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3 Posts authored by: jonathan.reeve

What happened to the CMDB (Configuration Management Database) - the heart and soul of the "new" management frameworks? Well, they are still around as part of the Big 4 and others portfolios - but the onset of virtualization and cloud has thrown them a "curveball."


Just to recap, a CMDB was defined as "a repository of information related to all the components of an information system" [1]. This was updated in ITIL v3 to the CMS or "Configuration Management System" as "a set of tools and data that is used for collecting, storing, managing, updating, analyzing and presenting data about all configuration items and their relationships" [2]. A broad goal of the CMDB can be defined as a being a key enabler in delivering IT as a service through improved incident and problem management (root cause and impact analysis), change management, auditing and compliance amongst others. A worthy goal indeed - and a goal that is more relevant than ever with virtualization and cloud getting us closer to true service delivery models and blurring the traditional boundaries across technology domains, organizational roles and management disciplines.

Virtualization and the clouds they help enable bring their own set of challenges through. Bernd Herzog does a great job in his article here and here at describing many of them. 

Some similar key challenges we see brought about by virtualization and cloud include:

  • New Objects - We have a new class of objects to deal with. Virtualization has in essence defined a new "blueprint" for the datacenter. There are new abstractions like clusters, resource pools and so forth. This is important because it doesn't always make sense anymore to manage in the weeds every piece of data - we need to bubble it up to the right level of abstraction upon which decisions can be made.
  • New Relationships - How does this new set of objects relate to one another? VMs, files, hosts, clusters, datastores, and applications - we need to understand how all of these things tie together, whether we are trying to troubleshoot a performance issue, plan for capacity or understand the impact of changes.
  • Rate of change - It was arguable whether traditional CMDBs could keep up with the rate of change in a physical environment, let alone a virtual one. Technologies like vMotion, Storage vMotion for example mean we need to have continuous discovery to keep the new relationships above up to date.
  • More than configuration - Virtualization is blurring boundaries - configuration changes can strongly correlate to performance, and affect capacity and so on. We need a unified approach that brings (and ties) together performance and service assurance information in addition to configuration data.
  • Needle in a haystack -  Many CMDBs offer rudimentary search capabilities - but how do we leverage this to search across unified and integrated data sets to make sure the right people get the right insights they need?

When you speak to those with highly virtualized environments, it's not uncommon to hear comments on the CMDB like "yeah, that's the data warehouse thing that we populate with information occasionally - we don't use it" or "CMDBs don't work for virtualization/clouds - they don't keep up".


Take Away - The goal of a CMDB is more relevant than ever, how it gets delivered has to change in a virtual environment.




We recently performed a survey of SolarWinds customers and IT professionals on the topic of 2012 Cloud and Virtualization predictions. There are some pretty interesting results in here that speak to the changing dynamics of IT in the face of cloud computing and external service providers. First, a bit about the folks that were surveyed. Of the 64 respondents, there was a good mix of staff roles, including managerial, director level and above.

Figure 1 - Roles.jpg


Most folks in the survey indicated they had at least eight years experience with IT, and the size of the managed IT environment ranged from less than a couple of hundred systems up to 1500 systems for the majority of respondents.

We asked what percentage of the environmenthas been virtualized to date and the results are quite interesting.

Figure 2 - Virtualized Environment.jpg

Close to two thirds of the respondents are more than 50 percent virtualized. Many have broken through the supposed “VM Stall” problem where virtualization efforts slow down or even stop as new challenges cause IT departments to modify or reassess their virtualization strategy, usually around the time they have 20-30 percent of servers virtualized. We talk about a three-phase model of virtualization adoption here at SolarWinds and a lot of folks are squarely in Phase Two – starting to really reap the operational (vs. CapEx) benefits of virtualization and running important applications on virtualization in production.

We then delved further into the topic of private cloud, and who is going to be the trusted private cloud vendor of choice.

Figure 3 - Private Cloud Vendors.jpg

There clearly appears to be a “changing of the guard” so to speak with the hypervisor vendors (and VMware in particular) seeming to inherit the private cloud mantle, presumably from their underlying virtualization strengths.

Now is where it gets really interesting (and hence the title of this blog post). We asked customers which of the following roles/tasks they planned to investin:

  • "Marketing" of IT Service back to the business
  • "Product Marketing" for IT services
  • "Financial" roles for the pricing/chargeback of IT services
  • "Competitive Analysis" (vs. external service providers)
  • Other

Figure 4 - IT Dept. Investment.jpg


The big stand out is that almost two thirds of customers said they would invest in competitive analysis vs. external service providers. This speaks to the competitive pressure that internal IT departments find themselves in versus the emerging cloud providers (Amazon, Rackspace and others). As Robbie pointed out in his recent blog post, the pressure is certainly on IT to demonstrate that they can perform and compete as an “internal service provider.” Furthermore, this survey shows that they are also getting serious about it by planning to invest in additional roles to take on this competition – namely product management and product marketing to be able to “market” the effectiveness if their internal IT service delivery.

When asked about cloud adoption, respondents had a fairly even split between leveraging private, public and hybrid models of cloud computing, although private cloud was slightly ahead. This makes sense since from an internal IT perspective, the clear and present pressure is to try and offer existing IT services along a private cloud operations model in order to compete with external vendors.

Finally, a look at the most pressing management challenges around private cloud adoption:

  • Implementing chargeback
  • Managing performance contention
  • Implementing a self-service portal
  • Automating the end-to-end process
  • Getting business acceptance

Figure 5 - Prviate Cloud Mgmt Challenges.jpg

Similar to surveys we’ve done on virtualization in the past, managing performance contention continues to be the top challenge by far with automation and getting business acceptance tied for (a distant) second. Some consider chargeback and self-service as a necessary condition for the true definition of a private cloud, but they are not considered significant management challenges at this point.

In terms of the tools needed to manage the private cloud, an overwhelming number of respondents indicated that a “holistic approach” to managing the datacenter is “Important” or “Extremely Important.”

Figure 6 - Holistic Approach.jpg

As virtualization has essentially helped to “flatten” the silos, the technologies for compute, network and storage are being ever more tightly tangled together, and dictate the need for a comprehensive set ofmanagement tools such as those available from SolarWinds.

     Whilst there have been (and continue to be) a lot of discussions around private cloud definitions, there hasn’t been as much discussion on how success is measured for private cloud initiatives or, in particular, the skills or characteristics necessary to get there.

     Typically, private cloud initiatives get boiled down to how IT services are provided that meet target goals for:

  •           Cost (shared, metered by use)
  •           Quality (of service)
  •           Agility (self-service, elastic)

     Specifically, agility (time to react to business requests/needs) is a key driver and yard stick to measure the success of a private cloud implementation. When we speak with customers who have a private cloud initiative underway, they are typically highly virtualized (80%+). This leads to a natural and obvious question, “What is the difference between an environment that is 90% virtualized and a private cloud?”. The answer almost always comes down to some combination of agility (and self-service) coupled with chargeback or showback (changing how IT services are consumed).

     It’s not surprising, of course, that those undertaking private cloud initiatives are also highly virtualized, since many of the characteristics that enabled the widespread adoption of virtualization are the same ones that will be needed for successful private cloud adoption (note that most of these have nothing to do with technology!):

     1. Listening to the business & understanding their requirements

     No surprises here — don’t want to end up building something that no one uses after all. Internal IT departments should in theory have an unfair advantage here over their external service provider competition.

     2. Building Trust

     Doing a good job at #1, should really lead naturally to #2.  The reality is that you don’t get to 90% virtualized in the first place (and from there to a private cloud) if you haven’t done a great job at building trust with the business and key application owners, whose critical applications are going to be running on a virtualized infrastructure.

     3. Picking the right IT services to begin with

     Not everything is suitable for the private cloud model — mainstream, high volume (standardized) services are best. Legacy one off applications with highly customized requirements may not be suited.

     4. Performing competitive analysis

     Maybe this sounds a little obvious, but it should be apparent by now that the business has options — and IT will be compared (cost, quality, agility) to the competition (other service providers) with regards to the requirements outlined in #1.

     5. Measuring Service Quality, Cost and Agility

     #4 naturally leads to measuring how you’re performing relative to your competition and making this transparent to the business. The old adage of “you can’t manage what you don’t measure” is apt here.

     6. Service Oriented Mindset

     The IT silos will always exist to some extent — but the end customer doesn’t and shouldn’t care about the gory details of how the service gets delivered. More than technology, this is a mindset — a shift from the nuts and bolts of internal IT to an IT service provider mentality and a focus on the customer. This one is perhaps the hardest of all to instill.

     7. Highly virtualized, standardized (remove complexity) environment.

     Virtualization is a great tool to enable the abstraction and automation necessary to reach our cost, quality and agility goals, and standardizing (reducing the number of moving parts) is key to removing complexity in our environments.


     Jonathan Reeve is the senior director of product management at SolarWinds and has built a career integrating hands-on technical development with senior-level strategic management. Having previously served as the vice president of product strategy for Hyper9, Jonathan was responsible for the company’s flagship product, Virtual Environment Optimization suite. Jonathan’s experience spans computer networking, systems management and virtualization technologies, helping numerous start-ups and established companies generate market traction.

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