ActiveBatch breezes through chores

Imagine being able to run complex scheduled tasks — say, backing up one-third of your agency's systems every third night on a rolling three-day schedule without ever having to worry about remembering when to start or which batch to run.

What if you could delegate running the job to information technology personnel in various locations throughout your agency or department?

What if the same application could run batch jobs on Unix, OpenVMS and Microsoft Corp. Windows systems — all scheduled from Windows-based clients?

With ActiveBatch Version 3 from Advanced Systems Concepts, you can run the most sophisticated batch jobs with complex schedules over disparate platforms and make it seem easy.

ActiveBatch is a job management and scheduling system that uses a three-tier system. The first tier is the Windows-based client software that can be installed on as many machines as your agency's IT department sees fit. These machines will be able to create, schedule, monitor and fine-tune all the tasks.

The client interface, which is surprisingly similar to that of Microsoft Outlook, uses multiple panes to show the forest of information as well as the trees.

The three major views of the client section are ActiveBatch Neighborhood, a current view of scheduled jobs on all of the servers agencywide; Runbook, a calendar of all events, past and present; and Reporting Facility, which allows the systems administrator to prepare reports on tasks that have run during any period.

The second tier is what Advanced Systems Concepts calls the Job Scheduler. This set of services only runs on Windows NT and 2000 machines. Windows-based clients connect to the Job Scheduler to add, fix or delete jobs from the queue.

Multiple Job Scheduler servers can run on multiple machines (depending on licensing) for higher availability if and when one of those pesky NT boxes crashes. The tool also offers better scalability and increased control for distributed agencies because thousands of jobs can be scheduled on each machine.

Using Microsoft Management Console simplifies administration of the Job Scheduler and provides a familiar and consistent interface. ActiveBatch also makes use of Microsoft's Windows Management Instrumentation software to allow for the easy management of data from disparate sources.

The third tier of the architecture — and the heart of the system — is based on Execution Agents, which can run on NT/2000, Unix and OpenVMS operating systems, giving Advanced Systems Concepts deserved bragging rights to call this a cross-platform system.

When it is time to run a particular job, the Job Scheduler tells the applicable machine's Execution Agent to execute the task. Each Execution Agent is licensed separately, which accounts for the huge range in prices for the system.

The real power of ActiveBatch is not any single task it can do, but the comprehensiveness and thoughtfulness with which the application was designed. For example, each event can have pre- and post-conditions that must be satisfied in order to proceed. Imagine, for example, the horror of starting a timed backup on 3,000 machines before the tape has been rewound or properly initialized.

Also important for scheduled events is good feedback along the way — something ActiveBatch's developers have concentrated on. The systems administrator can tell the Job Scheduler to send a Windows message or an e-mail message at the start and/or finish of every task.

Every event is recorded and displayed in the Runbook. Want to find out what happened last night between 1 a.m. and 6 a.m.? Look at the calendar. Want to see whether the quarterly reports are really going to run 10 days before the lawyers need to look at them? Check it out. Once the event in question is found, one can double click on it and essentially open it up for full inspection or modification. With past events, even log files that recorded what happened for each incident can be accessed.

Although scheduled events are about as glamorous as file cabinets, they are the stuff that makes the world go round. Having a tool like ActiveBatch to make sure everything gets done when it is supposed to get done can have huge ramifications for your agency — not to mention the bags under your eyes.

ActiveBatch is both powerful and easy to use — features that are often overtouted and underdelivered these days.

Jefferson is a freelance analyst and writer based in Hawaii.


ActiveBatch 3.0

Score: B+

Advanced Systems Concepts
(201) 798-6400

Price and availability: Pricing ranges from $600 to $76,000.

Remarks: Using a three-tiered system, ActiveBatch enables administrators to create batch jobs and scheduled tasks to run on several platforms with ease. Clients are Microsoft Corp. Windows-based and can be installed on any number of machines in virtually any location. The only drawback is that the system requires a Windows NT/2000 server to act as the job scheduler.


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