BMC Software claims the configuration management database (CMDB) is the next big thing, even the current big thing, in managing today's increasingly complex IT environment. And it's giving it away - in a manner of speaking. BMC's Atrium is available free of charge to users of the company's service level management and incident management (helpdesk) tools.
There's logic to the move, since a CMDB complements the tasks that BMC's major products tackle - inventory management, performance measurement, change and incident management.
BMC New Zealand's Jason Andrew, said it complemented all eight of the company's "routes to value", the strategies it had sketched out to allow customers to get a start on the formidable task of increasing the IT function's efficiency.
Such meta-tasks - service level management, change management, infrastructure and application management, identity management - could all benefit from a CMDB, Andrew said.
The CMDB pulls together information on the essential elements of an IT operation, such as people, locations, documentation, network, hardware and software.
The Atrium database follows the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) methodology, devised in the UK public sector and gaining increased acceptance worldwide. It embodies comprehensive specialist documentation on the planning, provision and support of IT services and accompanying study courses and qualifications.
A CMDB is not simply an asset repository, Andrew said; it added much more on the relationships between hardware and software assets, applications and the business tasks they served, the people that made those tasks work and the standards to which they were supposed to work.
However, it wasn't a replacement for other sources of information, he said. Where there was an affective repository of information in a particular area, the CMDB would link to it, creating a "federated" source of all pertinent information.
There were not many good tools in the configuration management arena, Andrew said, and a lot of large organisations had been forced to create their own. But other vendors, including IBM, HP and Computer Associates were now moving into the CMDB market and it seemed set to be a hotly contested area.
"We're certainly getting more interest [in Atrium] from government agencies than we've had for any of our other products," he said.
Gartner Australia consultant, Steve Bittinger, said there was an evident demand in the market for configuration management tools of one kind and another, but the term "configuration management" covered, and was related to, a number of separate IT management tasks from asset discovery, inventory and depreciation management to administering timely patch management.
Initially, IT shops tend to use point tools for these tasks but then shift towards integrated management.
"Almost every organisation will be absolutely forced to move in this direction," he said.
Integrated management offers more security in assuring that everything happens on time and all appropriate knowledge is to hand.
But the other half of the message is that tools alone are not enough.
"Although there is 'hype' that using tools and technology is a means of reducing associated staffing, we have found that the largest portion of automating any aspect of PC lifecycle management is still people and process," Bittinger said.
"People are the base from which management begins. This is especially true for the diverse needs of PC life cycle management, in which clear roles and responsibilities must be established.
"Some roles that must be defined are [software] image creation, image testing, application deployment, application and data backup, and recovery.
"The second most important aspect is the process, which must reflect and tie into the organisational structure. Process in the desktop management space should be the glue in and between each management need and organisational silo. The third key piece of the puzzle is policy. A frequent misconception is that tools will solve the complexity issue. Organisations must establish and enforce corporate policy to reduce complexity. In reality, tools do not solve complexity problems. Policies must be defined to reduce heterogeneity.
"It is only by thoroughly understanding the tools available and the processes with which they must be integrated that the proper strategy for life cycle management, from deployment to disposal, can be developed," Bittinger said.