange as they go through the process of implementing the recommended change. After the change has been put in place, any additional information is documented as a reference for future occurrences of similar changes. As a result, what used to be complex changes involving heavy discussion can become standard changes, which can be more rapidly processed and executed.

There is no question that a CAB is right for your organization; getting multiple engineers to consider a change takes advantage of your team’s varied technical background and experience to help ensure that nothing is missed. Downtime is very costly to businesses and can be avoided with the thorough review this process provides. If you don’t have a CAB, you will be doing your business a huge favor by getting one started today.

Written by Jason Pobozny