An Interview on CMDB with ServiceNow
July 22, 2011
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In BSMdigest’s exclusive interview, Craig McDonogh, Sr. Product Marketing Manager at ServiceNow, talks about the past, present and future of CMDB.

BSM: What is driving companies to implement CMDB today?

CM: They have a desire to understand what they have in their environment and to understand how those things are related to one another. This in turn provides them with the ability to understand and manage the high-level services that they provide to the business –- to ensure that changes to the environment are done with due regard to impact to the business.

BSM: Why does CMDB have a reputation for deployment and maintenance challenges in the past, and how has CMDB changed to address these issues?

CM: Most of the past issues stemmed from the fact that people were looking at CMDBs as repositories of technology supported by business services -- rather than repositories of business services, supported by technology. I’m not sure that CMDB has changed that much -- but PEOPLE have changed. They have come to the realization that approaching this from a technology perspective is all wrong. CMDB needs to be looked at from the perspective of the business –- and of the services that IT provide to it.

BSM: Is CMDB an important technology to enable BSM?

CM: Absolutely. You need to have an understanding of the technology building blocks of your business services in order to ensure the availability and performance of those services.

BSM: What is the difference between CMDB and CMS (Configuration Management System)?

CM: The CMS term was ITIL v3 trying to catch up with what everyone else had already figured out. ITIL says that “the Configuration Management System maintains one or more CMDBs, and each CMDB stores Attributes of CIs, and Relationships with other CIs.”

So, a CMDB is not a solitary entity that holds all information about all configuration items, but rather a collection of repositories that “roll up” data into a master system (now called a CMS). Quite frankly, this is how most leading vendors (including ServiceNow) and most practitioners saw the correct implementation of the ITIL v2 CMDB anyway -– and from a ServiceNow perspective, we can fit into either camp. Many customers elect to use ServiceNow as a CMS pulling information from other CMDBs, while others see us as a CMDB data source.

BSM: What are the key features or functionality a company should look for when purchasing a CMDB?

CM: First and foremost, remember that the CMDB is a repository -- a repository that is used by other ITIL processes. So, it’s vitally important that the CMDB is an integral part of the same system as those processes. You should look for a CMDB that uses the same technology; the same data model; and the same platform as the consuming ITIL processes -– don’t accept disparate tool “integration” stories.

Second, look for a CMDB that will allow itself to be organized from a business process level first -– and then extended down to technology. A CMDB that forces users to build up from a technology perspective is not going to meet the objective of CMDB, and will turn into a complex implementation that will likely fail.

Third, look for a CMDB that can be easily integrated with other data sources outside the Service Management environment. Look for it to have built-in reconciliation and normalization capabilities to ease the burden of these integrations.

Finally, it is imperative the tool efficiently supports the way people expect to work. The commitment of the people using and maintaining the information in a CMDB is critical to its success. Unfortunately, poorly designed tools have have thwarted even the best CMDB intentions. For example, if updating a CI record takes 40 clicks when it should only take six, user frustration will mount and a CMDB initiative will wither and die.

BSM: Is analytics an important feature of CMDB?

CM: Not necessarily a feature of the CMDB itself, but analytics and reporting should be able to easily access the data within the CMDB. In the case of ServiceNow, all data within the CMDB can be directly accessed for reporting purposes through actions as simple as a right-click from a filtered list; or by selecting from an extensive list of pre-created reports; or by using the ad-hoc report writer built into the product; or by accessing the data directly through our ODBC driver for extraction to third-party reporting or analytics tools.

BSM: How has CMDB evolved in order to handle the new dynamic virtual and cloud environments?

CM: CMDBs now have to track additional CI attributes in these dynamic environments. They also have to be prepared to be less “definite” about the physical location of a particular CI. For example, in a virtual/cloud world, applications can be moving from machine to machine continually –- and so this creates some new challenges for a CMDB.

Additionally, ServiceNow has introduced runbook automation capabilities to the CMDB. So those dynamic virtual and cloud environments can actually be created and provisioned directly from within ServiceNow -– and then information is automatically fed back into the CMDB for ongoing configuration management.

BSM: What are the top benefits that a company can gain from CMDB?

CM: The benefits are actually realized in areas outside the CMDB itself –- and all boil down to the ability to offer better service to the business through better IT. Better change management; faster incident resolution; higher application availability; reduced asset maintenance costs; more automated processes; simpler problem resolution; increased IT governance capability ... the list goes on. Dumping thousands of configuration items into a CMDB won't do any good unless there's a clear business justification. For IT people, that might mean getting on the phone with application owners and other business managers to draw clear links between CIs and the services they support. A relevant and accurate CMDB can provide actionable data and have a positive impact across all service improvement initiatives.

BSM: How will CMDB continue to evolve in the near future?

CM: CMDB will continue to evolve as the technology around it evolves –- as we have seen with the introduction of cloud/virtual infrastructure.

In terms of predictions -- In ITIL v3, we were introduced to the concept of the Service Knowledge Management System, or SKMS, and we feel that this will continue to develop. This is the set of tools, processes, and databases used to manage knowledge and information. This includes the CMS, trusted sources, CMDBs, the SACM process and anything else required to turn data into wisdom. After all, that is why you are collecting this data in the first place –- so that it can be re-used.

As Social IT becomes more prevalent, a new community-driven, organically growing knowledge repository will quickly overtake the static knowledgebases of old. IT will no longer be the gatekeepers of knowledge, but will retain responsibility for storing it; possibly indexing it; and making it accessible to the business. The CMDB will play a key part in this knowledge revolution –- and may end up as the repository for knowledge about CIs, in addition to the configuration and relationships stored there today.

The other prediction that we would make would be in the area of automatic remediation –- and we have customers doing this today using our CMDB in conjunction with our Runbook Automation capability. In these situations, customers are identifying issues with CIs (perhaps non-standard configurations or similar) and then using runbook automation to automatically remediate those issues with zero-touch.

In summary, despite rumors to the contrary, CMDBs will remain relevant –- and deeply involved in Business Service Management.

About Craig McDonogh

Craig McDonogh, Sr. Product Marketing Manager at ServiceNow, is an IT industry expert with more than 16 years experience. Before coming to ServiceNow, Craig founded a company to provide utility computing to small businesses. Previously, Craig spent 12 years with Remedy and BMC Software, holding various roles in the service management group including ITSM strategy, director of product management, and as head of Asia-Pacific marketing.

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