In the following article, Jarod Greene, VP of Product Marketing at Cherwell Software and former Gartner IT service management (ITSM) industry analyst, delves into the importance of Application Dependency Mapping tools. Jarod has more than 12 years of ITSM industry experience, and his proficiency in IT service support management processes, organizational structures, and technology is sought after for speaking engagements, customer consultations, and product development.
It is widely acknowledged that Application Dependency Mapping is a critical aspect of the IT organization’s ability to create effective service models and manage changes within the IT infrastructure. However, many IT teams fail to seize upon the opportunity and, as a result, don’t implement systems that make it possible to reap its many benefits.
Fortunately, while the concept of Application Dependency Mapping can seem daunting, there are some helpful tools and methods that will help you get started integrating this critical aspect of IT service management into your team’s everyday IT processes.
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Application Dependency Mapping Defined
Before we get started, let’s first define Application Dependency Mapping. Application Dependency Mapping is the process of establishing and tracking the relationships and dependencies between IT components such as servers, networks, storage, and applications that comprise any given IT service. This is typically done through the use of Application Dependency Mapping tools (sometimes referred to as Discovery and Dependency Mapping tools), which automate the process of discovering and visually “mapping” the relationships between the components. Maps are then imported in the Configuration Management Database (CMDB).
The Value of Application Dependency Mapping
Application Dependency Mapping, at its most basic level, enables IT organizations to assess the risk and/or impact of a change to a component or service prior to making it, as well as understand the “downstream” impacts of problems or errors found within the environment.
Let’s say, for example, the service desk receives a change ticket to swap out a fan blade on a server. On the surface, this might seems like a quick and trivial task. But what if that server supports the Enterprise Resource Management (ERP) system, and when you take the server off line, it brings down the entire ERP application your company relies on. Had the relationship between the server and the ERP application been well understood prior to changing the fan blade, IT change managers would have ensured the server wasn’t taken offline during critical business hours or taken other steps prevent downtime.
When done properly, Application Dependency Mapping helps IT teams maintain an accurate and up-to-date view of the dependencies across the IT infrastructure. Furthermore, the view that the map provides (the topology view, if you will) helps IT teams clearly understand the upstream and downstream relationships of components, which is vital for change impact assessment. Fortunately, most IT service management solutions ship with or can be integrated with Application Dependency Mapping tools that make this process much more reliable and much less cumbersome.
But the value of Application Dependency Mapping extends far beyond the Change Management process, conferring benefits to the entire IT organization. For example, a service desk analyst can look at the map and determine that the issue a business user is having doesn’t just affect that one business user, but the entire Seattle office, which prompts him to proactively raise the priority of the incident and escalate accordingly. It also helps facilities and disaster recovery teams understand how services are constructed and delivered so as to engage in better data center planning, execute on migration or consolidation projects, and create warm/hot sites for continuity planning.
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How Do Application Dependency Mapping Tools Work?
Application Dependency Mapping software automatically discovers all the assets that reside on the IT network and “feeds” the CMDB with a visual map of dependencies among components, enabling IT teams can make better decisions and mitigate risk to company-wide operations. Using such a tool is much less labor intensive than piecemeal approaches such as using domain-specific discovery tools (such as PC discovery tools, server discovery tools, network discovery tools) to determine what assets are in play across the IT infrastructure, and then using “tribal knowledge” to create and maintain service maps within Microsoft Visio or Excel spreadsheets. This approach can take months and is extremely error prone since the attributes of what is discovered often changes on a weekly basis—meaning it can’t generally be relied upon to properly manage risk associated with changes within the IT environment.
Application Dependency Mapping tools offer the following benefits:
- Quickly discover components, and automatically map IT services
- Better understand the impact of a change prior to making it
- Creating a more stable environment by reducing downtime
- Properly prioritize resources to support IT services by business value
Ultimately, Application Dependency Mapping tools help IT organizations establish a baseline that helps them know for the first time what’s out there, what shape is it in, and how the components relate to each other. It’s therefore easy to see how Application Dependency Mapping is a critical aspect of any IT team’s Change Management process and overall IT service management practices.
Next Up: Cherwell Application Dependency Mapping
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