ITIL CMDBs: Present and Future
A CMDB is a Configuration Management Database, which is fancy talk for a database that tracks all of your hardware and software and every configurable factor for those (known as Configuration Items or CIs). The reasons one of these should be hooked up to every mid-size to large enterprise is that a well-functioning CMDB allows your business to more successfully manage changes, analyze problems, and develop improvements, which is essential to successfully applying the ITIL lifecycle model of perpetual service improvement. Of course there a lots and lots of complications in building a good CMDB…
CMDB’s aren’t just about keeping track of all of the configurations of all of the IT related processes in your business, they’re also supposed to accurately track exactly how all of these configurations link with each other to allow IT to predict exactly what will happen to the system when a specific configuration is changed (or a part of the system goes down). This exponentially increases the number of factors that the system needs to track, and in order to work requires the system to be updated very frequently, ideally in real time, in order to be useful. A great break-down of issues with CMDBs can be found here. The author asserts that CMDBs have to track and process far too many factors, and that it’s not possible to properly automate data collection or to prevent tampering.
Why CMDBs are Here to Stay
CMDBs are actually not as complicated as the author of the above article claims. At the end of the day it’s just a database that links all of your different tools and processes and maps them down to show how they relate to each other. CMDBs are the holy grail of change management because they help IT make better decisions from a business rather than a technical perspective. The CMDB helps IT professionals detect and predict which parts of the greater system are likely to be affected by a problem in any other part of the system. Every minute an internet corporate giant like Amazon is offline costs that company 31,000 dollars. That means the slightest error in a software update could cost millions of dollars to repair, which can be averted relatively easily with the help of your CMDB.
CMDBs and Change Management
Current CMDBs are very useful for calculating the basic ramifications of a change in a CI and to accurately trace past changes, but they’re not ready to run perfectly accurate simulations of what will happen when specific changes are implemented because of the difficulty in tracking the different relationships between variable CIs. A “perfect” CMDB would be able to track the complex (and sometimes changing) relationships between different CIs while tracking new inputs in real time and calculating their impact on existing CIs and the relationships between those. This would allow change management personnel to implement a hypothetical change into the system and to know the exact outcome of that change without risking any impact on the system. Current CMDBs are not designed to do this, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t already extremely useful tools.