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CMDB: A Journey, Not a Destination

Your CMDB needs to be as flexible as the business it serves, ITSM Watch guest columnist Richard Muirhead of Tideway Systems.
Feb 12, 2008

Richard Muirhead

Organizations are increasingly reliant on their IT infrastructure to deliver the solutions they need to drive the business forward. Almost every aspect of business can now be improved through the use of technology. This in turn puts increasing pressure on the infrastructure supporting it. As a result, many organizations are turning to ITIL to help them to address IT support and delivery challenges and deal more effectively with operational processes including service delivery and change management.

The CMDB (configuration management database) is a fundamental component of the ITIL framework, yet despite increasing awareness and demand for CMDBs by ITIL adopters, many still struggle to understand exactly what a CMDB is and how it can be used and implemented to maximise the potential of their ITIL framework.

Understanding the Basics

At its core, the CMDB is a trusted, dynamic and unified repository of information about all configurable IT components, and how they map to the delivery of IT services. As such, it is fundamental to ITIL providing a central point for governance, asset, inventory and change and configuration control. It is also a core system for more effective service assurance. A CMDB also has great potential above and beyond enabling ITIL processes—it provides the foundation for the cultural, political and organizational changes necessary to allow new technology and process initiatives to succeed.

In practical terms a CMDB with up-to-date and easily accessible information will help the service desk log calls more quickly with a higher degree of accuracy. It will also support best practice ITIL processes to better manage problems, track incidents and help IT operations to gain a holistic view of the technology environment.

But many IT adopters only view the CMDB as a thing-to-buy rather than an enabler of data integration in support of superior processes and organisational efficiencies. This can make the CMDB a potentially tough sell within organizations that may not feel that they are ready for such an all-or-nothing approach.

According to research from Enterprise Management Associates, the biggest obstacle to CMDB adoption is currently a lack of resource and budget commitment due to a low-level of buy-in within the IT department. Clearly a political and cultural transformation is required to ensure adoption. And, with huge differences between organizations in terms of their process maturity and business goals, it is essential that enterprises approach their CMDB initiatives in a way that best fits their current situation.

Manual data gathering, “big bang” deployments and a lack of focus are all factors that can stop a CMDB dead in its tracks. However, if deployment is considered to be a work in progress and is implemented following a few general rules, there is a far better likelihood that the resulting CMDB will be accurate, effective and deliver maximum return on investment:

1. Automate. Too often, the data for a CMDB is gathered manually—an incredibly time consuming process—meaning that it is often out-of-date, inaccurate or largely irrelevant by the stage of analysis.

2. Understand what you have. If you don’t know what information is available within the organization, you are unnecessarily limiting the data available to management processes. Inventory everything you have from the start and update on a regular basis, including the data used by facilities and support functions.

3. Don’t try and do it all in one go. CMDB is a process rather than a single entity that you can buy or construct. As an IT environment grows and functions organically, so must the CMDB. It is quite literally a journey of discovery and like all journeys must begin with a first step.

4. Make it scalable.We all know IT environments are growing. The more an infrastructure expands, the more pressure is put on the CMDB. Make sure that the CMDB can be federated and offer information reconciliation so that as the task becomes more complex the scope of the CMDB can be expanded to include additional sources of information and to automate information access.

5. Make it flexible. Technology changes on a daily basis and what works or is available today may be different tomorrow. By taking a flexible approach to process design you can allow for process adjustments that respond to technical advances, without having to make fundamental changes.

6. Prioritize according to business needs. Start from the top down with the key business requirements before moving to the components that support these management elements. If you do it the other way around, in today’s competitive and highly regulated business environments, the goal posts will have moved by the time you reach the top.

While a CMDB can certainly offer dramatic operational and business benefits within an ITIL framework, the manner in which it is implemented should in no way be so dramatic. A bite-sized approach that takes into account the individual circumstances of the business is crucial to success. As more organizations begin to see CMDB implementation as a journey not a destination, the greater the rewards and opportunities we should expect to see from this crucial resource.

For more than ten years, Richard Muirhead, Chairman, CEO and founder of Tideway, has commercialized solutions to automate complex computing environments. Founded in 2002, Tideway is now the leader in collaborative data centre automation for enterprises, service providers and government agencies in multiple industries and across the globe.

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