What is CMDB?

What is CMDB?

A CMDB (Configuration Management Database) is a database that stores information about your IT environment and its components. A  CMDB and the processes that go along with it are the foundation of modern IT – enabling companies to manage information about a variety of IT components at the same time (even if the devices are distributed). In addition to assisting the organization with providing IT services, the CMDB is an essential resource for decision-makers who need the information to improve its cost, quality, and performance

Configuration management database is an ITIL term for a tool that organizations use to track information about configuration units throughout their lifecycle and understand the relationships between them and their effect on IT services.

The fundamental structural units of CMDBs are configuration units (CIs). ITIL4 defines a CI as any component that needs to be managed to deliver an IT service. In fact, any part of the IT infrastructure or environment could have a CI record on the CMDB, as long as the organization needs to track it. The most common types of CIs are software and hardware; others are service agreements, networks, documents, business locations, or personnel. Configuration data include classification information, unique attributes of each item, change history, and the relationships and interdependencies between CIs.

When implemented properly, a CMDB serves as the single source of truth across the enterprise, providing the information needed to run efficient IT Service Management processes and make better business decisions. The main benefits of CMDB include the ability to perform root cause analysis and impact analysis for effective change management and incident management and current state assessment for future state strategy development.

What is the difference between Asset Management and CMDB?

Both IT Asset Management (ITAM) and CMDB deal with the same business resources but cover different aspects of those resources. ITAM controls assets, while CMDB treats configuration items (CIs). At a glance, CIs seem to be the same as assets. However, all CIs are assets, but not all assets are CIs.

The purpose of an asset is to provide an inventory of the business resource, its whereabouts, and its financial value to a business. IT Asset Management is typically integrated with the procurement system; its direct users are non-IT employees such as asset managers. For example, when your company purchases a new server, its asset lifecycle starts at the acquisition stage because it has financial value.

The purpose of a configuration item is to represent how the business resource contributes to business services. In the server example, a CI is not needed when the new server arrives. The lifecycle of the server’s CI starts once the server becomes operational and starts contributing to a business service. CMDB is integrated with the Change Management system since it provides security around changes to business resources and ensures proper change control; its primary users are IT technicians and analysts. ITIL also suggests that CMDB holds data related to CIs, such as Incidents and Service Level Agreements (SLAs).

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CMDB through the years

1980x: The CMDB concept is born

The concept of CMDB is as old as ITIL itself. In the 1980s, the UK government developed recommendations to standardize IT management practices that later evolved to ITIL. Those recommendations required establishing and maintaining a database to track and manage IT assets and services. That database is an early CMDB, a source of truth for IT service management.

1990x: The era of (expensive) assets and asset management

The 1990s started the era of asset management. IT assets were very costly; virtualization was not a thing yet. Businesses drove to keep track of all their assets because of software licensing and asset depreciation for accounting purposes. Asset management did its best to keep up; ITIL was adopted worldwide.

The early 2000s: Configuration management begins

The early 2000s was the time when relationships between IT assets were getting more virtual. Software running on virtual machines required a clear view of the relations between assets and an understanding of upstream and downstream connections and how various devices related to one another. IT teams started using a configuration approach, mapping IT assets and their relationships to monitor critical business processes. ITIL V2, released in 2021, introduced Configuration Management and CMDB to track IT assets and their configurations and understand their relationships.

The mid 2000s: The rise of true CMDB

A true configuration management database emerged from asset management and configuration management processes with change control added. CMDB from ITIL V3 of 2007 answered these questions: How are all assets related, physically and virtually? How are they connected to business apps? What services are they providing?

The early 2010s: The fall of disappointment

After the period of CMDB being the essential thing, disappointment came. Attempts to put everything into the CMDB turned it into a snapshot in time, immediately outdated and too cumbersome to use. The value of the CMDB was there but never achievable.

Recent years: A new hope

The recent years made automated, comprehensive application and infrastructure dependency mapping (AIDM) a reality. Artificial intelligence (AI) for IT Operations (ITOps) can now update the CMDB in real-time, automatically mapping the relationships between IT assets, business apps, and their effect on services.

AI can auto-populate the CMDB, keep it updated, identify the changes that the IT infrastructure needs and create change requests for them, and update the CMDB when change requests are completed. With agile, autonomous IT operations, the dream of self-healing IT infrastructure becomes a reality.

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CMDB benefits

A central point of reference for all components of IT infrastructure

Before CMDB, information about IT assets and infrastructure was siloed across different systems and often outdated. With CMDB, all these data are managed in a single system, acting as a centralized reference point where you can easily access it. For example, your CMDB will quickly answer questions like “What IT assets are connected to an employee who was just terminated?” or “How many installations of a certain software product exist on all computers across the organization?” With CMDB, you can easily access the change and deployment history for each CI and measure the total cost of ownership of every IT asset in your company.

Transparent oversight of IT infrastructure for better asset management

An up-to-date CMDB keeps track of all IT infrastructure components within the organization, knowing where they are deployed and who are in charge of them. Lack of this information could expose organizations to the unnecessary risk of unauthorized access to sensitive company data (for example, via improper disposal of old hardware) or non-compliance with software license agreements. CMDB makes all your IT assets visible and trackable. Authorized personnel can access the CMDB to check the status of each item throughout its entire lifecycle and understand its relationships with other items and business services.

Accurate risk management for smooth change management

Changes deployments and implementations pose a significant risk for IT organizations. Unmanaged changes may negatively impact the business. CMDB helps change managers anticipate which configuration items, including employees, systems, software, and business processes, would be affected by an upcoming change, minimize the risk of business disruption, and implement the change smoothly, without service outages.

Integrated data from multiple sources

When information about IT assets is siloed across many different sources, such as spreadsheets, reports, or external databases, it is prone to duplicates and hard to use, especially without understanding its connections with other data about the IT infrastructure. A CMDB can aggregate data from multiple sources into one central repository, mapping each configuration item to other items and services to provide a big picture of the IT infrastructure.

Source of knowledge for continuous process improvement

Since a CMDB contains data on each configuration item, including their change history and relationships with other CIs, the CMDB feeds into the Knowledge Management process to provide insight into how to manage and deploy IT infrastructure components in the most efficient way. Knowledge Management reduces the need to rediscover knowledge, helping IT companies to achieve continuous, data-driven process improvement.

Source of facts for effective incident management

Teams can use the CMDB to track incidents connected to the relevant configuration items whose services they affect. As soon as such an incident ticket is received, the IT operator can immediately access the corresponding CI record in the CMDB and learn everything about the item, including any previous issues of similar incidents. This information feeds directly into the knowledge base, leading to faster incident resolution and a better understanding of which CIs are more costly to support.

Source of information for effective problem management

CMDB helps IT teams identify which classes of assets are problematic and substitute them in time to avoid more incidents in the future. Keeping track of how incidents and problems connect to configuration items allows for easier root-cause analysis, helping discover the source of known issues and find solutions.
Besides the obvious benefits, there are some problems with CMDB implementation. According to Gartner only 25% of companies get value from their CMDB installation.

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What data should go in CMDB?

The best practice is to put in CMDB only business-critical items that are worth tracking. For example, you probably will not create configuration item records for the chairs in your office, but the database server is a good configuration item candidate.

CIs can be divided into technical and non-technical. Technical CIs may include business services, hardware, software, applications, operating systems, cloud services, virtual machines, networks, etc. Non-technical CIs may include service level agreements (SLAs), documents, users, organizations, and other entities that impact or are impacted by other CIs.

Every organization has its own goals and use cases relevant to their needs; CMDB should contain information that allows answering questions critical for the business and helps connect its unique business processes. Typically, you should begin at the highest level possible and focus on identifying your business services, and then do deeper as necessary to achieve your business objectives.

peaple discussing what is cmdb challenges

CMDB challenges

As companies grow, their CMDB will likely evolve into the largest data repository within IT. One of the biggest challenges is to keep configuration data current and relevant to constantly changing IT environment.

Another big challenge is data usability. CMDB is not just a data warehouse; its value comes from using data. In addition to strong data analysis skills to set up your CMDB, you will need proper ITSM software and mature processes to consume the CMDB data as a part of daily operations.

Besides the obvious benefits, there are some problems with CMDB implementation. According to Gartner only 25% of companies get value from their CMDB installation.es, and then do deeper as necessary to achieve your business objectives.

What does Alloy Software CMDB offer?

A CMDB is included in most ITSM solutions on the market. Alloy Software offers a modern flexible CMDB solution integrated with ITAM and ITSM software areas. Our strengths are:

  • Full-featured CMDB with automatic mapping of relationships and dependencies
  • Automated discovery and identification of IT assets
  • Integrated comprehensive network inventory solution
  • Intuitive relationship maps for all critical CIs and any other business objects
  • Integration with all ITSM processes, including Change Management, Incident Management, Problem Management, and Knowledge Management.

Read more about all our products and features here.

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