Why Relationships Mater

No I am not talking about human relationships – although they matter too. I am talking about configuration management. Let me explain.

First of let me clarify configuration management. I am not talking about enforcing standard server builds and standard software configurations. I am talking about getting all the stuff in your data center in a database and being able to use that information. This is more like the ITIL view of configuration management.

The ITIL standard states that you should keep records of all “configuration items”, accurate details about them and also data like relationships between CIs and change history.

The first part just sounds like simple asset management to me and once your data center has grown to a certain size, then you are probably pretty good at that. It seems to me that the next level is relationship mapping and I am pretty sure that is where you get the most bang for your buck when it comes to ITIL CMDBs.

To illustrate my point, lets build a word picture of how a set of relationships might look:

  • server 1 runs application A
  • application A provides the authentication service
  • server 2 runs application B
  • application B uses application A
  • application B provides the website service.

Now this is a very simple set of relationships and already we can draw some very useful insights:

  1. If the authentication service goes down, then the website breaks too.
  2. By looking just at the service items, we see the start of a service catalog. Not only that, it is easy to see the key assets needed to run this service.
  3. We can see the impact of issues like performance problems in the authentication service.
  4. We can perform impact analysis for change requests to any of these items.
  5. In the event of a disaster, we can see what order things need to be restored. In fact if we have time estimates for the restoration process of each of these items, we have the start of a project plan.

Immediately, we can see that there is huge value to relationship data. This is why it matters and why it is worth maintaining this data. Once this data is being collected, maintained and used, then in my mind that is a big milestone towards transitioning your systems team from an asset centric operations oriented shop to a more service oriented, and hence customer focused endeavor.