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ITIL and the CMDB: Think Small?

A Configuration Management Database provides an early foundation for changing a reactive IT culture into a proactive service provider.
Apr 10, 2006

Patrick Moore

The concept of the Configuration Management Database (CMDB) is not exceedingly difficult to comprehend, particularly as it applies to the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL).

However, the actual implementation of a CMDB and clearly demonstrating value can introduce subtle complexities as a result of competing business objectives and internal IT requirements.

But as a standard and trusted data source, even the simplest of CMDBs can provide a means for improving internal communications and dialogue with IT customers. Even small-scale CMDB deployments could potentially help IT yield measurable benefits in operational effectiveness, cost efficiencies and improve the overall quality of service.

But perhaps most importantly, the CMDB provides an early foundation for changing a reactive IT culture into a proactive service provider. Establishing an initial IT framework and baseline of data through the deployment of a simple, tactical CMDB tool can help promote a more cohesive IT Service Management culture.

CMDB: Simply Defined

In the real world, a banking customer would not write a check without first ensuring there is enough money in their account. Additionally, these same customers need to rely on their banks to accurately record their deposits and withdrawals.

Each time money is withdrawn or deposited, the customer assumes the transaction was successful and any changes to the account balance were precisely updated. This level of accuracy is required to determine how much money needs to reside in the account at any given time to cover the customer’s daily expenses.

Unfortunately, IT decisions are not always based on a similar level of data integrity, and it's common to see one IT group interfere with another internal group, redundantly performing operational tasks or even making assumptions about who is handling a specific IT support activity.

The IT Security Team, for example, may pick a specific time to apply patches to a cluster of servers, inadvertently disrupting automated database backups taking place on those same servers at the same time. From a proactive standpoint, the same IT Security Team can establish an improved process for internal communications, identify the owners of the target server group and notify them prior to deployment -- alleviating issues with subsequent service support and delivery activities.

A CMDB provides a common repository for IT configuration items (CI), their attributes and relationships, offering a single source of record and a logical model of the IT infrastructure as it related to IT services. As a proactive management tool, the CMDB can provide accountability and ownership of CIs, improving the identification, verification and management of the IT infrastructure.

Why Use a CMDB?

This concept of a CMDB serving as single source of data is one of its greatest strengths -- without a central repository for configuration information, IT organizations continue to work in silos, and fail to align activities with business objectives.

A basic Configuration Management (CM) process and toolset (i.e. CMDB) can enable teams to better communicate and coordinate processes by establishing a common data repository.

The CMDB breaks down barriers between IT and the business, removing IT silos and creating a higher level of synergy between people, processes and supporting technologies.

Put another way, how can you manage and improve IT services if you don't know what equipment you have, where it is, how it’s connected and the impact of changing it? It is suggested that 80% of critical system outages are the result of people or process failure, with the main proponent being that of changes to the IT environment. This is exacerbated by the fact that planning activities derived from inadequate sources of information drive a path to failure. Additionally, subsequent recovery processes are further hampered by those same inadequate data stores.

Since the CMDB provides the logical model for the IT infrastructure and related services, organizations can more easily manage configuration items and their relationships with other entities and services. Some of the primary benefits a CMDB can provide from the start are related to the areas of proactive change management, security and IT compliance.

Less Reactive, More Proactive Management. A CMDB, coupled with an effective Change Management process, can provide the ability to more effectively manage changes within the IT environment. Since the number of IT changes in an environment will increase as the infrastructure becomes more complex, having a central repository of all configuration information and relationships can help avoid downtime through better planning and understanding of the impact of those changes on the rest of the computing environment.

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