Automate recurring operations

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The growing number of job-scheduling packages that work in a Windows 2000 and Windows NT environment signals the maturation of Windows in the enterprise and of Windows users themselves. For years, as Windows played second fiddle to UNIX and legacy IBM OSs in large organizations, Microsoft did little to position its OS within a traditional IT operations framework. Finally, in a move to help customers implement a highly reliable and effective IT organization, Microsoft made available the Microsoft Operations Framework. The framework, which consists of white papers, operations kits, assessment tools, best practices, case studies, templates, support tools, and services, includes a Windows 2000 Operations Guide series that provides a wealth of concepts and procedural information covering a variety of operations topics.

One topic the Operations Guide series covers is job scheduling (you can access the Job Scheduling Operations Guide at http://www.microsoft.com/technet/prodtechnol/windows2000serv/maintain/opsguide/jobschog.asp.) Mainframe-based IT shops have long used job-scheduling packages to reduce total operating cost, to more reliably carry out routine and predictable application maintenance and reporting tasks, and to make better use of available computing resources.

IT shops that run UNIX or IBM OSs are finding that the kinds of operations management tools they use to manage legacy systems are now available for Windows. Many of this issue's listed products support only Windows environments, but several packages let you centrally manage jobs between a variety of OSs. One particularly intriguing product takes a data-centric, rather than a task-centric, approach to job scheduling. That product's approach lets specific data values trigger other jobs to run and makes it easier to create database maintenance jobs. Some listed products also provide special support for specific third-party application software packages. For example, one job-scheduling package lets you automatically reconfigure your SCSI or fibre channel network so that a backup job stream can move a tape drive from one server to another and back up each server's storage at local-device speeds. Other job scheduling products support complex job dependencies, conditional execution, and drag-and-drop job stream development.

Some job scheduling systems can detect specific error conditions that cause a scheduled job to abend and automatically execute a job to recover from the error. Other job scheduling systems can track changes to production job definitions and implement procedural controls to ensure that someone tests and approves changes to production jobs before they run.

Although you can use job-scheduling packages by themselves, they are just a piece of the larger operations management puzzle. All full-featured systems should log all job executions to tell you who executed a job and when, whether the run completed successfully, and the resources that the job consumed. Job scheduling systems that help you collect performance-related data make performance analysis much easier. Larger organizations that have large workloads need to balance the workload across multiple application servers. Job-scheduling packages let you monitor CPU, memory, and disk utilization across several computers and submit a batch job to the least-used server.

If you've never worked outside a Microsoft environment, you might find the IT operations concept foreign. The Job Scheduling Operations Guide provides a good introduction to the job scheduling aspect of operations. And with the variety of feature sets and price ranges in this Buyer's Guide, you're sure to find something to meet your needs.