The what, why, and how of a configuration management database (CMDB)

The word CMDB is something you often hear in the world of ITSM and IT management, but it’s seldom explained. So, what exactly is a CMDB, and how does it help your organization? If these are questions that haunt your IT team, then you’ve come to the right place. Let’s break down what a CMDB is, why you need one, and how you can set up your very own.

What is a CMDB?

A configuration management database, or CMDB for short, is a database of configuration items (CIs) and their relationships within the IT infrastructure of an organization. A CI is any item that needs to be managed to ensure services are delivered successfully. The CMDB is primarily a decision engine to improve operational decisions. When populated with the right CI information, the CMDB allows you to quickly assess the impact of changes or disruptions to your services and infrastructure.

So does that mean the CMDB is just a repository of all your assets and their relationships? Well, not exactly. To understand this better, we need to discuss the difference between assets and CIs.

Assets vs. CIs

An asset is anything that is useful or valuable to a product or service in an organization. The term assets is predominantly used in asset management and focuses more on the life cycle and financial aspects of an item. A workstation, printer, or projector are all assets.

When an asset is part of a service delivery model and has its relationships mapped, it becomes a CI. The key differentiation between an asset and a CI is the focus on relationships and being part of a service.

Why do you need a CMDB?

Let’s look at the value a CMDB can bring to your organization.

  • Gives you a bird’s-eye view of your IT infrastructure
  • Offers decision-makers centralized access to the information they need to make informed decisions on IT infrastructure
  • Improves impact analysis on IT incidents and changes with detailed service delivery models or business views
  • Gives you a better understanding of your organization’s service delivery model and its components
  • Helps you track and manage components that are critical to an IT or business service
  • Supports your major incident management process by providing vital information that can speed up resolution and minimize downtime
  • Helps the problem management team perform better root cause analysis and assess a problem’s impact on IT infrastructure
  • Enables you to perform effective risk management by tracking any change or CI upgrade’s effect on the overall IT environment
  • Helps you stay on top of any authorized or unauthorized changes made to your IT infrastructure

How do you set up your own CMDB?

Now let’s look at some best practices you can follow to set up your own CMDB process and ensure it stays relevant.

1. Build a solid repository of all your CIs.

A CMDB is only as good as its database of CIs and their relationships. CIs are the building blocks of the CMDB, so it’s crucial that all the CIs and their information are properly recorded. The use of automated discovery tools is highly recommended to discover all assets in your organization. These assets can then be made CIs based on their role in your organization’s service delivery model.

2. Construct separate service delivery models for all your key services.

Building separate service delivery models gives you quick access to the relationship map and a breakdown of the components of each service delivery model. Service delivery models are business views that show only the components related to a particular service. Isolating the components of each model reduces the chance of confusion and errors during emergencies like a major incident.

The what, why, and how of a configuration management database (CMDB) 13. Pay extra attention when mapping the relationships of critical services.

A CMDB can be a powerful tool in the fight against downtime and major incidents. According to a study by Information Technology Intelligence Consulting, 98 percent of organizations lose at least $100,000 from an hour of downtime, something we definitely want to avoid or at the very least minimize. Clearly mapping the relationships of your critical services’ CIs gets you all the information you need during a major incident in one place. You can identify which part of the IT environment is affected and its implications on the rest of your IT infrastructure, giving your major incident management team the edge it needs to tackle any unforeseen incidents.

4. Create tip-top documentation a CMDB is only as good as the quality of its data.

Proper documentation is key to setting up a successful CMDB. All CIs need to be classified with the right CI type, owner information, location, or site information and have their relationships mapped. It’s vital to ensure that decision-makers have access to all the valuable information a CMDB can provide.

5. Keep your CMDB updated to ensure you always have accurate data.

Your IT environment is dynamic; new assets and CIs are constantly introduced or retired, new personnel are added or removed, technology is upgraded, and old tech is phased out. In this ever-changing environment, the CMDB needs to be constantly updated to reflect these changes. A CMDB needs accurate data to be effective, so it’s vital to keep your CMDB updated. It’s important to note that, when setting up your CMDB, you need to dedicate resources to keep the CMDB up-to-date to get the most return on investment from your CMDB process.

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