CMDB Versus Asset Management: What’s the Difference?

November 15, 2017
CMDB Versus Asset Management: What’s the Difference? Effective IT Asset Management During COVID-19 | Essentials for Productivity, Security, and Resilience

For those who are new to ITIL and ITSM, there is often confusion surrounding the management of IT assets and CIs, and how it figures into the greater scheme of the IT organization. After all, ITSM (and enterprise service management in general) refers to the model for designing, delivering, managing and improving the way IT is used within an organization – so how do IT assets, service items, and the CMDB factor into this framework?

One common question asked by newbies is, “What is the difference between IT Asset Management and the Configuration Management Database (CMDB)?” On the surface, it seems like they could refer to more or less the same thing, when in reality, they are actually both are very different while also being intrinsically intertwined throughout each stage of the ITIL Service Lifecycle.

What is a CMDB?

The Configuration Management Database or CMDB is the central repository (or database, as it’s aptly referred to) for managing and maintaining Configuration Items (CIs). It acts as a virtual data warehouse that houses the CI configuration records, critical asset dependencies, and other important CI attribute information such as owner, identifier, type, importance, relationship, etc. In some cases, there may be hundreds of CI attributes stored within the database depending on the size and scope of the organization.

What is IT Asset Management?

What is IT Asset Management?IT Asset Management (ITAM) refers to the broader process of how assets are managed throughout the lifecycle. According to Gartner, ITAM is defined as:

“…providing an accurate account of technology asset lifecycle costs and risks to maximize the business value of technology strategy, architecture, funding, contractual and sourcing decisions.”

And while the CMDB’s role consists of storing ALL attribute information and metadata of service items (CIs), ITAM tracks only the items (assets) that impact business and financials such value, contracts, inventory, warranties, etc.

Exploring the Difference

So now that both concepts have been defined, how can we make sense their relationship? In the plainest terms, the CMDB acts as the IT organization’s centralized bank for the CIs from which all ITIL service modules pull their information from; such as Incident, Problem, Change, etc. IT Asset Management is one of those ITIL components that consume data from the CMDB, however, its focus is only on set on assets, which have financial value and require tracking throughout the entire IT asset lifecycle.

Functions Within the Organization

Now that we’ve examined the roles of both the CMDB and IT Asset Management, you may be thinking about which of these you should implement within your own organization.

There are several things to consider:

  • If your organization prioritizes the tracking of incidents and problems related to specific CIs
  • If your organization plans to track changes based on CIs and their relationships
  • If your organization must meet regulatory compliance auditing that requires a central repository of all CIs and assets
  • If your organization must track critical financial and contractual details that relate to the business

Keep in mind that CIs and assets both play their own specific roles within the organization, and knowing what your business requires to deliver services is key to deciding which (or both) is right for your organization. A CI is a structural unit or item that must be managed in order to deliver IT services, while an asset is a critical business resource that contributes toward keeping those services running. Additionally, some items may be considered both a CI and an asset (such as a cloud server application).

Be sure to closely examine how your IT organization manages CIs and assets, and give careful consideration to whether or not you need to implement either a CMDB or ITAM solution or both.

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