IT managers are challenged today by the requirement to provide optimum and effective support of business processes combined with a cost-effective and nevertheless high service quality. In particular, problems which disrupt or considerably impair the ongoing business processes are to be avoided. Nowadays, every IT officer and IT manager and must ensure 7×24 hours of service and support quality. When a service or support issue arises, the IT manager must be able to decide immediately which service levels are affected, which systems must remain available for handling the business processes and which departments will have to resort to alternative systems. But it is not all about total breakdowns of servers and software systems for ongoing processes: the IT department is responsible today for everything from access rights and IT security systems to corporate data protection.
IT Configuration Management Requirements
The requirements with respect to configuration management in computing environments are ever-increasing. The reasons for this are:
- Almost every business process nowadays relies on support and optimisation by the corporate IT infrastructure.
- Licence management is subject to continuous optimisation as corporate costs may increase considerably due to ineffective licence management.
- Capturing service levels for a smooth operation of the IT infrastructure puts high demands on the IT documentation and the resulting planning and optimisation of the IT concepts required for the evaluation in terms of business management.
As early as in the 80ies of the last century, the Central Computing and Telecommunications Agency (CCTA) developed the ITIL (IT Infrastructure Library) system of rules to help optimise IT processes by means of best practices. Thus, ITIL creates the basis for secure and highly available corporate IT services. The ITIL system of rules and the associated best practices were developed under the assumption that the most common problems within an IT infrastructure are caused by configuration changes. Based on this, the ITIL system of rules stipulates, as a main objective, that a Configurations Management Database (CMDB) stores the data on all IT systems and their configurations and keeps it always up-to date. A CMDB further documents all relations and processes within the IT infrastructure. According to its definition in the ITIL system of rules, a CMDB – due to its standardised structure – must also be able to supply important information, e.g. to IT Service Management (including HelpDesk systems).
ITIL and the ITIL CMDB Database
As defined by ITIL, the CMDB is a central database which allows users to access and manage so-called configuration items (CI). IT management defines each CI as a resource within the IT (e.g. hardware, software, specifications of a desktop PC or of a server – such as network adapter cards, routers, switches, installed software, and network connectivity, location, contract data such as licences, warranties, service level agreements, or maintenance agreements). But this definition also includes the life cycle of a CI, its integration into the IT service and support concept, and the description of its priority when it comes to embed it into central business processes. This implies that
- the CMDB needs to be updated permanently
- the CMDB can be used to optimise and plan the IT infrastructure
- the CMDB supplies basic data for the visualisation of IT concepts and IT relations
- the CMDB is able to help to spot performance bottlenecks and interdependencies
ITIL CMDB and Software Support
To design a CMDB according to the ITIL system of rules, appropriate software is indispensable. This software should fulfil the following requirements:
- Federation: The ITIL system of rules defines this as the possibility to create a central CMDB database from distributed data sources using any desired interfaces.
- Reconciliation: Comparison of existing data and information with updated data. This is necessary because IT components may be documented differently in the various sources.
- Mapping and visualisation: This aims at a faster detection of dependencies. For instance, it is possible to map actual data to an expected data inventory by using validation rules (expected / actual comparison). It would be ideal if the dependencies and relations could be represented graphically.
- Necessity of synchronisation: All changes occurring in the distributed data and information sources must be synchronised with the central CMDB.
This brief overview alone shows that a CMDB is far more than a simple inventory tool. Thus, a CMDB also serves as a planning and analysis tool and as a daily tool for IT managers, service and support staff, helping them to optimise maintenance processes. If the ITIL system of rules is implemented in an optimum way, the risks of daily IT operation can be minimised, relations and dependencies within the IT infrastructure can be detected and – using automated expected / actual comparisons – even legal and contractual regulations can be subjected to monitoring and controlling.
Docusnap is one of the market leaders in the sector of ITIL-compliant CMDB IT documentation software and provides exactly these features. In a first step, a comprehensive inventory process is carried out to fulfil the ITIL requirements and store all relevant data in a central CMDB. This CMDB is then available to the IT managers to create comprehensive, partly automated analyses and reports. Docusnap covers all features required by the ITIL, including the inventory, IT concepts and IT emergency manuals.