Product Reviews

Task Scheduling Beyond Windows

ActiveBatch simplifies and fine-tunes automation of tasks.

Windows Task Scheduler fails when you need to run automated jobs that work with other systems such as Unix, Linux or HP’s Open VMS. That’s where ActiveBatch from Advanced Systems Concepts can pick up the slack. ActiveBatch is a comprehensive job scheduler that can run in a Windows environment or interact with other scheduled jobs running in heterogeneous environments. The latter is where ActiveBatch really shines.

Even if your shop only runs Windows, you might consider ActiveBatch over the default Task Scheduler. For one thing, ActiveBatch jobs include far more refined instructions than the Task Scheduler. ActiveBatch can include additional instructions passed on during execution; that can also be done with Task Scheduler, but only through complex scripts or batch jobs. With ActiveBatch, it’s simply a matter of inputting the parameters in the job’s Properties dialog box.

ActiveBatch's Properties Page
Figure 1. The Properties page for scheduled jobs has comprehensive settings. It can pass additional parameters to the job and control job dependencies. (Click image to view larger version.)

ActiveBatch also supports dependencies, letting administrators set pre- and post-job conditions. If a dependency fails, you can tell ActiveBatch to fail the scheduled job or wait until the other job is complete. If you continue, it will check every two minutes to see if the precondition is complete before running the originally scheduled job. Try to do that with Task Scheduler!

ActiveBatch has three components: The Client UI, Job Scheduler and Execution Agent. Execution Agents operate on multiple platforms, while the Job Scheduler runs only on Windows. The Client UI operates either on Windows or through a Web interface. Given a special add-on, it can also run on a Blackberry device. The Job Scheduler also integrates with a SQL Server database through an actual version of SQL Server or through the Microsoft Desktop Engine (MSDE) for SQL Server.

ActiveBatch eclipses the default Task Scheduler in several ways: Jobs can be deferred; multiple copies of the same job can be run at the same time; and jobs can send alerts when completed. These alerts can be either e-mail messages or Windows Alerter service messages. Jobs can also record the amount of time required to run, including the actual amount of processor time used. All job aspects are logged in a text file, and all job activities are recorded in a history file.

On Windows clients, ActiveBatch can run in one of two modes: The ActiveBatch Administration utility or through an ActiveBatch MMC snap-in. The Administration utility offers much finer control over ActiveBatch, and its Outlook-like interface gives administrators access to all program features. The MMC, on the other hand, is great for job administration delegation, once the jobs have been set up by a central administrator.

You can integrate ActiveBatch with Active Directory through special AD extensions that can publish both Job Schedulers and Execution Agents to the directory, and use this to create aliases for each one of the Job Schedulers. This creates an abstraction layer between the jobs and the actual schedulers much like the domain-based Distributed File System (DFS) abstracts physical shared folders from the share names users access, which creates high availability of the shares. In the same way, published Job Schedulers point to different machines running the service, letting IT schedule jobs without worrying which machine will execute it.

Given the ongoing debate about AD schema changes, Advanced Systems Concepts might be better off tying this capability to Active Directory in Application Mode (ADAM) instead of providing a schema change for the network operating system directory when they build future editions. But whether or not you use the AD features, it’s clear that ActiveBatch is much more powerful than the default Task Scheduler.

About the Author

Danielle Ruest and Nelson Ruest, both Microsoft MVPs, are IT professionals focused on technologies futures. They are authors of multiple books, including "Microsoft Windows Server 2008: The Complete Reference" (McGraw-Hill Osborne Media, 2008), which focuses on building virtual workloads with Microsoft's new OS.

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