Configuration Management Database (CMDB): Definition, function, benefits

For companies that want to operate efficiently, it is essential to bring together all business-relevant information from distributed data sources in a central location. In the best case, this location is a Configuration Management Database (CMDB). Find out what a CMDB is, what advantages it brings, how it should be structured and how it should be maintained in order to provide optimum benefits.

What is a CMDB? Definition, function, properties

A CMDB is a data pool that stores all information about the configuration of elements within an organization. The IT organization determines exactly what should flow into the CMDB database. This may include the following elements …

  • Hardware
  • Software
  • Systems
  • Facilities/Locations/Branches
  • Employees
  • Contracts
  • and many more.

Once fed into the Configuration Management Database, the configuration data is correlated and interdependent. That is, they can be assigned to classes and attributes. Any change to an element or the relationship to other elements is automatically recorded and documented. But how does that work exactly?

Features of a Service Management Database

A CMDB contains a set of data or elements. These elements are called Configuration Items (CIs). As defined in ITIL 4, CIs are “all components that need to be managed in order to provide an IT service”.

For example, an asset, such as a laptop, can be a Configuration Item, but it does not have to be. The decisive factor here is whether the asset is configurable and has relevant dependencies to other elements. When planning and defining dependencies in a CMDB, the following should be considered to make the system work:

  • Individual information on devices should be entered directly as a property on the device.
  • More general information or information that affects several devices at the same time should be recorded in relations.
  • These relations, their creation and maintenance must already be taken into account when planning the CMDB.

Here is an example to make what has just been said easier to understand: For each device (for example, a laptop), all its properties, such as …

  • … the address of the user,
  • the location in the company,
  • the associated support team,
  • general documentation, such as manuals for the device,
  • the suppliers,
  • the service contract with the external service provider and
  • the accessories used for it (mouse, monitor, etc.)

… are recorded. But that’s a lot of information required per device. If you multiply this by the number of devices in the company (all laptops), the amount of data stored, or the effort required to store it, becomes infinitely large, not to mention unmanageable.

However, if the new documentation is created in a CMDB and the affected CIs (again the laptop example) are given a logical relationship to this documentation, the data is updated automatically. This saves time and resources because, ideally, the new software version is identified when the CIs are automatically recorded (via a discovery engine) and the new documentation is put into relation via automation rules.

Relationships are also used to recognize dependencies. If, for example, an external service provider fails, it can be selected in the CMDB and a list of all sites or devices related to this service provider can be displayed. Therefore, when planning a CMDB, consider the following:

  • Relations should be detected automatically via autodiscovery function.
  • Not only attributes but also relations should be able to be imported from data sources.
  • A graphical relationship view creates transparency and added value for CMDB users.
  • It must also be possible to easily export relations from the CMDB solution for further processing (e.g. in BI solutions). In this way, the added values of relations are retained.

CMDB: Functions and exchange with other systems

The CMDB can therefore exchange data with various systems, determine dependencies and configure properties as part of IT service management (ITSM) – a CMDB therefore has many features.

However, a CMDB is not an isolated system, but also forms a basis that can be accessed by all systems used in the company. Here are a few examples of how a configuration management database works together with various systems:

A monitoring solution receives information about the systems to be monitored from a CMDB. At the same time, it reports back on the status of the respective assets, which in turn is stored in the CMDB.

A discovery engine or software periodically scans the network for connected devices. The information in the corresponding configuration items (CIs) in the CMDB is then updated with the data obtained.

A mapping function that ensures unambiguous assignment of data and status information. This makes it possible to connect any sources quickly and flexibly.

The service desk benefits from a CMDB in a special way. If, for example, monitoring reports a fault in a system, a corresponding ticket can be opened automatically. This not only contains information about the type of fault. The CMDB simultaneously provides all available information on the affected system.

Conversely, a service desk employee can access the CMDB data in the event of a fault report. This gives him a complete overview of the faulty systems in a short time.

In problem management, a CMDB can help with root cause analysis and lead teams to the heart of a problem faster. It can also support proactive problem management and help teams identify assets that need upgrades to lower service costs and reduce unplanned outages.

In change management, a CMDB can improve risk assessment by anticipating which users, systems and other CIs may be affected.

Technology managers need CMDB data to plan generally at the enterprise architecture and portfolio management level as well as in detail at the capacity and asset management level.

IT Finance must be able to access application or service code records to allocate billings and properly manage company finances.

Auto-Discovery fully automates the populating of the CMDB solution. The integrated monitoring continuously records status information and changes. All objects, their properties and status are thus always up-to-date and centrally available.

Optimize your IT infrastructure with SmartCMDB. Learn more now!

Configuration Management

Aim of a CMDB

By building up a CMDB, companies get a valid database with high-quality information, which not only minimizes the time needed to obtain information, but also forms the basis for increasing process and service quality.

The aim of a CMDB is therefore to provide companies with exactly the information they need to make better business decisions and carry out ITSM processes efficiently.

Application areas of a configuration management database

The possible uses and application examples for a CMDB in the company are diverse and all company areas can benefit from it. Because it offers:

  • a single source of truth
  • Complete transparency of systems used and existing organizational structure
  • qualitative enhancement of IT processes through valid data
  • Audit-proof documentation of changes to configuration items
  • a minimized procurement time for information
  • unproblematic fulfillment of IT security requirements (e.g. KRITIS)
  • Targeted reporting and role-based access to information
  • easy integration into the existing IT landscape thanks to a large number of interfaces
  • Automated, simple data collection and filling of the CMDB using a powerful autodiscovery engine

The CMDB therefore contains information from all areas of your company, saves it in the CIs, establishes connections between them and makes information available to employees and managers centrally and across departments.

By centralizing all configuration information, all staff and management can better understand critical CIs and their relationships to each other. A CMDB can therefore be of great benefit for important ITSM processes:

The following graphic illustrates well how ITSM processes, database configuration management, the discovery engine and process automation are interrelated.

Advantages of a CMDB

A CMDB saves time and avoids idle time because your team no longer has to scroll through dozens of tools to find the information they need. No matter whether you are looking for information on a server from monitoring, an invoice from financial accounting or the last correspondence with the technical department in order to be able to rectify a fault: All information and documents are available in the CMDB.

An always up-to-date CMDB …

  • … can be used for the optimization and planning of the IT infrastructure.
  • ... provides basic data for the visualization of IT concepts and IT relationships.
  • … shows performance shortages and interdependencies.
  • ... helps to achieve business goals on time.
  • … reduces the workload of employees.
  • … saves ways, time and, as a consequence, money.

However, the greatest added value is the reliability of information. Since there is no longer any local documentation and all changes are documented in the CMDB, highly up-to-date information is always available to employees in all departments.

The tedious and error-prone comparison between different documentation data to determine the current version is thus history thanks to a well-maintained CMDB. In regulated industries, it can also support compliance, help teams manage controls and provide a clear audit trail.

However, in order to reap these benefits, it is important to take certain steps within the company and leave nothing to chance when implementing a CMDB.

Challenges in the implementation of a CMDB

The decisive factor in determining whether a CMDB can be used efficiently is its structural design. This means that it must be designed according to current company-specific requirements. Currently, this means that the requirements and needs in a company can change. A CMDB must be able to follow such changes and map them correctly, preferably in real time.

To benefit from the advantages just mentioned, you need to plan well and overcome various challenges. Here we name the three most important:

1. Manage costs of data collection and storage

A CMDB can quickly become one of the largest data repositories in your company. This is because it often additionally contains a copy of data from other source systems in order to be used effectively and to map the complete company. Then, as companies grow and develop, the data set can become quite large and then you need to be able to act.

2. Keep data up to date and relevant

A CMDB is only as good as the timeliness of its data. So if your IT environment changes, the data stored in your CMDB must also change as a result, and functions such as auto-discovery help you with this. This means new assets, removal of retired assets, changes to existing assets and the relationship between them must always be up to date. In addition, outdated or obsolete information should be updated or corrected as automatically as possible.

3. Usability of the data

The value of a configuration management database lies not only in its data, but above all in its correct use. So to use a CMDB effectively, you need …

  • … tools such as ITSM applications,
  • Reporting systems,
  • Data analysis skills and
  • the right processes

… to make efficient use of all configuration data. But it is not only certain challenges that a CMDB poses to you, you should also plan well for the introduction in the company itself. Because properly implemented, a CMDB facilitates the work of your IT teams at all levels and significantly optimizes the quality of your digital services.

How to successfully establish your CMDB in the enterprise

Industry statistics, such as those from Gartner Research, show that only 25% of organizations are seeing meaningful value from their CMDB investments. Due to this low success rate, the technology has a rather dubious reputation. However, this poor reputation is not due to the performance of the CMDB itself, but rather to the incorrect use and inadequate implementation of the system.

In each company, it must be determined whether the introduction of new technologies and processes will be successful. In a recent Harvard Business Review study, 93% of executives said the biggest challenge in data-driven digital transformation is employee knowledge of these processes.

To help you overcome these challenges, here are 5 tips to help you successfully implement CMDB management.

1. Ensure relevance

CMDBs are often described as a central source of information. This sometimes leads to companies trying to squeeze all their data into one database without thinking about whether the data is even relevant.

As with any data pool, a CMDB should contain only focused, useful data that also supports internal business processes. So make sure that your CMDB has a clearly defined benefit and offers the possibility to update data, to map all changes and that there are also clear responsibilities for this.

2. Understand centralization correctly

When we refer to a CMDB as a central location for displaying asset data, this does not mean that all asset data must be located exclusively in the CMDB. For example, it makes more sense to store financial data in an IT Financial Management (ITFM) tool and software license information in a Software Asset Management (SAM) tool.

The data can then be imported into your CMDB and mirrored, even if this is not the primary storage location.

3. Ensure accuracy

The most common problems with using a CMDB are that …

  • detection tools are run too infrequently,
  • Automation rules are missing or
  • manual entries cannot be dispensed with.

A suitable solution to these challenges is event-driven detection, which complements traditional bottom-up detection. Bottom-up discovery assigns assets from infrastructure to customer-facing CIs.

Event-driven detection occurs when, for example, an event occurs within a system or a problem occurs that results in communication between systems. Based on this event, the system then assigns the associated CIs and their connections.

4. Integrate new processes

CMDBs are not only used to model older infrastructures and software, but also to catalog new infrastructures and the associated workflows.

5. Select the appropriate tools

Choosing the right tool is extremely important to ensure that a CMDB adds value to business processes. Some CMDB tools are nothing more than data structures that are slow to respond to changes. In order to work successfully with a CMDB, you need a powerful configuration management database tool.

The CMDB software SmartCMDB from REALTECH offers exactly that by creating a database for the automation of your IT processes. It provides access to all information as well as assets of your organization. Thus, it supports you during audits or the analysis and monitoring of your critical infrastructures. And we help you with the implementation in the company through our support team. We also help you solve the challenges and issues you and your employees face.

Take your IT operations to the next level with SmartCMDB!

Maintenance of a CMDB

In addition to the high requirements when introducing a CMDB – from a practical and company-related perspective – maintaining a CMDB is a challenge that should not be underestimated. After all, the data is only as good for the processes and users as it is up-to-date and correct.

When employees are given outdated or incorrect data to perform their tasks, their work is often rendered moot and useless. This leads to frustration and mistrust among users and can result in the CMDB being bypassed or the CMDB solution not being accepted. This is exactly why a CMDB must be well maintained. This is ensured as follows:

  • When automatically importing data into the CMDB, it is therefore necessary to determine how often the data needs to be retrieved and whether this is technically feasible. In addition, it must be defined under which circumstances obsolete or orphaned data is overwritten or deleted.
  • Responsibilities must be defined for the manual maintenance of data. A list of the individual data fields should be drawn up and the benefits and costs should be assessed in order to compare the effort and benefits.
  • When automating, it is important to ensure that not only CIs and attributes, but also their relationships can be recorded automatically.

Optimally, this can already be documented in the CMDB and, if necessary, also displayed to the user as information. Because with the dynamics of today’s business world, an intelligent, standardizing discovery engine is indispensable. It must be able to reliably identify various technical objects, read out their status and configuration, and make them easily accessible to the user on a normalized basis (with uniform designations and notations).

In addition to the intelligent discovery function, the CMDB must have sufficient interfaces and methods to be able to cleanly synchronize data from third-party systems at any time. In short, a uniform image of the heterogeneous reality should always be generated in the CMDB.

Only if configuration items (CIs) and their relationships are up to date and the metamodel adapts to constantly changing conditions can the CMDB realize its full potential and become a valuable, reliable tool.

This is why intelligent CMDB management pays off

Implementing a CMDB involves a lot of work, but this effort is rewarded. Because the advantages of a functioning CMDB are enormous. By creating a binding information point, you create added value – not only for the IT department, but for all departments incl. Management. In short, you not only make processes within the company more efficient, you also optimize your entire company with a CMDB.


FAQs: Configuration Management Database (CMDB)

CMDB is the abbreviation for Configuration Management Database, i.e. a central database that contains all relevant information about the hardware and software components of the IT infrastructure used by IT services.

The purpose of a CMDB is to identify, store, monitor, determine, catalog, and report on service assets and CIs to designated locations. This leads to saving time, ways and resources by storing all relevant information needed to achieve business goals in one place.

A CMDB contains so-called configuration items (CIs). CIs are all components that have to be managed in order to provide an IT service. For example, an asset, such as a laptop, can be a Configuration Item, but it does not have to be. The decisive factor is whether the asset is configurable and has relevant dependencies to other elements – then it belongs in a CMDB.