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EasyVista | January 24, 2024

What is a configuration management database (CMDB)?

Managing and maintaining an entire company’s Information Technology (IT) infrastructure is like trying to scale Everest—daunting.  

Data and technology are constantly changing. Whether it’s the environment (a new office), the company deciding to go a different strategic direction, or a user changing their password—you name it, anything can happen (and does). 

Finding and centralizing data within an organization is a big investment...but keeping it up to date over time is an even BIGGER one.  

That said, you should still climb the mountain to have visibility and access into your IT infrastructure. Everyone internally and externally will benefit from you doing so. The good news is, with a Configuration Management Database (CMDB) the mountain is a little more manageable. This blog post will dive into why CMDB matters in IT, its benefits, and best practices for implementing it in your business.  

What is a CMDB? 

A company’s IT infrastructure (their servers, data centers, networks, etc.) are its central nervous system and connective tissue. The thing is, it’s not you, a human being. If you were to break your finger, you would know—maybe not immediately, but you’d know shortly thereafter as the pain receptors begin to signal “there’s a problem!” to your brain. IT infrastructure is different. You could break your finger, (ex: Office 365 crashes), and have no clue until you try and pick up a coffee cup (attempt to log on to Teams for an all-hands call) and can’t—coffee goes everywhere.  

You’re then left scrambling in a mad panic to figure out why the coffee spilled.  

With a CMDB in place, you don’t have to worry about your smart watch notifying you of an “abnormal heart rate detected.” By way of automation tools, the CMDB, or sensory system of the IT infrastructure, shows you how everything connects. When something’s not working, you’ll be able to see what broke and what caused it—improving remediation times. 

A Configuration Management Database (CMDB) is a centralized repository (location data is stored) that stores information about the configuration items (also known as “CIs,” items that are managed to ensure successful delivery of services) within an organization's IT infrastructure. Once in the repository, the information is organized and maintained by the IT configuration that’s pre-set by the organization. Using a CMDB promotes more efficient IT management through change management, faster incident response times, asset tracking, and more visibility into the services and integrations with ITSM processes.  

In short: CMDBs provide a bird’s eye view of a company’s IT landscape by showing the various relationships and dependencies between each component. They enable faster, more informed decisions, and facilitate better governance and compliance. All this to say, they improve IT service delivery and reduce costs and risks. 

CIs: The Building Block of CMDBs 

CMDBs are built on CIs, also known as configuration items. 

They are routers, servers, applications, virtual machines, containers, portfolios, or anything in the IT environment. They have no set size, type, or complexity for CIs. That said, CIs do have assigned and designated characteristics in place to organize the information in the CMDB. 

The Characteristics of Configuration Items Are: 

  • A classification or type to identify what kind of item the CI is 
  • Attributes (vary by classification) that describe the characteristics of the individual CI 
  • A status value—representing the CI's state in the lifecycle  
  • Relationships—indicating how the CI is related to other CIs 
  • An owner– person who is responsible for the CI

To transfer CIs into the CMDB, data import tools are typically used (also known as automated discovery), though some IT teams still use manual tools to keep their CMDBs updated—not the most recommended of practices, as it’s hard to scale and can introduce unnecessary errors (e.g., duplicates) into your system. After the information is gathered, it is reviewed for accuracy and consistency (does it fit what’s already in the system?).  

The next, and more advanced step, after discovering and cataloging CI's is service mapping. This is also done manually by many orgs, but there are tools to help service mapping that can automatically detect, track, and visually represent the dependencies between these CI's. What that means is if something goes wrong, it should be able to detect and identify any upstream and downstream impacts of issues related to that CI—this tremendously speeds up root cause analysis and resolution times. For the best results (and most accurate data), CMDBs need to be constantly updated—this is exactly why automated tools are recommended to assist in service mapping. 

Benefits of CMDB in Information Technology 

The short answer?  

CMDB provides continuous monitoring and updating to reflect real-time changes in the IT environment for IT professionals, so they can focus on other, higher-level tasks. Additionally, they also provide: 

  1. Improved Visibility: A unified view of the company’s entire IT infrastructure. This allows IT teams to have a holistic understanding of how each piece of technology relates to one another—crucial for making informed decisions, troubleshooting issues, and planning for future changes. 
  2. IT Service Management (ITSM) Integration: Often, CMDB is integrated with ITSM tools to align all IT services under one piece of infrastructure and to ensure consistency. In using fully integrated ITSM tools, service requests can be automated, which then facilitate faster, more accurate service support.  
  3. Change and Problem Management: IT professionals can better assess the impact of any structural or procedural changes within the company’s IT infrastructure when using CMDB—reducing the risk of unexpected disruptions and promising smoother change management. Additionally, they can quickly identify and resolve issues by finding the root cause faster—minimizing downtime.  
  4. Efficient Asset Management: With a comprehensive overview of all hardware and software assets within the organization, there can be better tracking for asset lifecycles, resource utilization, and compliance on licensing agreements.  
  5. Access and Security Controls: Access to configuration and other information within the CMDB can be set up to ensure only authorized personnel can view or modify specific configuration details. The CMDB can also include security-related CIs, like firewall rules, access controls, and encryption settings. 

What to Know When Setting Up Your CMDB 

At this point in the article, there’s no reason in your mind why you shouldn’t set up a CMDB. But, to give you the full picture of this (massive, but not unachievable) undertaking, you need to know that: Most CMDB initiatives fail.  

85% to be exact 


Because most projects tend to fall into one of the following categories: 

  1. Other projects take precedence over the CMDB, and it doesn’t get the level of attention it needs to get up and running. 
  2. CMDB implementation is a lot of work. If done manually, without the use of the right tools to automate and maintain the tasks, the work will seem unmanageable (because, truthfully, it is...but that’s why technology exists!). 
  3. Budget and staffing issues halt the project from being completed or even starting. 
  4. Many CMDB initiatives target complete and total visibility/ control of IT infrastructure, instead of focusing on critical dependencies and services.

That said, the task at hand (setting up a CMDB) is still doable!  

If you have the right tools in place, take the time to plan the project appropriately, and allocate the right number of resources (staff and money), then setting up a successful CMDB will be achievable Here’s what you need to do: 

  • Define The Objectives: Be clear about the goals and objectives of the project before you begin implementing CMDB. Take the time to understand the specific needs of your business. Are you looking to improve incident management, enhance change control, or optimize asset management? 
  • Categorize: Perform a thorough inventory of all configuration items in your company’s IT environment. Once done, categorize each of the items based on their type (hardware, software, documentation, services, etc.). Here’s the catch though: There is no such thing as perfect and comprehensive, there’s no way to know when discovery should end. This is why categorizing is so important – because we need visibility over priority services and of the CI’s up and down stream. We will never find everything, but we need to find what’s critical. 
  • Relationships and Dependencies: Understand how changes to one item impact others by documenting the relationships and dependencies between configuration items. This step is critical for data accuracy.  
  • Automation and Integration: Take advantage of automation tools. Use them to populate and update the CMDB (seriously, don’t skip this step). Set up integrations with other IT management systems (ITSM), like monitoring tools and asset management systems to keep the CMDB data current and relevant. It's important to note that with complex cloud-enabled environments, several integrations are needed from multiple input sources to populate a CMDB. 
  • Perform Maintenance: Validate and update the information in the CMDB on a regular basis—this is another important step for data accuracy. You should build in processes for ongoing data maintenance and establish ownership of configuration items (this keeps the CMDB reliable). 
  • Security and Access Control: Implement security measures and access controls to protect the information in the CMDB. Roles and permissions should be defined based on job responsibilities to ensure only authorized personnel have access to specific information. 

Now you know: CMDB is hard. But, it is worthwhile when done correctly. 

It’s extremely time and cost intensive—especially if you’re embarking on the project manually.  

That said, with multiple input sources, automation tools, and the goal of a prioritized view rather than a comprehensive view, you’ll be ready to take on the undertaking at a more manageable, realistic pace. And in turn, drastically improve your IT service, risk management, and costs.  

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EasyVista is a global software provider of intelligent solutions for enterprise service management, remote support, and self-healing technologies. Leveraging the power of ITSM, Self-Help, AI, background systems management, and IT process automation, EasyVista makes it easy for companies to embrace a customer-focused, proactive, and predictive approach to their service and support delivery. Today, EasyVista helps over 3,000+ enterprises around the world to accelerate digital transformation, empowering leaders to improve employee productivity, reduce operating costs, and increase employee and customer satisfaction across financial services, healthcare, education, manufacturing, and other industries.