CMDB: A Journey, Not a Destination
Published: April 3, 2008
by Richard Muirhead
Organizations are increasingly reliant on their IT infrastructure to deliver the solutions they need to drive the business forward. 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. The configuration management database, or CMDB, 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 maximize the potential of their ITIL framework.
At its best, 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, as well as 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.
At its worst, the CMDB becomes a costly and cumbersome burden to the business. A CMDB with poor data quality is not only ineffective, its ineffectiveness tends to grow at an exponential rate. This is because once the quality of data in a CMDB degrades past an acceptable level for decision-making, users stop trusting the system of record and stop relying on best practices for change control. The resulting changes go unaccounted for, introducing risk and continuing the cycle of unreliable configuration data.
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 organizational 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.
Here are six ways you can make your CMDB journey less painful:
- 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. Application dependency mapping (ADM) tools can provide a transparent and constantly updated view of an entire infrastructure in seconds, compared to up to 60 hours when done manually.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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, automated approach that takes into account the individual circumstances of the business is crucial to success, and 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.
Richard Muirhead is the chief executive officer, chairman, and founder of Tideway Systems, a London-based developer of application dependency mapping software for use in CMDB environments. To contact Richard, go to www.tideway.com.
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