What is Configuration Management? No Really… What is it?

Of all the ITIL processes, Configuration Management is probably the least understood.  Everyone understands what an incident is. Knowing the importance of a change is self-evident.  Being able to manage capacity or availability is critical for any IT dependent business. But what exactly is Configuration Management?

It is a sign of this confusion that the goals in ITIL Version 3 changed so dramatically from Version 2. In Version 2, the reason for Configuration Management was to provide and maintain a CMDB. ITIL Version 2 states, “The aim of Configuration Management is to bring all IT Infrastructure components and associated items of documentation under Configuration Management control and provide accurate information and documentation to support other Service Management processes.”  The take away from this statement was that Configuration Management was to establish a CMDB and control what was in the CMDB. The ITIL Version 2 CMDB was too vague and too big.  ITIL Version 3 attempted to fix this by narrowing the scope of the CMDB and changing the goal of Configuration and Asset Management. Service Asset and Configuration Management defines and controls the components of services and infrastructure and maintains the information about those items. ITIL Version 3 states, “The objective is to define and control the components of services and infrastructure and maintain accurate configuration information on the historical, planned and current state of the services and infrastructure.”  The focus moves away from CMDB towards management.  However, the comprehensiveness of this statement can make the task daunting.  Does Configuration Management control the efficiency of every application and component? Does it keep track of all the desktops and laptops? How do we make Configuration Management something that is achievable?

Let’s look at what it isn’t.  Configuration Management isn’t about knowing every component and keeping track of those items. That is Asset Management. Asset Management is certainly connected and important, but knowing where 100,000 desktops and laptops are is not Configuration Management.  Asset Management is important for security and finance reasons, but the business will likely continue to function if a laptop goes missing. Although Configuration Management is certainly related to managing change, it is not setting the rules about how and when things are updated.

So what is it? To understand this, one needs to consider that modern and complex IT departments have multiple sources of information. There are tools to manage requests, incidents and changes. There are tools to monitor the components of the infrastructure. There may be tools to send alerts. And of course, there are the application systems that actually provide services.  What manages all these sources of information? Configuration Management! Configuration Management becomes the process by which all this information is delivered and presented so the people who need to act can do so properly.  This is not about inventory management – that is for Asset Management. It is not about managing applications configurations – ITIL has a function for that. Configuration Management is about presenting information.

This bears repeating – Configuration Management is about presenting information that allows Service Management to do its job. In later blogs, we will consider how to best present that information.  We will also look at how much control of that information is practical. But Configuration Management is ultimately responsible for making the information available and actionable.

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