Why and When to Invest in a CMDB System

By Dennis Drogseth

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The CMDB tidal wave may seemed to have peaked about two or three years ago and left a trail of ruin and devastation in its wake. However, like many technology trends, the CMDB built up a lot of hype, then confusion, then disillusion. Missed in all of this, however, is the fundamental fact that a well planned investment in a CMDB system can become the single most meaningful catalyst you can have in “modernizing” your IT organization; including assimilating cloud-related technologies and services.

Part of the confusion around CMDBs is the name, compounded as well by their ITIL roots, by marketing hype, and by the overarching tendency of many analysts to force everything into market buckets with walls as high as the Rockies.

So I’d like to start out with a few words about what it is you might be buying in 2011. I’m starting with ITIL -- admittedly one of the culprits -- but also the originator of many of the more visionary ideas surrounding CMDB systems along with the (terrible) name itself.

The following definitions are taken from ITIL v3’s Service Transition book:

Configuration Management Database (CMDB) -- A database used to store Configuration Records throughout their Lifecycle. The Configuration Management System maintains one or more CMDBs; and each CMDB stores Attributes of Configuration Items (CIs) and Relationships with other CIs.

Configuration Management System (CMS) -- A set of tools and databases that are used to manage an IT Service Provider’s Configuration data. The CMS also includes information about Incidents, Problems, Known Errors, Changes and Releases; and may contain data about Employees, Suppliers, locations, Business Units, Customers and Users. The CMS includes tools for collecting, storing, managing, updating, and presenting data about all Configuration Items and their Relationships. The CMS is maintained by Configuration Management and is used by all IT Service Management Processes.

(Not expressly stated here is that the CMS can contain one or multiple federated CMDBs, along with discovery tools, application dependency mapping tools, and many other resources from performance management to configuration management (in the narrower

Service Knowledge Management System (SKMS) -- A set of tools and databases that are used to manage knowledge and information. The SKMS includes the Configuration Management System, as well as other tools and databases. The SKMS stores, manages, updates, and presents all information that an IT Service Provider needs to manage the full Lifecycle of IT Services.

All that’s well and good, but in my experience when I first spoke to initial CMDB system deployments in 2004 in the U.S. what everyone naturally really wanted was what ITIL v3 calls the SKMS. In other words, a way of deconstructing and reconstructing their existing investments so that data, analytics, discovery tools, and modeled configurations and topologies became far more reconciled and dynamic. And, that leads me to the real reason to invest in a CMDB/CMS initiative: The CMDB is revolutionary because it deconstructs traditional product assumptions and allows for the reconciliation and effective usage of many different sources of service management information to support virtually all IT processes.

EMA just did an assessment of eleven CMDB system vendors and looked at more than 20 deployments in the process. These served to drive a number of things home (which impacts the “when you buy” from the title in multiple ways). Bottom line: CMDB-related technologies worth their salt are just now emerging on the market. Anyone who thinks that either the market, or the technologies, or the idea itself is “mature” is simply misinformed.

EMA always stresses “big vision and baby steps” to our IT clients during a strategic initiative, but the phrase ironically also applies to virtually all of the vendor offerings in this space up until the present. Unfortunately, most of the marketing hype has so far left out the “baby steps” part.

Here are just some of the things to keep in mind:

And now one last word about readiness.EMA consulting has underscored the easily overlooked fact that CMDB deployments are not really so much about putting software on a server, as they are providing an IT organization with the capabilities to explore dramatically improved ways to share, analyze, and optimize data across many multiple stakeholders in support of many different tasks.

To use the superhighway analogy once again, building a road system doesn’t do much good if no one knows how to drive. There are in fact deep cultural and communication factors that either accelerate forward progress during a CMDB deployment, or else collapse inward, more or less on top of it.

And data shows the biggest single factor in driving higher levels of value from CMDB systems is direct and ongoing CIO-level commitment and support! CMDB systems are technologies optimized to help you transform and modernize your organization, not magic wands that, once deployed, can somehow recreate the known universe in your absence.

For more information about this new way of looking at value in configuration management database and configuration management system (CMDB/CMS) technologies, please attend EMA's June 29th webinar.

Dennis Drogseth is VP of Boulder, Colo.-based Enterprise Management Associates, an industry research firm focused on IT management. Dennis can be reached at ddrogseth@enterprisemanagement.com.