By: Matthias Gromann, Head of Business Line Enterprise IT Solutions at FNT Software
As digital transformation gathers pace, businesses in every industry have become increasingly dependent on networked devices and applications. The sheer volume of disparate components makes it difficult for IT departments and data center managers to keep track of valuable resources and protect business-critical data from a security breach. As these components constantly change, any documentation quickly becomes obsolete. Therefore, a high-performance configuration management database (CMDB) is needed to help organizations get the most out of their existing data and support new technologies.
A CMDB is a central database that holds all the required data an organization needs to track and control its IT resources and services. This database ensures that the organization knows exactly how its technology assets are configured and how those items relate to one another, including information on the type and state of all configuration items (CIs). Every element of the IT infrastructure, whether hardware, software, or service, is a CI.
CMDB software doesn’t just contain data on network components, applications, hardware, and services – it also shows all of the relationships between the CIs across all levels of the IT stack. This enables CMDB users to identify dependencies faster and more easily, whether they’re tracing faults, carrying out maintenance, planning upgrades, or taking part in an emergency simulation.
Supporting Data Center Management and IT Service Management
A lack of insight into IT infrastructure can result in slow service delivery, high operating costs, and security breaches. Fortunately, every component and every configuration item, from routers to storage systems and ERP applications, already contains important data that can be leveraged to identify problems and optimize operations. This data just needs to be systematically collected, meaningfully linked, and analyzed – which is exactly what a CMDB is designed to do.
Today, CMDBs are so much more than just a simple collection of information. As a functional software component with a strong focus on visualization, workflow support, and automation, a CMDB forms the basis and core of any successful infrastructure management solution. For example, entire data centers or campus clusters can be clearly mapped to provide an overview and facilitate the understanding of dependencies. Live-generated 3D views enable virtual tours of data centers, allowing new employees to familiarize themselves with the physical infrastructure at remote locations from their workstation in the service center or their home working environment. Similarly, realistic depictions of individual racks and cabling are invaluable when it comes to identifying key details.
This detailed information allows organizations to go far beyond documenting their various applications, servers, and network components. With a CMDB, organizations can manage and plan their entire IT infrastructure, conduct analysis, and simulate changes. Integrated workflow functionalities also make it possible to automate provisioning and deployment processes for end-to-end, flexible IT service management (ITSM).
How to Successfully Roll Out Your CMDB
Due to the need for long-term collaboration between many stakeholders with differing interests, senior management buy-in is crucial when introducing a central database for configuration management. This project requires the early advocacy of key decision makers who are aware of how a CMDB contributes to digital transformation, with priorities being set accordingly.
Keep in mind, there was a time when a classic configuration management database was often just a confusing jumble of configuration data, reflecting the desire to capture absolutely every detail in the CMDB itself. While the goal was for it to offer a definitive, holistic view of the entire infrastructure and create transparency into current statuses, it was a time-consuming undertaking which largely had to be done manually. By the time the database was complete, most of the data was already obsolete.
An advanced, high-performance CMDB differs from this traditional concept in two vital areas. First, it offers convenient import functions that make both the initial data capture and the ongoing updating of the information significantly faster and more efficient. Second, it only holds the details for which there is a clear need, such as those for actively managing and optimizing a process. That applies, for example, if a server is to be physically relocated or fitted with upgraded network cards and the technical team requires detailed work instructions in order to complete the task quickly via the most efficient route.
Where that is not the case, such as when monitoring and tracking detailed information on the operational status of a virtual server, the CMDB provides general, condensed status information that shows if intervention is needed. In this scenario, the CMDB offers the ability to access the relevant operational management system immediately, view all the details, and take action.
To set appropriate expectations, it’s important to clearly communicate what the CMDB can do, what tasks are involved, which near-term benefits that can be achieved, and what additional requirements must be addressed at a later stage. Rather than adopting a “big bang” approach, focus on identifying and implementing clearly defined use cases. Work with leaders who recognize the potential of the CMDB in their own departments, i.e., the ability to deliver tangible results in the form of lower costs, reduced staffing, and time savings in their processes while at the same time boosting service quality.
End-To-End Change Management in Four Phases
To successfully introduce a CMDB, follow these four carefully coordinated phases and end-to-end change management processes:
- Analysis and Scoping
The first step is to draw up an overarching strategic implementation plan. Define which use cases are to be supported by the CMDB rollout and determine your objectives. Next, identify the processes involved and which departments will benefit from these use cases. Finally, establish the service and infrastructure portfolio subset, as well as which CI types and data objects are most relevant.
Implementing a strategy and clearly defining your use cases will provide the project team with clarity on how to assess the project and its progress via KPIs and milestones. The key questions here are:
- Which concrete use cases are to be supported by CMDB rollout and what are the objectives?
- Which area of the organization will benefit from the use case?
- Which stakeholders are involved?
- Architecture and Design
The architecture and design phase covers the development of processes and definition of the work order structures surrounding the use case. Based on this, the project team can optimize workflows and align organizational structures to allow successful deployment of the CMDB. At the same time, process design determines which of the available data sources should be hooked up to the CMDB. The key task here is to check whether integration can be accelerated with the aid of interface packages that a software provider can offer for various management systems and data sources. Defining the architecture of the CMDB solution is also a crucial part of this phase.
- Implementation and Integration
Building on the specifications from the architecture and design phase, individual processes are modeled and tested in this phase. This includes implementation of the ready-to-use interfaces and creating custom interfaces where necessary. Preparing data for import into the CMDB and establishing automated processes for ongoing cleansing and updating of data are other key tasks. This phase concludes with end-to-end testing of complete use cases in the integration environment and training of power users and multipliers.
- From Go-Live to Operation
From final dry runs for interfaces to data health checks, cross-checks on object relationships, and pilot operations – there’s a lot to do in the final phase of CMDB implementation. Users and first-level support must also be briefed before routine operation can commence.
Proactive Change Management
A central success factor across all the four phases of a CMDB rollout is agile change management. Even the best project plan is not immune to new insights or unforeseen obstacles. Challenges like these are addressed and analyzed in short iteration cycles. Alternative solutions can then be identified, evaluated, implemented, and used as opportunities for further improvement.
Meeting Modern Requirements
Depending on your objectives, a CMDB can support a variety of tasks. The first step is often to obtain an overview of specific parts of the infrastructure and to use that information to improve existing processes. For example, if your company uses cloud environments, the CMDB must be able to map hybrid infrastructures. Depending on the focus and industry, different areas of the infrastructure need to be mapped. Data centers, site networking, WANs, LANs, and IT workstations all have different requirements with regard to ease of integration and ensuring optimum data quality. Getting it right is key to creating the comprehensive overview that business-critical departments require.
The ability to integrate data from a wide range of applications and systems via interfaces is just as important as appropriate visualization of the main relationships and of detailed components.
Since ITSM and ITIL processes such as service delivery, service support, IT security management, and change and problem management all depend on the configuration management database, the ITIL CMDB must offer high availability and supply accurate, up-to-date data at all times. This is even more vital when it comes to the increasing number of interconnected components in manufacturing and logistics.
Your CMDB should therefore be usable by any industry/sector, support business-critical operations, offer a variety of interfaces to a wide range of systems, highlight resource bottlenecks within the infrastructure, allow agile, flexible mapping of specific requirements, be deployable both in the cloud and on-premises, provide all relevant information for critical service processes, and supply up-to-date, accurate data throughout the organization.
Enabling Digital Transformation
Overall, initiative and decisive actions are vital when it comes to digitization. To be responsive to changing circumstances, organizations need a complete overview of their IT infrastructure. Access to accurate configuration and IT service management data is essential to automate existing processes, support innovative business models, and keep pace with constant change.
Whether systems are in an in-house data center, in the cloud, or in a hybrid environment – a modern, high-performance CMDB can enable your IT department to provide services faster, respond to changes quickly, build stable structures, ensure secure operations, provide flexible support for innovative user departments, mitigate faults, meet increasingly tough compliance requirements, identify optimization potential at an early stage, reduce costs, make the best possible use of existing resources, and plan future IT infrastructure with confidence.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Matthias Gromann is head of business line enterprise IT solutions at FNT Software. He has many years of experience as an IT technology expert and is FNT’s topic leader for service-oriented automation in infrastructure management. In his role, he shapes FNT’s solution approaches for enterprise IT, helping companies to achieve greater transparency, more security, and increased productivity in the operation of critical infrastructures.