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X-ray your datacenter : How CMDB improves monitoring and more

HPE-SW-Guest on ‎08-14-2014 02:52 PM

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Eli Eyal, Operational Support Services Manager at Playtech, the world’s largest supplier of online gaming and sports betting software and an HP Software customer.


As part of my role as OSS manager at Playtech, I regularly present to our external customers an overview of our advanced and more-than-capable monitoring system. Part of my presentation focuses on our CMDB (Configuration Management Database) and the principles of automatic discovery and its advantages. I particularly focus on improving IT monitoring to better support business goals.


On one occasion, a customer interrupted my presentation to ask a question: Could I help him use the CMDB automated discovery to reveal what he has in his own datacenter? It turned out that his organization had very little knowledge of what specific infrastructure components existed in the datacenter, and what purposes they served.


Knowing what you don’t know


To someone outside IT, that may sound preposterous (How could he not know?!). But I think to some degree, this is a common challenge for many IT managers in larger environments. If you have an IT environment of 10 servers and 20 applications, and you’re good with an Excel table, then sure, you can manage on your own. But IT managers with hundreds or thousands of servers, applications and other IT resources can’t know every detail about their IT ecosystems. It is almost impossible to know every VM that is inserted into their environments and every application that’s being installed. Even if you do get notified of any changes (and you and I both know that will never happen), you still won’t be able to track them all in a huge or even a medium-scale environment.


This lack of visibility and knowledge can be a big problem. Misconfigurations can end up costing you a lot in extended downtimes as you try to understand the impact of the changes that are responsible and how to prioritize repairs and to whom.


So as I told my customer, yes, CMDB and auto-discovery definitely help you know what’s really inside your datacenter. But its real value lies in what you can then do with that information.


See the big picture


I know there are many opinions about the advantages and disadvantages of using CMDB, but none of the things that I read or hear actually take into account the big picture. Most people focus on just one or two aspects of how CMDB is used—without seeing the broader implications for how CMDB can help with day-to-day operations, asset management, ticketing and monitoring.


It’s for this reason that I propose CMDB and auto-discovery are so valuable; it releases you from the shackles of knowing everything and actually reveals what you didn’t know you didn’t know. Auto-discovery does the job for you —then all you need to do is use the authoritative and accurate information at hand.


Map dependencies


With CMDB and auto-discovery also comes the opportunity to know how components are connected to each other. Whether it’s how an application depends on a server, a server’s location or how an application serves a business service. Dependency mapping is a perfect way to get an idea of the broader impacts of a problem or a change. This is especially powerful in monitoring. It can help you identify a root cause quickly or even find the exact application owner or customer that is impacted by the problem, all without them being forced to complain.


Informing a customer that a remedy is in the works before they even realize there is a problem is a level of service that can have a real “wow” affect.


Dependency mapping enables you to build a topology of the services IT is providing, which is useful for understanding the architecture, and also helps you visualize a service that exists inside your hardware. Seeing the connections between components improves your accuracy and reduces the risk of mistakes. It also allows IT Operations to prioritize when multiple root cause problems may exist, because you have the visibility to assess which are most important for maintaining service levels.


Manage change


CMDB auto-discovery and dependency mapping also leads to more advanced change management capabilities. When making any change, if you look at its effect only on the changed object, you might do more harm than good.

By factoring in the change and the timing of it, the CMDB will let you know what customers and services will be impacted. It will also let you know if there is a conflict between your change and another related to the same object. For example: when the IT Operations team wants to upgrade your DB server OS at the same time you want to do maintenance on the DB content—this will cause problems. Another simple example: conducting maintenance on the DB server while someone else is upgrading content on a web server that uses the same DB. It’s important to know when a change is being made and who is making it, as well as the impact.


One database, many uses


Maybe not everyone needs a CMDB, but I know that without it, our IT team at Playtech would be unnecessarily burdened with managing the infrastructure and all that surrounds it. We have certainly found that implementing a CMDB has had profound advantages. Our HP BSM Operations Bridge monitoring system relies on the data from this model to guide operators and correlate events to isolate root causes.


With accurate, self-changing data provided by automated discovery, we can do so much:

  • Sync it to the monitoring system
  • Sync it to the ticketing system
  • Use it in change processes
  • Improve our ability to plan ahead

And at the heart of it all is the CMDB, acting as a reliable single point of truth.

About the Author


This account is for guest bloggers. The blog post will identify the blogger.

Matthew Legge
on ‎08-15-2014 06:13 AM

How very true your comments are about the value that can be gained for an organisation in managing its IT services when it really knows what it is actually managing and the CMDB is the place to store all this information. 

Although we are very much bought into the CMDB approach I would currently consider myself a sceptic with regard to auto-discovery tools and how effective they can be in helping to automatically build your CI relationships. Is it just a lot of investment required for a lot of different tools which still leaves you with a lot of manual work that you would have had to do in the first place?

on ‎08-18-2014 01:00 PM

I'm not surprised at all that a company didn't know what was in their data center.


Unfortunately we have had several false starts at implementing a CMDB over the years.  I'm hopefull we will dedicate resources to implementing one in the future.



ian bromehead
on ‎08-19-2014 07:39 AM

Connected Intelligence, which is part of HP Software's ITOM strategy, strikes again. In PlayTech's case, I know the overall solution they use has impressed their business customers. What more could a business ask for as RoI, than having an IT team that impresses its customers. Kudo's to Eli's vision and leadership.

on ‎08-20-2014 10:00 AM

Hi Matthew Legge,

From my experience of 7 years in CMDB and auto-discovery, I have to say that the investment is worth it. I’m not saying it’s easy, I’m saying that when you do create a complete discovery job, it will do the hard work for you from now on. My concept of CMDB is no manual work at all(!!).There are methods and processes that if you keep working with, it will make your work easier and will provide the best value of automation.  Just like any other tool, you invest your initial effort and you continue to maintain it as you go along. Speaking of integrations between CMDB and other 3rd party tools, you usually do it once and you don’t need to think about it anymore.



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