Taking the Heebeegeebees Out of CMDB

CMDB is a term in the ITIL vocabulary that stands for Configuration Management Database. But to some in IT, it might as well be some Jamaican voodoo incantation.

“We just didn’t know what a CMDB was or how to make it work,” said Harry Butler, solution center manager at EFW Inc., an electronics supplier. “Everyone has their own interpretation of what a CMDB is. You can’t get five experts in ITIL to agree on what it is all about.”

But that doesn’t mean that a CMDB isn’t useful. In fact, most ITIL gurus believe it is one of the core elements of ITIL success, particularly when it comes to its configuration management process.

“Without a CMDB, an organization is limited in how well it can perform other ITIL processes such as change management, incident management, and problem management,” said Ed Holub, an analyst at Gartner. “Most organization’s that assess their process maturity against ITIL’s definition of best practices for ten core processes score the lowest on configuration management.”

OK, so it’s important. But what is it and what is its value? Brian Johnson, ITIL practice manager at CA, uses the example of a major financial customer that wanted to build a CMDB to understand how people and technology impacted the organization.

To get this information, they created a CMDB with the following elements (known as configuration items or CIs):

  • Hardware – routers and servers.
  • Software – Oracle, Peoplesoft and custom systems.
  • Telco – PBX plus circuits.
  • People within the organizational structure; and
  • Finance data such as the budget code hierarchy and contracts.
  • The institution put all that into a CMDB which provided a customized portal for everyone in the organization. You could traverse any of the CI’s to view the relationships or dependencies. In addition, individuals could “subscribe” to events that happened to any CI and receive notification when a change impacted a particular relationship they were concerned about.

    “One of the largest causes of unplanned system downtime is the unintentional side effects of implementing changes,” said Holub. “A server being updated with a security patch might result in the online banking system slowing down or to stop working altogether from the customer’s perspective.”

    A CMDB, then, can help reduce the risk that such a problem could occur in the first place. In addition, it can help to isolate the cause of any problem so technical support can resolve it quickly.

    Ron Potter, an ITIL project manager at TeamQuest Corp. of Clear Lake, Iowa, gives a further example of the applicability of a CMDB to the help desk. If all infrastructure information is available to the customer service rep (CSR) via an up-to-date CMDB, the CSR can gauge the impact of an issue to the enterprise during the first call. If it is large-scale situation, the CSR can quickly get the word out to key customers, as well as recording a message for the call system so people know there is a problem.