The federated CMDB: Getting past the hype to the good stuff

* The CMDB sometimes gets an unfair shake

In enterprise systems management, the configuration management database, or CMDB, is one of today's most oft-heard acronyms -- which coincidentally has also neared the top of Gartner's hype cycle at one time or another.

Yet the CMDB sometimes gets an unfair shake, considering true advocates of the technology and the processes that support it know the CMDB is not about rolling out a single product but more about shifting best practices to support a collection of up-to-date and inter-related configuration and change metrics about IT infrastructure and applications.

As many of you probably have read over the years, Enterprise Management Associates Dennis Drogseth fully endorses and embraces the importance of a CMDB and its critical role in enterprise IT management. And despite hype cycles, there are certainly other industry watchers who see the value in collecting configuration information and managing change across IT elements. I'd say industry watchers are more likely tagging the vendor promises around CMDB products as hype moreso than the concept and premise of managing configurations as a foundation for other IT service management best practices, such as those described in the IT Infrastructure Library, or ITIL.

Trust me, I am the first one to sing (or is it rap?) Public Enemy's "Don't Believe the Hype" anthem when vendors promise IT managers a product will address all their management concerns, ensure world peace and get their car detailed over lunch. But a recent white paper distributed by CMDB advocates at BMC, CA, Fujitsu, HP, IBM and Microsoft (or members of the CMDB federation working group, CMDBf) discusses how vendor products should work together to help IT managers share configuration, change and other data across disparate sources to create an enterprise-level federated CMDB.

In its own words, the CMDBf's "goal is to create a common specification for sharing configuration data across an enterprise." Formed in April 2006, the group planned to establish a standard that would make blending configuration data from multiple sources easier.

"The Federated CMDB Vision" details how such vendors see businesses benefiting from technologies that integrate and share configuration data.

"This architecture will express the mechanisms for federating the CMDB through standard interfaces without dictating the specific implementation," the white paper reads. "This will provide the basis for an industrywide standard that will allow a large number of management data providers to integrate their data into a coherent seamless CMDB."

The group goes on to say that the consumers of management data, that is enterprise IT managers, "will benefit from having a common view of resources and relationships between them, and the ability to use standard queries to retrieve information about these resources."

It must be noted that the vendors listed as members of the group do not represent all management vendors, and when it comes to standards the adoption rate is slow. But in my years of covering this industry, it's usually a better sign when management vendors are attempting to work toward a common goal than when they are resigned to their proprietary product suites.

And maybe, just maybe, by adopting federated CMDB technology, enterprise network managers can also consider themselves an instrumental catalyst of world peace. OK, that is a stretch. But maybe having all this management data easily accessible at their fingertips from day to day will give IT managers the extra time they need to get the own cars detailed over lunch.

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Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.