A Database for Service Optimisation


Everything under control: The LRZ controls and checks its services with its configuration management database. Photo: Adobe

The Munich Scientific Network (MWN), wireless local area networks (WLAN), mail hosting, managed MACs and PCs: Behind every service provided by the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) for science and research are devices and network technology. They are inventoried in a central database, the Configuration Management Data Base, or CMDB for short. "It contains hardware, switches, monitors, routers, access points, but also items such as IP addresses of servers, i.e. everything that is necessary for the management of our IT services," says Markus Gillmeister, computer scientist and responsible for user-related services at the LRZ. "This way we can keep track of everything, optimise our services and inform our customers in a more targeted and precise manner.

Transparency improves coordination

In the meantime, the database lists a total of 148,000 items, including almost 5,000 access points, 256 firewalls, 1,486 servers, the devices of almost 500 workplaces in the LRZ and at Munich universities, as well as 2,853 virtual machines. Four LRZ employees programmed the requirements for a uniform database that their colleagues had previously collected. The result was a long list - especially since each item in it is further specified, for example by the inventory number, with data on invoice and warranty, on location and above all on the service to which it is assigned. The CMDB was developed for the certification of IT service management according to ISO/IEC standard 20,000, unites the contents of the most diverse documents, tools and lists that departments used to keep for themselves.

However, it is more than just a list, it centralises information, shows the life cycle of devices, licences and dependencies between individual items, assigns these services and users and enables better internal coordination. "CMDB is a step towards the data-driven enterprise," Gillmeister explains. "Even though we still enter a lot of data manually, the database is already helping to automate services." If, for example, a firewall is set-up for a virtual machine, a tool in CMDB collects the necessary data on the network, server, necessary co-systems - and the protective measure can be activated with a few clicks. The CMDB also stores whether it is still working.

Automated information and services

This enables control and management: if one of the 25 servers fails on which the groupware Exchange and the mail system run, the users of this service are notified. Before maintenance or when devices are replaced, users can now be addressed according to location thanks to the CMDB. The goal is for the LRZ systems to take over this task themselves one day: "We are feeling our way towards automated information," Gillmeister reports. "To do this, however, the CMDB data must be checked and optimised if necessary. We have entered it into CMDB from various systems and partly by hand, which unfortunately increases the error rate."

Nevertheless - the advantages of CMDB speak for themselves: the IT departments of the Munich universities would like to access at least part of CMDB to keep track of equipment and services that institutes and chairs subscribe to from the LRZ. In the LRZ itself, the experts are already thinking about a status page: on it, traffic lights show how the IT services of the data centre are currently functioning. This service would also be fed mainly by the central inventory list CMDB. (vs)