Just 2,000 employees with just two devices per user can result in 20,000–60,000 CI lifecycle, status, and/or attribute modifications in a one-year timeframe! Manual CMDB population and maintenance is a nearly impossible endeavor -- automation is the key to success with a CMDB project.
By Janel Metcalfe, Consultant, Seitel Leeds & Associates
IT infrastructures enable the delivery of critical tools and services to both internal and external customers. The primary building blocks of an IT infrastructure are configuration items (CIs). As defined by the ITIL®, a CI is any component within the IT infrastructure, e.g., computing devices, hardware, software, and procedures.
A collection of CIs form the IT infrastructure, and the IT infrastructure supports the advanced applications that provide complex services to the business.
Businesses must collect and manage data about CIs infrastructures in order for IT managers, executives and CIOs to leverage this information when making critical business decisions, (e.g., investing resources, and ensuring the organization operates securely and efficiently).
The CMDB deposits the wealth of CI data from numerous sources into a database repository, logically depicting the IT infrastructure. Further, the CMDB maps CIs to IT services, documents processes, and links the CIs to IT Service Management processes in order to achieve business goals. Thus, the CMDB sits at the juncture between the elements that comprise a complex IT infrastructure and the processes that govern its operation.
Implementing a Configuration Management Database (CMDB) can be a daunting task. Even determining the benefits and what your organization’s specific needs are can be challenging. Based on my experience with many CMDB projects, this article explains how to navigate the CMDB planning process, and explains just what it takes to get a CMDB up and running.
More simply, the CMDB contains:
A unique identifier for all CIs, e.g., devices, hardware,
software, applications, services, people, facilities, procedures and related
documentation (SLAs, OLAs, etc.)
- A logical model of the IT
- CI version and status
- CI relationships
While the contents of the CMDB appear simple, the answers to
the following questions are the first step to your CMDB project and will govern
- What does the business require?
- What is IT Service Management’s role?
- What does IT require?
These questions must be answered in order to ensure CMDB
project success; the answers will identify the business, service, and technical
requirements of your CMDB project.
1. What does the business require?
What do executives and business leaders really care
about? They care about profit, quality,
competitive advantage, differentiation, regulatory compliance, and satisfied
and repeat customers. The CMDB project
must be aligned with business goals and must meet the day-to-day tactical
objectives of IT Service Management, which briefly stated are to 1) align IT
services with business goals and customer needs, 2) deliver quality IT
services, and 3) improve the cost efficient provision of IT services. This alignment of the CMDB and the business
can be accomplished by addressing the questions that business executives really
- How will the CMDB enable IT
efficiency and contribute to increased business profitability?
- How will the CMDB enhance the
delivery of quality service?
- How will the CMDB contribute to the
business’s competitive advantage?
- How will the CMDB increase
- How will the CMDB facilitate changes
to allow the organization to differentiate from the competition?
- How will the CMDB ensure regulatory
- What role will the CMDB play in the
delivery of quality services that result in satisfied and repeat
- How will the CMDB secure and protect
my IT assets from disaster?
The success of any IT project is significantly reliant upon
IT’s ability to relate a technical project to executive-level goals. The CMDB can be considered a success only if
it contributes to the business by leveraging IT Infrastructure CI data in a
meaningful way to further the goals of the business
Dedicating the necessary time to correctly plan a CMDB
project is critical. Proper planning
ensures that the CMDB project aligns with business goals, thus securing project
funding and executive sponsorship—critical success factors for any IT
project. The goals defined in the
business planning phase now guide the IT group as it maps business services to
CMDB functionality, links IT Service Management processes across the
organization, and defines CMDB technical requirements.
2. What is IT Service Management’s role?
To prepare for your CMDB project, IT must continue its
planning efforts, but this time from the perspective of the IT services that
the CMDB will support. The CMDB must
support the critical IT services your business uses to conduct day-to-day
activities. Does your business utilize
email services to transact customer orders? Does the business rely on Instant Messaging for critical user
communication? Is your business reliant
on a customer call center to provide technical support?
The CMDB (and Configuration Management) functions as the
intermediary process that connects business goals to the tactical and
operational activities of IT (discussed in the next section), linking services
to CMDB technical specifications. The
ITSM group must be grounded in best practices for CMDB management, which are
guided by ITIL’s framework for Configuration Management. The goals for Configuration Management focus
- Accurately controlling and accounting
for all of the IT assets and configurations.
- Depicting the relationships between
CIs and IT services.
- Providing a repository for all
information about CIs.
- Enabling the audit and verification
of the CI infrastructure in order to provide a sound basis for managing IT
Your CMDB should allow you to document the IT infrastructure in
order to later perform analyses and create linkages to other ITIL
processes. The main activities of
Configuration Management, according to the ITIL framework, are planning,
identification, control, status accounting, and verification and audit. The following table depicts how
Configuration Management activities relate to the technical requirements of a
CMDB and defined business goals, which is the overall role of ITSM in a CMDB
Analyzing and assessing the existing environment,
locating CI data sources, defining strategic objectives, defining roles, and
obtaining executive sponsorship. .
Aligning IT activity with:
Only those services that provide value to the
business’ customer and encourage repeat business
The logical and physical selection and identification
of CIs that compose the IT infrastructure, including CI attributes: type,
relationships, location, ownership, lifecycle state, variants, baselines,
Increased network uptime ensuring quality services
Efficient operation of IT infrastructure contributing
to business profitability
Fast network recovery from failure ensuring adherence
Involves the integrity, authorization, and
identification of CIs recorded in the CMDB, and who has access to the data
contained in the CMDB.
Regulatory compliance (SOX)
Consists of recording and reporting the planned,
current, and future lifecycle state of the CIs and their attributes.
Rapid network and IT service analysis facilitating
change and competitive advantage
IT investment planning
Verification and Audit
Ensures that the CMDB content accurately reflects the
existing IT infrastructure.
Business continuity and disaster recovery
By now you can see that the CMDB sits at a critical juncture
in your IT Services organization; the CMDB fully documents the IT
infrastructure, maps CIs to services, links the IT infrastructure to the other
processes governing the quality operation of your IT services, and enables the
delivery of reports and analysis to inform business-critical decisions.
IT’s goals are crucial to the CMDB’s success and to the
day-to-day operation of IT services. However, it is the triad of documenting CI raw data, linking operational
processes, and enabling business reporting that achieve the business’ goals:
efficient and cost effective delivery of quality IT services.
3. What does IT require?
Enough already with the planning phase of your CMDB
project! Most likely, the IT group just
wants the opportunity to do what it perceives as its main objective: define the
technical requirements and deploy the tool. They will utilize drivers, identified by the business and service
planning exercises outlined above, to translate them into technical and
functional specifications for the CMDB. The IT group will relate these drivers to characteristics such as CMDB
structure, the configuration item discovery methods it uses, technical
standards upon which the CMDB relies, and analysis tools that help to support
CMDB products fall into three structural categories:
monolithic, distributed, and federated. Businesses should determine the preferred structure based on business
Type of Organization Supported
Typified by a single data repository managing all CI
Monolithic CMDB structures support the selected CI
data, logical structure, and CI relationships in one large database, unifying
the data repository across all company departments and data sources,
regardless of the business size.
Locates data in sources, databases, management
applications, discovery tools, etc., across IT silos.
Distributed and federated CMDB models leverage
existing data located in the organization and investments in enterprise data
management applications via third party integration and vendor
partnerships. Highly dispersed
organizations with developed and embedded data repositories will benefit from
Consists of a common (virtual) data store containing
CI information linked with data, attributes and related information located
in other information stores
The selection of a CMDB structural model is an art form;
selection relies on filtering business requirements through the prism of
current industry models to select an appropriate solution. It is important to acknowledge, however,
that current industry trends are adopting the federated CMDB model.
Configuration Item Discovery
Item discovery is the process by which infrastructure components are
discovered, uniquely identified, and populated into the CMDB. It is important to remember that not every
element of the IT infrastructure will be identified and controlled in the
CMDB. The ITIL framework calls for
identifying CIs according to the lowest level of change managed by the IT group
in support of the IT services.
discovery, as opposed to manual discovery (see sidebar), is imperative given
the complexity of most IT network components, relationships, and frequency of
of auto discovery are performed to populate the CMDB:
Agent-less (SNMP polling*)
Agent-less polling utilizes the native SNMP agents
installed on network devices. Auto
discovery polls all the network-connected devices and discovers basic
operating system (OS) hardware and software information. This method discovers network-connected
devices and is the only way to collect data about CIs that do not support
Auto discovery utilizes third-party agents installed
on network systems to collect detailed information about CIs, and works to
discover mobile and handheld CIs.
Packet- and protocol-based
Analysis that captures application flows across the
The CMDB should allow manual modeling and CI entry of
non-discoverable infrastructure elements (e.g., employees, locations
suppliers, and business units).
* SNMP, regardless of whether it’s native or a
third-party agent, must be configured on every device that the organization
wants to track and control through a Configuration Management process. Otherwise, the auto discovery polling
process will not discover the network device. Depending on the sophistication and size of the organization,
this may dictate a project in and of itself, if SNMP is not used when you
start your CMDB project.
CI discovery is the most complex aspect of translating
business requirements into technical specifications; the results of CI
discovery touch several important CMDB considerations:
Quickly populate the CMDB with CIs
Auto discovery tools work to populate the CMDB with
identified and controlled CIs. This is
a “quick win” in immediately populating the CMDB with meaningful CI items. It is important to remember that standard
naming schemas and unique identifiers are critical to the auto discovery
process; otherwise, the automatic population of the CMDB is potentially
redundant. The discovery types can be
used alone, in conjunction with one another, or as a hybrid discovery approach.
Limit CI granularity
Give careful consideration to the granularity of CIs
contained in the CMDB. Too much CI data
is impossible to reasonably track and update, even with auto discovery
capabilities. It is not appropriate to
populate the CMDB with every CI that auto discovery processes are capable of
CI selection for inclusion in the CMDB is dictated by
Service Level Agreements between the business and IT; specifically, aspects of
the SLA that define Change to IT services. The CIs that the organization intends to control via the Change
Management process determines the level of CI selection in the Configuration
Management plan. Thus, this focus will
drive CI selection to the lowest level of change defined in the Change
Management plan. This is important
because IT groups often exercise a tendency toward capturing every detail about
all IT infrastructure CIs without regard to why tracking a CI is valuable, and
the level of metadata that is reasonable. The CI data will impact the data schema model, maintenance activities,
and audit of CI attributes.
Control CI integrity
Start small; ensure that the CMDB contents are
accurate. This is particularly important
when multiple data sources are used during auto discovery (i.e., when a CI is
discovered by multiple tools or is stored in more than one data source) The CMDB must be able to parse the CIs,
assign unique identities to each, and implement a strong, rules-based
reconciliation process to ensure integrity and accuracy. CMDB accuracy will build trust, which will
enhance the CMDB adoption as the trusted, “golden” repository of all IT
infrastructure and services information.
Use automated processes to verify that the CMDB is golden
and that it reflects the reality of the IT infrastructure. Configuration Management is a highly
detailed and process-heavy activity; organizations will achieve great economies
of scale and efficiency by automating both the population and verification of
the CMDB. Further benefits of automated
verification include historical baseline configuration data for regulatory
compliance and IT infrastructure Change assessment as well.
Collaborative and iterative in nature, CMDB projects are
long-term implementation commitments with multiple phases. The project phases, such as design,
development, and testing, take months, if not one to three years in length to
implement. The phases require ongoing
audits—at least yearly—to incorporate continuous improvements.
CMDB tool development is in a nascent state. Businesses, therefore, will want to select
CMDB solutions that are based on industry standards so that the CMDB project is
not hindered. To date, however,
industry standards that govern interoperability (e.g., auto discovery, data
population, data schema, information models, etc.) are still developing.
Most CMDB vendors recognize the need for industry standards,
thus, they are incorporating existing application standards in their product
development. The intent of this
approach is to position CMDB products well, so that when the standards are
finally released, CMDB vendors maintain the existing embedded customer base and
allow smooth upgrade paths. Examples of
existing and developing standards that are being used to aggregate data from
distributed sources to negotiate interoperability include the following:
Existing or Developing
The Distributed Management Task Force’s (DMTF) Common
Information Model (CIM) is the foundation for the data schema.
CMDB developers are keeping data in XML format for
Data Center Markup Language
Web-Services Common Information Model
Web Services Description Language
The use of existing industry standards prepare the
foundation for a graduated CMDB implementation and support the incorporation of
new data sources as they are acquired or developed. Look for products that support these standards. Query vendors as to the extensibility of
their product as industry standards mature.
Business Analytic Tools
To achieve the goals of your CMDB project, such as enabling
operational efficiency and supporting business-critical decisions, the CMDB
must provide strong business analytic tools. After all, most IT managers are generally submerged by a sea of
uncorrelated IT infrastructure data, frustrating their ability to operate
efficiently or provide real-time data for the decision-making process. Further complicating the IT manager’s
responsibilities, IT infrastructure data is typically contained in a myriad of
sources, such as Excel spreadsheets, databases, Visio diagrams, and even tribal
knowledge spread throughout the organization. The dispersion of data, thus, hinders managers from making fully
The real question is, how do you leverage the accumulated
information contained in the CMDB to achieve quality IT Service
Management? The answer: business
analytic tools resident in the CMDB that correlate the raw data into coherent
information to support the business. IT
managers will use CI information to provide meaningful reports to the other
business processes in support of business decisions. The analysis tools enable the IT department to decipher CI roles,
show what is connected to a CI, identify the services a CI supports, show where
a CI is located in the network, and whether a CI is a member of another
CI. From a wider, IT perspective, these
- Relationship and dependency mapping
- Physical topology views
- Visualization mapping of IT infrastructure to applications and services
- Application portals and dashboards
- Analyses that enable business-critical decisions
In turn, the analysis tools enable important operational and
business objectives, which is the long-term value proposition enabled by the
CMDB, resulting in:
- Licensing and regulatory compliance (SOX, HIPPA, etc.)
- Increased network uptime
- Quality IT services
- Cost and benefit analysis
CMDB projects involve a significant amount of planning. The planning and preparation are critical
success factors, the results of which ensure that the CMDB satisfies critical
business goals, and prevents the complexity of the organization’s IT
infrastructure and services from subsuming the CMDB. ITIL recommends a full, six-month commitment to plan
Configuration Management and CMDB projects. Start your CMDB project with the end in mind: the CMDB project must fit
your business goals and meet your user needs; the initial planning phase of
your CMDB initiative can not be short-circuited.
No matter how daunting your CMDB project, just getting started
can be a substantial accomplishment. In
order to ensure success, start small, contract with an external consultant or
advocate, and stay committed to your CMDB project. Return again and again on small starts, refocusing each time on
your ultimate goal. With a long commitment
you will consistently mature the breadth and value of your CMDB.
Where to go from here
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