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Do You Have a "Data Center"?

If your IT environment is big enough to call it a "Data Center", I think you're big enough to need a CMDB.


I decided to write a follow-up to my post from last week which discussed the controversy around who needs a CMDB.  The gist of one argument was around what size IT environment needs how much and what kind of configuration management processes and tools.


There are many opinions on this.  And they're all of course based on lots of experience and customers.  But sadly, not a lot of actual scientific research (Here is an article on some older but actual scientific research).  So a disconnect remains.  Here are some of the opinions:

  • Only enterprise -sized IT needs a CMDB.  Everybody else can do it in their heads.

  • Config management is a side job of all the other ITSM products.   It's a slice of process and integration between every service transition.  You don't really need any code.

  • ITIL got it wrong.  "Config management" is really a function of service management and it's friends.  The help desk has a database and it gets the job done.   The asset manager does discovery.  Not much more.

  • Change Control is the biggest part of configuration management, so it's a one-trick pony.  Nothing else delivers any ROI.

  • Only certain use cases require more formal configuration management.  Most don't.  An easement of sorts of the Change Control camp.

  • Configuration management is a valid discipline, but it can be done with far simpler and cheaper tools like spreadsheets.  Desktop-based or chair-based solutions are all most people need.

  • Even a small IT organization has a large volume of configuration changes.  Here is an article from someone who understands.

  • The "Pink Floyd" approach:  IT does configuration management by pouring distrust upon anything done, thereby exposing every weakness, no matter how carefully hidden by the IT staff.  The CMDB is built on fear.  Popular with government.  Expensive, but ruthlessly effective.  This one isn't an "opinion" per se, but it's definitely a confirmed approach.  With love to all my federal  friends of course!


While no one solution fits all, "no solution" fits no one.    Pretty much everyone needs and is doing configuration management, but not everyone calls it that or knows that's what they're doing.   So whether or not you know it,  whatever you call it, you're doing a good bit of configuration management if your IT environment is big enough to call it a "Data Center".


Is this a good example of configuration management?


Consumer:  "Who's on PVALX762W?"

Provider: "Email."


If you have a "data center", eventually, this doesn't work.  The simplistic question above is realistic; however, in practice the answer can range from a simple answer to one with a few thousand components.  Even for a data center with maybe 100 servers, of which there are many thousands - it is impossible to simultaneously 1) grow and change normally 2)  maintain SLAs and 3) do without a programmatic approach to configuration management.  ROI only comes after investment, and ROI can't be estimated very well until you have experience, which is difficult to obtain before investment.


So, spreadsheets, part-time products, process-only solutions, and that leading contender "no technology" cut it less and less as we understand what config management is really doing for  IT.  A CMDB doesn't have to be a Big Fabulous Deal.  It can help a three-closet "data center" as well.


Tell me if I've touched any nerves, begged any questions, or have posited any other logical phallacies.  Let's have some of those controversial opinions.  Please talk to us.  Thanks!


Who Needs a CMDB, Anyway?

 I am disturbed.

 Particularly about the amount of hype that surrounds the discipline and implementing technologies of configuration management.  There is much more hype here than there should be.   Shouldn't it be an unexciting, mature, ubiquitous process  baked in to IT already?  Apparently not, if the volume and tone of blogs like the IT Skeptic are any indicator.  Great stuff there.


Who needs a CMDB?  Anybody who will pay for one?  The Fortune 500?  Anyone with more than (pick a number) CIs?  Someone with a use case?  Somebody with a  big  honkin' reconciliation engine?  One could imagine  choosing any of these answers depending on one's background, ergo the hype.  


If you are a vendor or consultant, you may ask yourself "Is this is a rhetorical question?"  It's not.  Some feel  CMDBs generally have not provided the expected ROI and tend to discount their value, relegating them to toys for the rich or as unproven gadgets, insinuating poor choice of budget investment.  The good news:  people care deeply about finding the truth, on both sides.


What we call configuration management today in past practice has traditionally been implemented in disparate technologies intended to do something else, but did a piece of something .  Auto-discovery, asset/inventory/service management, application mapping.  These apps all do/did some configuration management-like things.  With emphasis placed on whatever the product that you were  familiar with did.  It follows that most people's opinions stem from  formative experiences with technology, scale and scalability, the kind of business demand present, and industry-specific  drivers such as  security or  regulations and standards.


This converging-but-still-disparate landscape has created a kind of configuration management tower of Babel:  how can we build anything if we don't speak the same language, agree on what a CMDB should be and do and for whom?


Let's not forget a primary CMDB contender, "no technology".  Configuration Management in sufficiently small shops is done by people, in people's heads.   It's very controversial what the limits of size and complexity are that require a configuration management tool.  There are  as many variables and forms for such an equation as there are human characteristics related to the competency.


However, while people (vs. a tool) can and do perform configuration management,  there is almost no shop whose business has not suffered to some degree at the hands of human error.   The corollary to this is that you won't see value in a CMDB until you've felt the wrong kind of heat.  If you've ever experienced costly downtime because of an outage caused by miscommunications in change management, then it may be a little easier to accept that you might have saved your business a bit of pain if you'd had something to help your change management left hand know what the right was doing.


For example:  Configuration management has always been done by Bill The Alpha Geek, and all the configuration data for the entire shop exists in Bill's head.  No serious outages have ever been correlated to Bill not being there one day, or having not known a particular fact, or having not had a good enough memory to never need to write anything down or put it in a computer.  Bill is not going to be a big fan of CMDB.


Now let's consider another persona, Bob, the Operations Director and Bill's Manager.  It's a medium-sized shop,  well under the fortune 1000, that has experienced rapid growth.   The current application infrastructure resembles a very complex, finely-tuned bowl of spaghetti, understood by only a few people in the company.  Historically Bob has depended on Bill for all the answers:   We need to upgrade our ERP app, what servers are part of ERP?  Bill knows.  What other apps and services does ERP depend on?  Ask Bill.  If I unplug the CIO's desktop, will ERP continue running?  Check with Bill.  If our second-hand Cisco 2600 finally craps out, will our ERP still be ok?  Riiiight. 


So if you're Bill, Bob is skipping without a rope.  And if you're Bob, Bill is empire-building.


But today, another server was added, so now there are 101 servers, pushing Bill over the edge.  There is now a non-zero chance of Bill forgetting something.  It's like the old pickup sticks game with a couple thousand sticks.


And you're telling me this shop can do it's configuration management with people?  Maybe with MENSA people or Marilyn Vos Savant or somebody.   But sooner or later, Bill's going to miss something and your online retail web site is going to go down, or maybe you can't collect money or manufacture your product for a day.  IT happens.


But isn't there a simpler solution than one of those hypey, expensive CMDBs?


Herein lies the distinction based on those formative experiences I mentioned earlier:   You can't appreciate the need for a CMDB unless you have truly experienced the onslaught of bad changes and angry application owners that result from not managing your configuration data properly.  Yes, you can do some spreadsheet kung fu.  But Configuration management is about more than just record-keeping.  It's about a programmatic approach, it's about comprehensive, quality data, always available, and secured.


The CMDB isn't extraordinarily sophisticated technology.  But does a few very powerful, fundamental things,  for everyone, all the time, consistently.  Best thing next to Bill, when he's awake and not on vacation.    And if CMDB saves you a day's worth of downtime over, say, a year, then there's probably some nice crunchy ROI in there.


What do you think?  Drop a comment and let us know!  To be continued...


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About the Author(s)
  • HP IT Service Management Product Marketing team manager. I am also responsible for our end-to-end Change, Configuration, and Release Management (CCRM) solution. My background is engineering and computer science in the networking and telecom worlds. As they used to say in Telcom, "the network is the business" (hence huge focus on service management). I always enjoyed working with customers and on the business side of things, so here I am in ITSM marketing.
  • David has led a career in Enterprise Software for over 20 years and has brought to market numerous successful IT management products and innovations.
  • I am the PM of UCMDB and CM. I have a lot of background in configuration management, discovery, integrations, and delivery. I have been involved with the products for 12 years in R&D and product management.
  • Gil Tzadikevitch HP Software R&D Service Anywhere
  • This account is for guest bloggers. The blog post will identify the blogger.
  • Being number two in the ITSM install-based software industry, we feel it's our duty to enlighten and educate you about everything ITSM. We'll pose questions, analyze research and discuss the newest industry trends. Welcome!
  • Jacques Conand is the Director of ITSM Product Line, having responsibility for the product roadmap of several products such as HP Service Manager, HP Asset Manager, HP Universal CMDB, HP Universal Discovery and the new HP Service Anywhere product. Jacques is also chairman of the ITSM Customer Advisory Board, ensuring the close linkage with HP's largest customers.
  • I have been working at HP AM R&D for more than 7 years. I led the transition of the product and now I am one of the R&D Managers driving transformation and roadmap of the HP AM product.
  • Jody Roberts is a researcher, author, and customer advocate in the Product Foundation Services (PFS) group in HP Software. Jody has worked with the UCMDB product line since 2004, and currently takes care of the top 100 HP Software customers, the CMS Best Practices library, and has hosted a weekly CMDB Practitioner's Forum since 2006.
  • Karan Chhina is the Product Manager for HP Universal Discovery and has worked with discovery & dependency mapping and configuration management product line for the past eight years.
  • Software technical product manager for HP Strategic Analytics--Executive Scorecard (XS) and Financial Planning & Analysis (FPA). Generate technologically sophisticated IT Performance Analytics use cases in collaboration with fellow HP product managers and design partners. Liaison for XS & FPA product managers, customers, and development team. Draw upon experience and industry pulse to influence the definition of product strategy and roadmap. Primary implementer of POCs for key elements of the company's offering including executive scorecard, financial planning and analysis, and process analytics..
  • Mary (@maryrasmussen_) is the worldwide product marketing manager for HP Software Education. She has 20+ years of product marketing, product management, and channel/alliances experience. Mary joined HP in 2010 from an early-stage SaaS company providing hosted messaging and mobility services. Mary has a BS in Computer Science and a MBA in Marketing.
  • Michael Pott is a Product Marketing Manager for HP ITSM Solutions. Responsibilities include out-bound marketing and sales enablement. Michael joined HP in 1989 and has held various positions in HP Software since 1996. In product marketing and product management Michael worked on different areas of the IT management software market, such as market analysis, sales content development and business planning for a broad range of products such as HP Operations Manager and HP Universal CMDB.
  • Ming is Product Manager for HP ITSM Solutions
  • Mohamed Nada: Having about 15 years of experience, practical and academic, throughout these years, I’ve been always focusing on both strategic directions side by side with achieving critical business goals Mainly focused on IT operations management, strategy and control, my preferred vendor is usually HP, as I believe HP has one of the best Enterprise portfolios among the current trending technologies
  • Mr. Suer is a senior manager for IT Performance Management. Prior to this role, Mr. Suer headed IT Performance Management Analytics Product Management including IT Financial Management and Executive Scorecard.
  • Nimish Shelat is currently focused on Datacenter Automation and IT Process Automation solutions. Shelat strives to help customers, traditional IT and Cloud based IT, transform to Service Centric model. The scope of these solutions spans across server, database and middleware infrastructure. The solutions are optimized for tasks like provisioning, patching, compliance, remediation and processes like Self-healing Incidence Remediation and Rapid Service Fulfilment, Change Management and Disaster Recovery. Shelat has 21 years of experience in IT, 18 of these have been at HP spanning across networking, printing , storage and enterprise software businesses. Prior to his current role as a World-Wide Product Marketing Manager, Shelat has held positions as Software Sales Specialist, Product Manager, Business Strategist, Project Manager and Programmer Analyst. Shelat has a B.S in Computer Science. He has earned his MBA from University of California, Davis with a focus on Marketing and Finance.
  • Sr. Product Manager of HP Asset Manager, my 12 year experience in IT Asset Management gives me combined technical skills and business practice knowledge. I have a special focus in Software Asset Management and Cloud Billing.
  • Oded is the Chief Functional Architect for the HP Service and Portfolio Management products, which include Service Manager, Service Anywhere, Universal CMDB & Discovery, Asset Manager, Project and Portfolio Manager.
  • I help IT leaders to understand how well IT is performing from a business perspective.
  • I am Senior Product Manager for Service Manager. I have been manning the post for 10 years and working in various technical roles with the product since 1996. I love SM, our ecosystem, and our customers and I am committed to do my best to keep you appraised of what is going on. I will even try to keep you entertained as I do so. Oh and BTW... I not only express my creativity in writing but I am a fairly accomplished oil painter.
  • WW Sr Product Marketing Manager for HP ITPS VP of Apps & HP Load Runner
  • Vesna is the senior product marketing manager at HP Software. She has been with HP for 13 years in R&D, product management and product marketing. At HP she is responsible for go to market and enablement of the HP IT Performance Suite products.
  • A 25+ year veteran of HP, Yvonne is currently a Senior Product Manager of HP ITSM software including HP Service Anywhere and HP Service Manager. Over the years, Yvonne has had factory and field roles in several different HP businesses, including HP Software, HP Enterprise Services, HP Support, and HP Imaging and Printing Group. Yvonne has been masters certified in ITIL for over 10 years and was co-author of the original HP IT Service Management (ITSM) Reference Model and Primers.
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