Kevin Vliet serves as Director of Product Management for JAMS, an enterprise workload automation solution from HelpSystems. He has led more than 100 enterprise conversions to JAMS and is an expert on the nuances of scheduling on Task Scheduler, SQL Agent, Cron, and many business applications. Kevin has presented at numerous SQL, Microsoft, and PowerShell user group meetings on topics such as Enterprise Security for Batch Processes, PowerShell Automation, and Hybrid Cloud Automation. Kevin also co-authored the JAMS University curriculum, a comprehensive training program for training IT administrators to manage large-scale, cross-platform enterprise workflows.
If you have been around long enough in IT, you have likely experienced the impact of Murphy’s Law—if anything can go wrong, it will go wrong. And if you ask IT professionals what one of the biggest blunders or missteps is in their discipline, the typical answer is not adequately testing processes in a separate test environment before deploying them to a production environment. That’s why the strategy of a test environment is foundational in enterprise software deployment.
A test environment is often a mirror of the production environment and allows for rigorous testing, observation, and analysis to be performed on jobs before they are pushed live to production. Testing in a non-production environment is critical for avoiding errors, bugs, crashes, or other disruptive outcomes that can occur if a thorough testing strategy is not employed.
Yet when it comes to testing jobs, some organizations put off investing in a separate test environment. Maybe they think testing their jobs or workflows is not that mission critical. Or maybe it’s because they don’t see the value of investing resources in a separate non-production environment. Maybe it’s because it takes time and effort to rebuild each job in production after testing. And IT professionals just don’t feel they have the bandwidth—even though it’s easy within the JAMS workload automation solution.
Whatever the reason is, there are major risks associated with building powerful automation processes in a single environment without first properly testing. Let’s take a look at some of these dangers and dive into three specific reasons investing in a testing environment is one of the smartest moves you can make in deploying workload automation software.
What Can Go Wrong in Job Scheduling by Solely Relying on a Production Environment?
While a variety of issues could arise without first testing, let’s take a look at some specific examples that have actually occurred when scheduled jobs are built within a single production environment. When automated workflows are implemented in a single operational environment for all scheduled jobs, it means they are often sharing servers, hardware, network configuration, and other critical resources.
Sharing of these physical resources during testing can result in a situation where the hardware and software are competing against one another—and the winner in this scenario is usually the hardware. This situation can lead to the software crashing and cause production jobs to fail within your environment.
Another common failure seen without adequate testing can occur if a job is running and inadvertently locks a table in a database. In this situation, the production data has been harmed and the job cannot run against the old data. Or say, for example, you are testing a job and a script is running. If the script itself does something on your server that crashes the server, it can affect your production environment to the point that your jobs will no longer run properly.
Yet another area for concern when using a single environment is around security and regulatory compliance. For example, within a folder structure, even if you are taking precautions to establish security, there is potential for those with access to go into the shared folder environment and cause harm. Separating testing from production maintains a physical separation between production jobs and their related development activity. Knowing auditors usually look for a division of labor between development and operations, having these separate environments enables you to limit control and access to your data, especially in your production environment.
What Are Three Top Benefits of a Test Environment for Workload Automation?
As organizations mature in their IT automation strategy, there is a need to ensure a solid testing approach for the workflows and processes they build. And with more and more people who will be involved in automating workloads, it is essential that you maintain separate dual environments—one intended for testing and one for production. So what are three of the top benefits that reinforce the value of maintaining a test environment for job scheduling?
1) Boost Automation Reliability By Working Out the Kinks
When a non-production environment is both separate from and mirrors the production environment itself, you can load actual production data into the test servers and simulate a run of your jobs. This will flush out any scripting inaccuracies, any misconfigurations, and get all of those errors out of the way so none of these issues occur in production. And it also means you will have a clear picture of what each job is doing, how long it takes, and how any changes will affect your production environment—helping you increase the dependability of your automated processes.
2) Gauge Performance Before Promoting the Job to Production
Having a test environment is about more than testing the scripts that your jobs are running. You also need the opportunity to test full workflows, dependencies, and timing. If you change a job or add a job to a workflow, it’s important to be able to see what might be affected downstream without doing any damage to your production environment. Gauging the performance of successful jobs start-to-finish means checking data outside the job scheduler, looking at ETL processing, log outputs, and ensuring jobs run in the right order. When these performance areas are measured, you can be confident you are ready to promote your jobs to production.
3) Put Safeguards in Place in Case Something Goes Sideways
There are times during testing in which you may actually want jobs to fail. In other words, you want to see what the negative outcomes look like. For example, in load testing, when you use production data in your non-production environment, you are looking to study behavior when the load is increased beyond normal usage. Known also as stress testing, this type of testing enables you to understand proactively what needs to happen and what protections need to be put in place in case your jobs fail. In the case of JAMS workload automation software, you can make automated decisions on certain conditions if a job fails or a value doesn’t look right rather than having an operator intervene. These types of proactive safeguards are another critical benefit that a testing environment affords.
Start Getting the Most from Your Investment in Workload Automation
The benefits provided here are just the beginning of how a testing environment can take your workload automation efforts to the next level. The right workload automation approach—featuring dual environments for testing and production—means you can be confident your job scheduler is ready to run, monitor, and manage jobs and workflows that support your critical business processes.