Article

Lessons Learned from IBM's Native Scheduler

IBM i
Posted:
August 29, 2016

 

The systems that businesses rely on today are increasingly complex and challenging to manage without sophisticated job scheduling tools.

According to the 2017 IBM i Marketplace Survey Results, only 28 percent of IBM i shops are running the IBM i operating system exclusively. 70 percent are also running the Windows OS, another 47 percent are running Linux, and 24 percent are running AIX. That already tallies as many as three native schedulers to coordinate before considering the slew of schedulers embedded in core business applications.

With that kind of complexity, now is a great time to consider how much you have automated and where you might be able to consolidate.

Take the automation quick check to discover your automation score.

“In today’s fluid 24/7 world where business demands are real-time and where IT resources are a mix of both physical and virtual, someone—or something—is needed to manage it all,” wrote Data Center Knowledge contributor Colin Beasty. “In response, many job scheduling applications have evolved into advanced workload automation solutions that can direct the execution of tasks across any number of heterogeneous environments.”

As this demand for real-time interaction between IT and the rest of the business grows, the automation tools that keep everything running smoothly must be sophisticated enough to handle the complexity. As Beasty noted, this will likely involve a transition from a siloed automation approach (relying on multiple solutions for different platforms, for instance) toward a more unified strategy. This will enable IT to better correlate job streams with their impact on SLAs and increase visibility over mission-critical workloads.

You’re responsible for keeping your system up and running. If a job gets missed or an error occurs, it could cause a ripple effect resulting in system downtime, inaccurate inventory data, or even a plant shutdown.

Given the time it takes just to keep your systems running, it may seem like too much to ask to start building more direct relationships with the rest of your organization. However, as IT professionals come to terms with their evolving roles and responsibilities, the need to streamline existing processes and improve service delivery has never been clearer.

IBM i Job Scheduling Survey Results

We’ve been analyzing the results of our IBM i job scheduling survey and picked up on a few interesting trends. First, the good news: the majority (58 percent) of respondents almost never have difficulty meeting service-level agreements. Congratulations, survey participants, but your ability to meet these ever-increasing expectations has not come without sacrifice.

In particular, we found some frustration in terms of work-life balance. Six in 10 respondents admitted that their staff was stretched too thin due to limited budgets, and 42 percent said they check their job streams on the weekends. If it seems impossible to take a vacation due to the potential risk of a failed job or just too much work, it might be time to see what can be improved.

It might not be possible to completely eliminate those working weekends, but considering the current state of automation at your organization can certainly make them less frequent. Take the automation quick check to find out where you rank. Don’t worry if you find a few gaps in existing practices; you can improve your score by following a few principles:

  • Reduce the number of manual processes in both job scheduling and reporting
  • Incorporate event-based and time-based scheduling to limit downtime
  • Adopt tools with built-in compliance and auditing functionality

This is not a comprehensive list, but it does address many of the core issues our survey identified. Just as it is essential to automate IT jobs themselves, technical teams should not have to rely solely on manual processes to collect audit and reporting data.

Where the Native Scheduler Leaves No Trace

The question ultimately comes down to the degree of automation that has been implemented and the level of visibility that IT has over job scheduling software tools. One prevalent issue is that companies rely on a scheduler that is ill-equipped to handle the complexity of their environments. Many IBM i operators leverage the native IBM scheduler, which is best suited for organizations running fewer than 50 jobs on a daily basis but less ideal for a higher volume of workloads.

Additionally, IT auditors like reports that show who has access to run critical business processes, and the built-in IBM i scheduler has no reporting and zero interaction with other servers. For example, reporting from IBM i could be inaccurate because the data coming from Windows was late or didn’t happen at all.

Without making time to examine the inefficiencies of your environment, your operators may continue to struggle needlessly to report on job completions, SLA statistics from their automated jobs, or even reviewing completion information or diagnostics from previous runs for IBM i and Windows tasks, when in fact it is the technology that has failed them.

Some managers may respond by starting a project to better automate the native IBM scheduler by writing some of their own CL programs to control custom job dependencies, or begin work with the network team to control processes on Windows, Linux, or AIX servers. Consider the needs of your environment carefully. A siloed approach may compound your inefficiencies instead of streamlining your processes.

Does Advanced Automation Lead to Job Termination?

In our scheduling survey, we asked a wide range of questions to get a feel for how respondents had implemented advanced job scheduling automation and to what degree. There were a few key areas where decision makers showed confidence in their existing strategies. For instance, 61 percent said they did not have difficulty in managing cross-platform job dependencies. This means that IT has done well in adjusting to the growing hardware and software diversity under the department’s control. However, there were some areas that emerged as common pain points:

  • 46% of respondents have had to manually submit jobs due to incorrect parameters
  • 43% sometimes experience downtime due to production job errors
  • 48% use different scheduling programs for different platforms
  • 54% manually create flow charts for job streams

Although most respondents have implemented job scheduling tools to some degree, there are still many manual processes that can bog things down and result in longer work hours.

Automation is no longer just a luxury for IT teams; it is an essential element to meeting the needs of modern organizations and—from the science fiction threat of a hostile A.I. takeover to real-world concerns that the need for certain jobs would be reduced—IT evolutions are not always met with open arms.

This has been a particularly prevalent concern among IT in the era of cloud computing, where factors such as automation and self-service reign supreme. The push for end user empowerment has led some to question what the role of IT is when line-of-business employees have the power to provision technical resources. However, a Cisco report places IT personnel front and center, even in our cloud-enabled world. Organizations have only become more dependent on their IT departments rather than less.

In other words, job schedule automation is the tool that allows IT workers to accomplish much more with fewer resources. In fact, a recent Spiceworks survey reports that 88 percent of the IT administrators surveyed said that automation either has or likely will free up their time to focus on more strategic initiatives.

Still, it’s important to ask and honestly answer questions about where your process struggles, whether the problem can be fixed, and how to address the most prevalent issues that are keeping IT connected to the workplace on long nights and weekends.

The automation quick check may expose a need for more sophisticated automation tools in order to streamline your business processes. If you have questions about your results or need more information, our automation experts are just a phone call or email away.

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