Skip navigation
Hugo Gracia

To CMDB or not to CMDB?

Posted by Hugo Gracia Moderator Mar 30, 2018
Share This:

“What’s the difference between CMDB and asset management?”


I’ve come across this question several times during my time as a delivery consultant and as a CSM.

CMDB is a component of asset and configuration management. Yet, when you talk about just asset management, it’s one of the many processes that rely on the CMDB to operate of the others being incident management, problem management, and change management. In essence:

  • CMDB (or configuration management database)


Goals of a CMDB: Provide logical model of IT environment as basis for ITIL processes

Value: Greater business service stability, availability, quality (via related ITIL processes)

CI: Physical or logical IT component managed for its operational impact

Type: An asset can be a CI if it is worth managing for operational stability

Differences: CIs not likely to be managed as assets include a custom Java component, a process, a service model

Relationships: Sophisticated relationships between CIs are maintained to assess change risk, analyze root cause, assess service impact


Asset management is much vaster.  It’s the process responsible for managing assets throughout their lifecycle. It involves tracking attributes like value, warranty, contracts, etc. for the assets.

Goals of Asset Management: Manage asset costs, contracts, and usage/ownership throughout lifecycles

Value: Lower asset TCO/acquisition costs, reduced purchasing, more efficient allocation, more accurate budgeting/planning

Asset: Physical IT component tracked based on value, contractual compliance

Type: A CI can be an asset if it is worth tracking for cost, contract, and usage

Differences: Assets not likely to be managed as CIs include monitors, printers, desktops in inventory Relationships: Basic relationships (peer, parent, child) between assets are maintained for retirement process, ownership, license matching


The next question I get is: “Should my organization be doing configuration management or asset management or both?”

The short answer is – it depends.  We’ve already discussed that CMDBs deal with CIs and asset management deals with assets. But let’s try and understand the difference between CIs and assets.


Simply put:


If you need to track incidents and problems related to an item, and track its relationship with other similar items for planning changes, it’s a CI. For instance, an application server is a CI since it’s essential to track any issues with it and all the devices linked to it.


If an item has some financial value and you need to track its financial or contractual aspect, it’s an asset. The value of an asset might depreciate over time and eventually get to zero. That’s when the asset is said to have reached the end of its lifecycle. For instance, the building where your office is located is an asset until its lease is up.


So, whether you need configuration management or asset management depends on what you need to track. As per ITIL, a CI is a component or service item that needs to be managed in order to deliver services, and an asset is a resource or capability that contributes to the delivery of the services. Which means that an item can be tracked as both a CI and an asset, if required. Let’s go back to the app server example. Although you need a CI record for the server in the CMDB, you might also want to maintain the cost and warranty details of the device in the asset database.


A typical asset, like the server, goes through various phases from the time it’s requested to when it’s disposed of. The part in between, when it’s in use, is when it also needs to be tracked by configuration management as a CI. This is the time when you track its configuration details, the software installed on it, and other details of the like. Any issue with it are sent to the service desk as incidents, and other devices related to it are taken into account when a change is required. All these details are irrelevant to the asset manager, but they need to maintain an asset record for the server all along.

Can an item be one and not the other? Sure. Let’s say, your organization uses a plotter that’s on lease, so it’s an asset. But if it’s not handled by the internal IT team and you just call the vendor when you need support, you don’t need to track it as a CI. On the other hand, if certain BYOD devices run your company’s software, you might want to track the software installations by adding the devices as CIs (which will help you with software asset management) but you don’t need asset records for them.

Your organization might need both configuration management and asset management. You might already be doing both. But it’s important to understand the function of both and draw a clear distinction between them for efficient asset and configuration management in your IT environment.


Another way to identify whether an item is a CI is to use the “USMC test”:

  • Is it unique? (U)
  • Is it required to deliver a service? (S)
  • Can you manage it? (M)
  • Does it have at least some characteristics that can change? (C)
    • If the answers to all questions are yes, then the item can be considered a CI.



Configuration Item

Mobile Phone

Connectivity Segment


Business Process




File System

Table 1 – Sample of Assets vs Configuration Items

Filter Blog

By date: