AIOps Rightfully Going Beyond CMDB in the Multi-Cloud Era
November 09, 2022

Tejo Prayaga

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The absence of topology can be a key inhibitor for AIOps tools, creating blind spots for AIOps as they only have access to event data. A topology, an IT service model, or a dependency map is a real-time picture of tools and services that are connected and dependent on each other to deliver an IT service.

Suppose an application is driven by cloud-native technology, connected with any kind of ephemeral systems (containers and microservices), and relies on storage, database, and a load balancing tool. All of those components help deliver the IT application.

Gartner defines topology as the physical and logical relationship of nodes in a network, the schematic arrangement of the links and nodes, or some hybrid combination thereof.

Since things change rapidly and continually in modern IT environments, you need to dynamically track changes in the said topology, which is where modern AIOps come in.

Topology information absence for AIOps can inhibit root cause analysis in an IT environment of any scale or size. Traditionally, organizations manually build the topology to feed it into the AIOps system.

So, let's first understand how organizations manually build the topology with CMDB systems.

What is CMDB in ITSM

How efficiently an IT function can deliver an experience and value to its customers depends on how its many components interact and how well their interactions and dependencies are visible to operations and security teams.

The Configuration Management Database (CMDB) is one of the most widely used solutions that help achieve said visibility at all IT levels. CMDB is a database or data warehouse that stores the configuration of IT assets (hardware and software) through their lifecycle and the relationship between configuration records.

CMDB helps plan infrastructure, support IT initiatives and strategize for change. Let's look at the importance of CMDB and its benefits for organizations.

The Importance of CMDB and CMDB Benefits

Here are the benefits of employing CMDB in an organization.

Quicker incident resolution
When an IT incident occurs, CMDB data helps pinpoint where it happened and which services/applications it impacted. This information comes in handy to identify the issue and resolve it before it causes critical damage. Since a CMDB compiles all this information, you don't waste time gathering it from multiple sources or looking through old documents.

Risk mitigation
Modern IT environments are rapidly changing. These changes can have a butterfly effect on your IT infrastructure. A CMDB helps manage risks from change by allowing you to predict how a change in one system will affect the rest of the IT environment.

Problem investigation
A CMDB provides a single source of information for all configuration items to investigate a problem. This means root cause analysis can be quicker with a CMDB.

IT evolution
Organizations of all sizes want to continually upgrade their IT environment to improve their efficiency, bottom line, and resilience. The CMDB holds data about configuration, inventory, logical and physical relationships between IT components, current asset status and historical data, existing relationships between external and internal applications, and more.

This information aids decision-making around applications that must be developed, deployed, maintained, and upgraded.

IT security
A CMDB strengthens IT security by helping identify applications on devices and where they came from. This way, security teams can spot malfunctioning and vulnerabilities in the IT environment.

Compliance management
A CMDB makes compliance management easier with industry regulations such as SOX and HIPAA by maintaining an inventory of all applications, services, and hardware in the organization.

CMDB Use Cases

As per Forrester, there are three critical use cases of CMDB today:

Planning – Technology executives and managers need CMDB data to plan enterprise architecture and portfolio management at a high level and asset and capacity management at a granular level.

Accounting – IT finance teams need records of applications or service codes to allocate billing statements and manage org-wide finances.

Operations – A CMDB enhances core ITSM practices, such as incident management, change management, and problem management.

And the core functional characteristics of a CMDB are:

■ Creating CIs and timely populating their data across input methods such as manual input, integrations, and discovery tools that conduct automated scans of IP addresses, collecting information on hardware and software, and inventory of physical and virtual devices in an organization.

■ Offering dashboards with CI metrics and analysis that enable tracking the health of CIs, their interdependencies, change impacts, patterns leading to incidents, and the cost of building and maintaining each service.

■ Enabling compliance features with records and visibility into the current state of CIs, historical changes, incidents, checks, and balances, etc.

■ Providing support for federated data sets.

■ Providing IT service mapping- a graphical representation of relationships and dependencies.

■ Allowing access control to enable different levels of access to people and teams and trace changes to their source when incidents occur.

Ultimately, a CMDB reduces complexity, prevents errors, strengthens security, and helps ITSM practices run hiccup-free.

CMDB software can help an enterprise move from disparate to centralized asset management, bringing some order to the chaos. An automated CMDB software can help cut back on labor costs, eliminate blindspots and improve efficiency, performance, and productivity.

Why CMDB Investments Fail

As per a 2019 report by Gartner, only 25% of organizations extract meaningful value from their CMDB investments. This is not a good look for CMDB. Let's see why CMDB investments fail in the first place.

Culture – As with any organizational change, culture and commitment are important factors in ensuring the success of new technology. 93% of executives agree that people and processes are the greatest challenges in data-driven digital transformation.

Relevance – Since CMDBs are tagged as the “single source of truth,” organizations sometimes put all their data into one without strategizing the use cases relevant to their needs, which leads to chaos and subsequent failure.

Centralization – There's a common misconception that all asset data must solely live inside a CMDB, which makes shifting data into it a humongous to-do for teams. Instead, the best practice is to federate data from other tools to use the most appropriate tool for each use case.

Accuracy – Organizations struggle to maintain accurate CMDB data as discovery tools run too infrequently, and there's a lack of automation and reliance on manual processes.

Process – Some organizations believe CMDBs only model legacy infrastructure and software instead of the new stack of cloud and software-defined infrastructure and modern workflows. We advise exploring the value of gaining a bird's eye view of the entire technical ecosystem- modern and legacy.

Tools – Choosing the right CMDB can prevent failure down the line. Some CMDBs only confine to being an asset repository, while others are more dynamic and automated.

CMDB Shortcomings

Enterprise IT organizations have a CMDB in place for overall configuration management, governance, and DevOps. However, these legacy data repository systems fall short in a modern, dynamic IT environment. They don't always support real-time decision-making and require manual updating.

Furthermore, since the pandemic threw enterprises into a remote work setting, organizations aren't going back. They have had to figure out IT operations in a remote work setting, which they continue to learn and implement in the hybrid work setting.

With a wide array of personal devices and networks used to access organizational applications and data, there has never been a more critical time to use a CMDB to monitor, maintain and secure the IT infrastructure.

As organizations increasingly shift to rapid deployment and release models that bring frequent and constant change, better governance and control gets imperative. For DevOps teams to allow this speed of change and innovation, they need a deep and real-time understanding of all IT components and how they relate to each other.

Finally, the modern IT environment isn't contained within the organizational premises, which means modern CMDB systems must support hybrid cloud, containers, and ephemeral microservices that make the modern IT infrastructure.

So the need for modern CMDB requirements or asset intelligence.

Newer IT Operations Management technologies powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning (AIOps) can fully automate asset discovery and topology mapping, bringing CMDB use cases into the modern IT environment.

Must-Have AIOps Capabilities to Support CMDB

CMDB automation – With automation and discovery tools, CMDB can be maintained up-to-date in real-time. Real-time asset intelligence opens up many possibilities for organizations.

IT monitoring – Alerts and notifications can't be contextualized with just a monitoring tool. The information from these tools isn't comprehensive or current. Teams then rely on manual feeds, which are expensive and out of sync. Asset intelligence brings deep information to build context, allowing for root cause analysis by pointing out where an issue originated and how far it impacted the IT infrastructure.

Risk & compliance management – Organizations need to audit IT assets periodically to discover risks from end-of-life, and end-of-support, vulnerabilities and to ensure compliance. If IT information is stored in various spreadsheets, forms, databases, or CRM/ERP platforms, it becomes exponentially harder to gather it. A solution should automate data collection, analysis, and reporting, so that accurate and timely insights are available for compliance and risk management.

Change management – Without automated asset intelligence, you won't know if changes are happening in a different corner of the IT infrastructure that will impact your application. With asset intelligence, you will not only be notified of the change but can view its impact in advance, helping evaluate all changes for a smoother journey.

Asset management – Asset intelligence offers a 360-degree view of assets, dependencies, lifecycles, performance, utilization, and compliance, so you know what you have and what is outdated for compliance purposes.

Dependency mapping – With automated dependency mapping, you can troubleshoot issues efficiently and decipher complex IT environments. A solution should map dependencies affected by alert correlation, triaging, planning, and ticket resolution.

IT environments are only getting more complex by the day. And the potential cost of a lack of visibility and intelligence is only going up. To keep up with the pace of change, enterprise IT organizations need to rethink the traditional CMDB and evolve it for their current needs as part of asset intelligence from AIOps.

Tejo Prayaga is Sr. Director of Product Management & Marketing at CloudFabrix
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