For the most simple IT automation, you can create a scheduled task that runs a batch file to perform a routine task, like moving files from one folder to another on the same computer. For more than simple scripting, an orchestration tool is indicated. An orchestration tool takes input from, and gives input to, a large number of otherwise disconnected systems facilitating automated workflow and execution of complicated instructions.

If you are already running Microsoft System Center and run mainly Microsoft applications, you have available the System Center 2012 Orchestrator component that is an excellent tool, but is focused on the operating system, network infrastructure, and Microsoft applications. Likewise, if you have VMware, you might be using VMware vCenter Orchestrator, a VMware vCloud Suite automation engine that helps integrate with other management systems, but is generally focused on infrastructure management.

For the most demanding automation and orchestration needs that extend into third-party applications like SAP and PeopleSoft, and platforms like z/OS and OpenVMS on mainframes, there is a mature and sophisticated solution available from Advanced Systems Concepts, Inc. (ASCI): ActiveBatch. ActiveBatch is an industrial-strength enterprise job scheduling and workflow automation application.

At Microsoft’s largest annual event, TechEd North America 2013 in New Orleans, ASCI had a booth and I was able to speak with Ben Rosenberg, Founder and President (photo at right). ASCI is a leader in the development of middleware solutions that include Enterprise Job Scheduling and Workload Automation. Their premier product “ActiveBatch” offers to simplify the creation and implementation of Business and IT operational workflows for improved service levels and a reduced cost of operations.
Ben immediately took me into a demo of product features, starting with ActiveBatch admin, the drag and drop graphical user interface (GUI) showing ActiveBatch state changes in graphic form. I was impressed during workflow runtime how clear the execution status was seen in the colorful admin GUI, seen in Figure B:

The ActiveBatch System view dynamically shows workflows completing in real-time.

ActiveBatch workflows are assembled from job steps. Here is where the highest value comes in for the ASCI customer with demanding third-party enterprise applications like SAP and PeopleSoft. ASCI does the hard work of creating reusable job steps that translate your business logic into interacting with the applications, without you having to research and develop the automation encoding yourself. Figure C shows the SAP job steps available in an ActiveBatch integrated jobs library.

Figure C

SAP Job Steps within the ActiveBatch Integrated Jobs Library.

Some advanced and sophisticated features of ActiveBatch, in general, include:

  • Workflows can be triggered by network events, WMI events, data interrogation of SQL and Oracle databases, email, and many other triggers.
  • Workflows are business-day aware, that is, bank and regional holidays are included in logic.
  • Constraints (or dependencies) and resource requirements are supported, as well as pre-execution checking for available resources to perform the workflow.
  • The ability to load-balance and provide fault tolerance across multiple ActiveBatch systems: failed workflows continue intelligently on surviving systems without repeating successfully complete steps.

ActiveBatch unveils Windows Azure Support at TechEd

The announcements at TechEd included the ActiveBatch Extension for Azure, which includes over 60 production-ready job steps to automate various Azure tasks including the provisioning/de-provisioning of Azure virtual machines, management of individual or groups of instances, security tasks, machine snapshots, rebooting, synchronizing or termination of instances, and more. The ActiveBatch “Smart Queue” provisions Azure instances based on operating parameters and thresholds, such as maximum number of virtual machines. ActiveBatch will then “spin up” additional Azure instances in advance of scheduled workloads to ensure that adequate resources are available.

Affordability, support, evaluation considerations

This advanced automation for many high-value enterprise third-party applications of course has a price. The cost of this automation should be weighed against the cost of trying to do it yourself with a dedicated high-end process automation engineer. I was curious about the price of ActiveBatch and what the support and evaluation options were for the product.

Ben shared that ActiveBatch has a base price for the core service, then a per-managed-computer charge. For context, the price to deploy ActiveBatch in a mid-size environment with twenty managed endpoints would be (a one-time cost) of about one-third the annual salary of a full-time employee with the skills to research and manually script similar workflows.

ASCI has online, hosted, and on-premise training in their product, including “boot camp” style knowledge transfer offerings. A 30-day no-risk trial of the product is offered for pre-purchase evaluation purposes.

More information

Consult the Advanced Systems Concepts, Inc. website: