Product Reviews

Schedule Jobs the Easy Way

The latest version of SmartBatch helps you centralize and streamline Windows job scheduling.

There's an endless array of jobs you must run to manage today's intricate, multi-platform environments. You might have one batch file that routinely deletes temp. files from your servers, another that periodically extracts data from a mainframe, and a script file that performs a whole series of complex tasks.

REDMOND RATING
Documentation 15%
10
Installation 10%
10
Feature Set 35%
9
Performance 30%
8
Management 10%
9
Overall Rating:
9

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Key:
1: Virtually inoperable or nonexistent
5: Average, performs adequately
10: Exceptional

Most of these jobs connect to a host of different systems, manage just about every type of file, run on a variety of schedules and have all sorts of outcomes. So how do you rope all these activities into a single framework that you can easily manage from a central location?

That's where SmartBatch 2006 comes in.

Getting Started
The folks at OnlineToolWorks clearly get what it means to be a busy Windows administrator. They know the things you'll need and -- just as important -- the things you don't need. There is a "quick-up-and-running" sensibility built into SmartBatch. The installation process is simple. You can be fully functional in virtually no time. It comes in a Standard and Enterprise edition. The primary difference between the two is that the Enterprise edition supports agent-based operations across your entire fleet of servers.

SmartBatch has an eloquent interface (see Figure 1). It's easy to understand and navigate and still comes with plenty of tutorial screens to help you along the way. I particularly liked the SmartBatch multimedia overview because it lets you watch the keystrokes required to assemble your jobs into a cohesive group.

SmartBatch doesn't help you craft your own batch files or scripts. The assumption is that you've already done that work up front. When you have assembled a collection of pre-scripted tasks that you're ready to run, SmartBatch helps you generate numerous different schedules and tie them to your job scheduling operations.

Piece of cake
[Click on image for larger view.]
Figure 1. The SmartBatch interface is easy to navigate and includes plenty of options for specifying job parameters.

The idea is relatively straightforward: First you create your computer groups and schedules. Then set up your operations -- these are the batch files, scripts or programs you need to run. Next, you'll want to group similar operations into a single step. Then group multiple steps into a single job. When you're finished, you'll have multiple jobs running, all working from different calendars, and configured to notify you or another designee (the Enterprise edition has different user designations that allow for more granular security control) of operational status.

Scheduling Routine
Suppose you want to free up disk space on your file servers by periodically purging unnecessary files and unused data. The data sits on three different computers, and you have a variety of user and database files occupying the space on those servers. Here's how you might work out a SmartBatch job scheduling routine (note that you'll need the Enterprise Edition of SmartBatch 2006 and a remote agent for each computer):

  • Create a group that includes the computers on which you need to work.
  • Create a calendar with the days and times you want to run your jobs.
  • Set up each operation (see Figure 2) so it initiates a single maneuver you wish to perform. For this example, I call a command window and pass in the command to delete all temp files from the volume's C drive.
  • You'll need a second operation to purge the D drive. You could also create a batch file with the necessary commands and call it from the operation instead.
  • Create an operation that calls stored procedure(s) to groom your database files.
  • Once all operations are in place, link them together as steps.
  • Create a job that ropes in all your file-server grooming steps.
  • Repeat the process for other automation operations.
  • Assign an operator to monitor your jobs and select notification options.

You can perform the same operations on either a computer group or a single computer, especially when it's a globally applicable operation. For example, you could do the above temp file delete operation on a pre-defined group because it's almost a given that every computer has a C drive with .TMP files to delete.

Time is money.
[Click on image for larger view.]
Figure 2. The operational schedules and procedures set the parameters within which your jobs will run.

Showstoppers
With the SmartBatch Standard Edition, the idea is that you're only going to use it on the machine upon which it is installed. With the Enterprise Edition, you get extensibility, which lets you run SmartBatch operations on multiple computers, each of which has to have an agent installed.

If there are any showstoppers or problems with SmartBatch, it is the agent issue. Many administrators are hesitant to install an agent component on a server because it may introduce new problems. Agentless management software is often weak in the knees, so I can see why OnlineToolWorks felt it could only provide sufficient performance by using onboard agents.

The Enterprise Edition also lets you use SQL Server as the database for the SmartBatch job scheduling data. However, by default, both the Standard and Enterprise editions use MSDE, which is a huge plus.

Both editions of SmartBatch support notification, native Windows and Web administration interfaces, dependencies, error recovery, .NET programming interfaces, and a "Runbook" -- a place where you can detail instructions for the folks who will run and troubleshoot the jobs you've established. This last element is a very mainframe-like capability to carefully monitor your operations. The Enterprise edition includes a Diagram View (similar to Microsoft Operations Manager), fault-tolerance and load-balancing, as well as remote agents.

Finding Free Time
If you're an administrator grappling with numerous job-scheduling operations -- whether they're scripts, batch files or executables -- SmartBatch can be a big help. The simplicity and centralization is well worth the price of admission. With careful planning and attention to detail, you can set up a job-scheduling environment that will free up your time for more important tasks.

If you're just beginning to use batch files and scripts to lasso in those infernal manual operations, get them ready and then try SmartBatch. It was designed and written by a long-time Microsoft-friendly company that truly understands the needs of Windows administrators.

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