6 Job Scheduling Tactics for Windows Server Sprawl

Companies run many of their mission-critical processes on a growing array of Windows servers these days. Instead of automating nightly batch streams on a mainframe, data centers are running processes on multiple Windows servers using built-in schedulers like the Windows Task Scheduler applet or Microsoft SQL Server Management Studio.

Simple schedulers like Windows task scheduler work well on individual servers with only a handful of tasks. But job scheduling becomes more difficult once you require dependencies, such as incoming files, the behavior of other applications, or the completion of business processes on other servers.

To manage this complexity, system administrators who use simple schedulers end up needing separate applications for monitoring, auditing, file transfers, and reporting. Each of these applications requires setup time and training, in addition to yearly maintenance fees. Add a few more servers and suddenly you’re spending all your time and budget integrating and managing your applications with complex scripts, custom software, and no relief in sight.

If your data center is starting to get out of control, it’s time to consider enterprise scheduling, also known as workload automation.

Centralize Management

It’s important to be in control of processing in the data center. With only a handful of servers, it’s easy to know what is running, when it’s running, and what the dependencies might be.

But you’ve grown from a handful of servers to a dozen or more in the last year, with more plans for growth. Logging in to each server to manage a schedule of tasks can be time-consuming and prone to error. It becomes very difficult to get a big picture view of your data center.

Enterprise schedulers or workload automation software let you log in once and have access to the processes on all of your servers. From a central interface you can see the status of all active processes, see forecasted processes, and change schedules on any server in your network. If the change affects a process on another computer, you’ll see that too.

The analysis tools in these solutions help you see exceptions and take action to remedy them. These tools often employ a Gantt chart to display a forecast of your current schedule, so you can instantly spot any tasks that have failed or been been missed or delayed. Having a central location to spot those exceptions makes it easier to keep your processes running smoothly to meet Service Level Agreements.

Add Dependencies to Microsoft SQL Server Jobs

Microsoft’s SQL Server includes a simple agent that lets you automate your SQL jobs with a time-based schedule. If your SQL job is dependent on the creation of a file, you either have to make sure that file is created by a certain time or schedule your job with plenty of wiggle room, which can hinder efficiency. Enterprise schedulers provide more flexibility by adding prerequisites to your SQL job before it runs. Simply set up a dependent job stream so that the SQL Server script waits for the file to arrive and then process immediately. No more trying to schedule jobs hoping that the file arrives in time.

For routine job streams, such as nightly backups, a workload automation solution can simplify the process. Instead of scheduling separate SQL Server jobs to back up the database on individual Windows servers, tools with a grouping function lets you set up one job and assign it to multiple servers.

A file transfer that sends the backups to an offsite server can be the next step or a separate job that reacts to the completion of the backup. Either way, the transfer does not occur until that backup is complete. If your backup tends to take longer as your files grow, you won’t be caught with a partial file being transferred to the backup server. Each step in the process completes successfully before the next step begins.

Also, if there is a failure during the backup process, notification options let you know immediately of the problem and do not attempt the file transfer. You can even have the job log emailed to you to diagnose the problem and fix it before any other processes are affected or before your users are even aware of a problem.

Workload automation tools have flexible workflows to ensure that no jobs run out of order or without the resources needed to process successfully.

Build Cross-System Reactivity

If you’re using multiple applications across multiple servers to handle your processes, it’s important that those systems talk to each other. Cross-system reactivity allows you to create an event-driven schedule quickly, optimize resources, and improve efficiency.

If you have jobs on one of your Windows servers that are dependent on jobs completing on another Windows server, you can set up that scenario using job prerequisites or conditions options. Because the central server knows the status of the servers and the processes running on each, dependencies across systems are quickly set up and always run in the correct order and at the right time.

If you have a few Linux servers in the mix, that doesn’t pose a problem either. Most solutions run on Linux and UNIX systems as well, so dependencies on those servers are just another step in the job stream.

Stop Custom Scripting

Are your system administrators writing all kinds of scripts to compensate for the limitations of the Windows Task Scheduler? Scripting is necessary for resource and dependency checking. Save their time for more important functions and save your money by using an automation tool to create those dependencies and monitor the status of your processes.

In addition to creating dependent job streams, workload automation also can manage output distribution from your processes so there is no need to script for emailing files to customers or other business divisions.

Audit Across Your Enterprise

The Windows Task Scheduler keeps track of all changes to the schedule for the individual server that it’s installed on. If you need to comply with government regulations such as PCI, HIPAA, or Sarbanes- Oxley, you could spend way too much time collecting that data and getting it in a form that is usable for your auditors.

Enterprise schedulers can track all changes to the schedule and each job across your entire network. A log of the changes is kept on the central server, which makes reporting quick and easy.

Contain Costs and Improve Efficiency

The Windows Task Scheduler is free, but you have to consider the entire cost of managing your network of Windows servers, often by purchasing separate monitoring and notification applications. The time that you spend monitoring and managing each server individually can be greatly reduced by consolidating those scheduling and management tasks on one central server.

Ready to Move to a Dedicated Job Scheduler?

Learn how to identify your organization’s needs with the job scheduling checklist.

Get the Checklist