Hardware

VisualCron: Powerful Scheduling for Windows Admins

Using batch files and Windows Task Scheduler, we already had a reliable task scheduling system in place, but we needed to find a way to easily monitor the download of files. The tools available in VisualCron gave us a lot of leeway in the manner in which we could to do this.

A while back I put up a post detailing how I regularly used batch files and the Windows Task Scheduler to automate jobs. Not long after posting this another member of TechRepublic sent me an e-mail letting me know about another tool that was available that added a lot of power to what I was doing. In the spirit of adventure, I went and grabbed a download of VisualCron by neteject.com to give it a go around the block.

The Job

Using batch files and Windows Task Scheduler we already have a fairly comfortable and reliable task scheduling system in place. Not really knowing where we were going with VisualCron made determining where to test it a bit more difficult, as we did not want to disturb any of the processes we already had in place. Finally after looking at what was available in VisualCron, we found once place it could make a huge difference. We have several files that must be manually downloaded from suppliers. These files are then placed in individual sub-directories where they are scooped up by a database server and from there moved to several databases. We have had a problem recently of certain files not getting downloaded in a timely manner. This is difficult to monitor due to the irregularity of the files being generated. Many files are generated daily, but some of them are monthly or bi-monthly. We needed to find a way to easily monitor the download of files.

The Tool

The tools available in VisualCron gave us a lot of leeway in the manner in which we wanted to do this. We decided to set up separate monitors in VisualCron to watch for each specific file creation. On file creation VisualCron then ran a T-SQL command to add a line to a monitoring database we created. This database would daily calculate which files should have been downloaded versus which files were downloaded. It will then generate a reminder email (using xp_smtpsendmail80) to the person(s) responsible for downloading specific files if these files were not downloaded on their due date. The file trigger and SQL task within VisualCron seemed to be perfect for this. View some of the available options in VisualCron here.

Putting VisualCron to the Test

The setup of the VisualCron monitors was slightly more difficult that expected. This was understandable though due to the massive power difference I was using. It was very quickly apparent that this tool was magnitude of power greater than the solution I was currently using. That being said we were looking to do something very specific. After locating and setting up the exact monitors I would be using it was simply a matter of repeating the steps for each individual subdirectory and modifying run times and T-SQL commands to match each alert. The setup went smoothly (the SQL backend work already being completed), and we were ready to test.

Right Tool for the Job?

The testing went nearly perfect. The only glitch we had, was the test server VisualCron was running on failed after 2 weeks, and we all realized the need of backing up jobs. After setting VisualCron back up in a production environment and recreating our jobs it has been flawless. We have been using VisualCron for a little while now, and have added several more monitors with it, and are continually amazed by the power this little tool offers. Every time we think we have tapped this tool for all it's worth, it is constantly proving itself up for even more. While it has not replaced the old stand by of batch files and Task Scheduler (if it ain't broke – and free – don't fix it), it is taking on the brunt of new work coming down the pike. VisualCron is constantly proving to us, that it is the Right Tool for the Job.

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