Job Scheduler Re-emerges as Workflow Automation

Tidal Software's Enterprise Scheduler can automate jobs based on “business calendars” so operators can run a job on relative dates (such as the first and third Thursdays each month)

If you’re an administrator in a mainframe or high-end Unix environment, chances are you’ve been using the same job-scheduling tool for quite awhile now. In fact, job scheduling is one of the oldest disciplines in the system operator’s toolkit, which is why one vendor says it’s in need of a post-millennial tune-up.

Fact is, says Stephen Kangas, senior vice president of marketing and strategic alliances with job automation specialist Tidal Software, job scheduling largely describes the process of automating tasks in homogeneous environments—such as on mainframes, where the practice more or less got its start. Since most customer environments (and the vast majority of Global 2000 IT organizations) feature a heterogeneous mixture of applications and platforms, Kangas suggests eighty-sixing job scheduling in favor of a new term: workflow automation.

“When you are using tools that really deeply and richly automate an application platform beyond what was traditionally the role of job scheduling, it has a profound effect in the data center,” he argues.

It’s not just about heterogeneous systems and applications, either. Because IT organizations are now automating many manual business processes, Kangas contends, workflow automation is becoming increasingly important.

“A lot of the business tasks that were done by hand, pen and paper, [and] sneakernet—that work flow has become more and more automated, and customers are applying more kinds of applications to different pieces of the business workflow across the enterprise,” he says.

He offers the example of a payroll workflow, which, he'll grant you, has become increasingly automated, largely as a result of outsourcing (with a payroll services provider such as ADP) or because of HR applications (from PeopleSoft Inc. and others). Companies that haven’t invested in such solutions, however, have developed a complicated workflow that involves collaboration between different departments, often involving multiple business processes.

“Most of the manual pen-and-paper processes have been worked out with [payroll], but a lot of those computer applications involved with these steps need to be tied together at the workflow level,” he argues. He notes that with payroll and many other business processes, “part of the workflow is dependent on ad hoc completion time, so it’s really an event-based workflow.”

Enter Tidal Software’s Enterprise Scheduler, a cross-platform, cross-application job scheduler that supports Windows, several different flavors of Unix, S/390 and z/OS, OS/400 and applications such as SAP, PeopleSoft and the Oracle E-Business Suite. In addition to scheduling on the basis of ad hoc events, Enterprise Scheduler can automate jobs based on so-called “business calendars,” which allow operators to specify a job to run on either specific dates or relative dates (e.g., the first and third Thursdays in a month).

“As long as those systems can actually connect together, we can automate the workflow where the operator sits down and configures the workflow to specify which tasks are contingent on other tasks, and time that based on coordination or business calendars,” explains Kangas.

Connectivity between systems is typically achieved through a messaging bus such as MQSeries or Microsoft’s Message Queue Server (MSMQ), or by means of enterprise application integration (EAI) technologies, he says. Tidal Software also provides adapters into systems or operations management tools such as OpenView from Hewlett-Packard Co. and Microsoft Operations Manager.

Because of its extensive platform and application support, Kangas says that Enterprise Scheduler is used extensively in heterogeneous environments—especially in situations in which organizations need to automate workflow between in-house and packaged applications. “I would say it would be relatively safe to say that at least 80 percent of the customers we sell to in the Fortune 2000 enterprise space are applying our product in a heterogeneous environment, and a lot of these are using [Enterprise Scheduler] for PeopleSoft, Oracle—[applications] like that,” he concludes.

One such shop is the University of Missouri, which coordinates workflow from jobs running on a mainframe system with PeopleSoft HR application running across a range of distributed platforms.

Like many of her colleagues, Cindy Gardner, manager of information technology with the University, says that job scheduling is old hat. Nevertheless, she says, when the University implemented PeopleSoft three years ago, it needed a new job scheduler to complement BMC’s Control-M, which it still uses on the mainframe.

“We purchased Tidal Enterprise Scheduler for converting to PeopleSoft in our new environment, and at the time … Tidal was the only one that did interface with PeopleSoft directly,” she explains.

Since then, Gardner says, she’s been impressed with Enterprise Scheduler’s features. “They have some pretty unique scheduling features, one example being if you have a job depending on another job and maybe you’ve got to rename it, their scheduler will go through and search the entire database and rename any occurrences throughout it automatically without you having to remember which job depends on which and changing it,” she comments.

The University of Missouri has currently deployed Enterprise Scheduler across a mix of platforms, including Windows and Unix, and uses it to facilitate workflow between PeopleSoft and other applications.

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.