CMDB Integration with data sources - ITIL Configuration Management

CMDB can be populated by integrating the data sources, but if processes are not integrated the data will grow out of date and would be inaccurate. One of the critical aspects of being IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) aligned is that all processes interact with one another, and data generated by one process area can be used by another. The only discipline that should update the CMDB is change management. Of course, that isn’t to say that process integration is simple. In fact, those processes that are going to use data from the CMDB need to be integrated every bit as much as change management, which is going to update the CMDB.

Relationship with Change Management

The CMDB plays a critical role within the ITIL framework by providing critical data to support and enhance Service Support and Service Delivery processes. The CMDB is a repository of CIs, which are elements within the IT infrastructure including hardware, software, business applications and services, and their relationships to each other. While a mature CMDB increases the effectiveness of all ITIL processes, it is most closely associated with and usually deployed within the context of the Change Management and Configuration Management processes.In order for the CMDB to be deployed, the Change and Configuration Management processes must be addressed together. The Change Management process strives to minimize or prevent service disruptions with standardized methods and procedures for the efficient handling of all Requests-For-Change (RFC). While Change Management handles the workflows of change requests, analysis, approvals, scheduling, implementation and reviews, it is dependent on Configuration Management for a clear, accurate picture of the IT environment including specific Configuration Items and their relationships to each other.

The goal of Configuration Management is to provide comprehensive and accurate records of CIs throughout their lifecycles, including identification, control, maintenance and verification. When implemented as part of a Change and Configuration Management initiative, the CMDB maintains accurate details of IT components and the services they support and enables the IT organization to deliver cost-effective, high-quality IT services.

Configuration Management activities related to the CMDB includes:

  • Creating a list of key attributes (e.g. physical and logical characteristics such as the number of processors, the amount of RAM installed, size of hard drive, relationships to key IT and business services, relationships to other components, etc.) to collect and maintain for each CI
  • Defining the relationships between individual CIs, the relationships between CIs and IT services and the relationships between IT services and business services
  • Tracking the current status and history of each CI
  • Verifying and ensuring that the CI attributes are complete and accurate
  • Maintaining an authorized state for comparison to actual state

Configuration Management is distinct from IT Asset Management (ITAM) in that in addition to tracking physical assets such as routers, servers and ports, Configuration Management includes IT services and functions, and highlights their relationships and interdependencies.

Although some of this information must be gathered manually, relationship mapping tools can automate the discovery of relationships for both physical IT components and logical CIs like business services. Often, CMDB projects focus initially on ITAM discovery tools so that the CMDB can be populated with an initial list of discovered CIs. In these cases, attention to relationships between the discovered CIs, or between the discovered CIs and applications and services, comes later.

When Change and Configuration Management processes are integrated and fully functioning, IT can truly understand and control the IT infrastructure. Incidents can be prioritized so that resolution is focused on those with true business impact. Proposed RFCs to a CI can be assessed and approved with a clearer picture of the CI’s relationships to other devices and impact on IT and business services. Unauthorized changes to the infrastructure can be minimized and their resulting costly business service outages avoided. IT services can be defined, measured and ensured more precisely. The capacity of IT resources and services can be more accurately anticipated and planned for. To achieve these benefits, Configuration Management maintains the current status of the dynamic IT environment in the CMDB, with Change Management maintaining data integrity with updates to the CMDB.

Relating Incidents to Configuration Items

One of the ways to aid in the Incident Management process is to attach as much information as possible to the incident. Often, the service desk is dealing with an incident tied to one or more specific configuration items. If the CMDB has been populated by the Configuration Management team, the CI records may hold valuable information for the Incident Management Team.

There are two ways to associate incidents with configuration items:

  1. Using the Configuration Item reference field
  2. Using the Affected CI's related list

The Configuration Item reference field is usually used when there is a single, primary Configuration Item that is the cause of the incident. The Affected CI's related list can hold multiple entries. It is often used to record which configuration items have been affected by the incident.

For example, suppose a load-balancer in a data center is no longer operational. The Configuration Item field may have the specific server which has run out of memory, and the Affected CI related list may have a list which includes the load-balancer, the data center, the servers which depend on that load-balancer, and business services which are impacted by the missing server.

These configuration items can be associated manually using the fields, or can be attached using the BSM Map.

Capturing Configuration Data from Release Management

Release Management is a process that encompasses the planning, design, build, configuration and testing of hardware and software releases to create a defined set of release components. Release activities also include the planning, preparation, scheduling, training, documentation, distribution and installation of the release to many users and locations. Release Management uses the controlling processes of Change and Configuration Management. Release management is a software engineering process intended to oversee the development, testing, deployment and support of software releases. The practice of release management combines the general business emphasis of traditional project management with a detailed technical knowledge of the systems development lifecycle (SDLC) and IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) practices.

Integrating Data across Processes

Some people get carried away with integrating processes. They form so many complex relationships between processes that the underlying systems get confusing data. As a simple example, consider the triangle that occurs between incident management, problem management, and configuration management.

It also seems eminently reasonable to associate a CI with a problem investigation to understand exactly which component is associated with the root cause of the problem. But problems are also associated with incidents because most problem investigations stem from a service outage.

The issue that can arise comes when these three processes are automated by systems looking to link their data to one another. The incident ticket has one or more CI identifiers associated to it. The incident ticket can also have a problem record tied to it. So if you tie one or more CIs to the problem record, you have a possibility for a data mismatch. It isn’t necessarily wrong, but it is quite possible that the CI tied to the incident and the CI tied to the problem might be different.

This kind of “data triangle” should be avoided wherever possible, or at least studied thoroughly by the process teams to understand whether inconsistent data will be allowed. Change, incident, and release management are not the only processes that can be integrated with configuration management. They are, however, the primary processes that most people will use to begin populating the CMDB and keep the data within it accurate. As your organization matures, you’ll be able to intersect the capacity, availability, and even financial management processes to improve the accuracy of the database, as well. Whether you use these process integrations only to maintain a database that was populated by data integration, or you use them to populate the data in a steady trickle, you should spend significant effort to make sure the integrations are optimized for your organization.

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