A configuration-management database serves as a central repository of information that documents changes to a network. However, some organizations try to track too many things in one place. When that happens, IT is less likely to use the database, which minimizes the effectiveness of a change-management program.
One alternative is a federated configuration management database (FCMDB), in which configuration data is segmented by type. When needed, relevant information is pulled out of each segment to provide a big-picture view of whatever issue is being addressed. This approach eases data entry and lets data be accessed as needed from any of the databases.
While there are any number of databases that can be included in an FCMDB, at the minimum it should include network management, user management, facilities management and advanced cable management software (ACMS). These databases cover most of the core areas where problems and changes occur.
The first three are obvious - most organizations have network-, user- and facilities-management applications in place in some form. The ACMS, however, is a relatively new technology that complements the others. For example, network management databases will tell you to what switch port a device is connected, but that's all. By integrating it with an ACMS package through an FCMDB, you can also track that device's previous and current connection paths, as well as design future paths from switch port to patch panel to wall jack.
How it works
Here's how an FCMDB would work. Say a user contacts a help desk to report that there is no power in his cubicle, as well as in several others in his workgroup. Others in the area have power, but no network connectivity. Still others appear to have network connectivity but are on different virtual LANs (VLAN). The help desk forwards the trouble ticket to the IT group. By having an FCMDB, IT can:
- Browse to the affected cubicles using the facilities-management database.
- Use the network management database to view UPS information, in which it might see that there was a momentary brownout the previous night and some circuit breakers were tripped.
- See on the network management database that the switch is reporting an error and several ports have an alarm.
- Confirm with the network management database that night users for this group logged on to different workstations and were able to work; because of this, they did not alert the on-call IT personnel to the problem.
- Locate the workstations the night users logged on to using network management database and ACMS.
- Direct the user who made the call and others in his workgroup to operational workstations until the problem is fixed.
Three key advantages
By using an FCMDB rather than an ad hoc change-management system, an IT employee has the data needed to track the source of a problem and determine the scope. Segmented data makes it easier to pull up only what is relevant to a problem, and an administrator is able to find a solution more quickly. Even small changes to an infrastructure can have a cascading effect that leads to downtime and lost productivity.
When you consider that taking even an hour to determine the cause of a problem is now unacceptable in many industries, the old methods of change management are no longer sufficient. An FCMDB assures that information on changes to a network is documented and easily accessible, expediting problem resolution today while also providing a basis for more intelligent planned changes in the future.