Volume 11, Number 21 -- June 14, 2011

Flux Delivers Automation for Changing Workloads

Published: June 14, 2011

by Alex Woodie

IBM i shops that are in the market for a combined job scheduler and managed file transfer (MFT) solution may want to check out Flux. The Las Vegas company's Java-based workload automation and MFT tool, also called Flux, can orchestrate file movements and initiate processing on a wide range of platforms, including IBM's midrange servers. With the launch of Flux 7.11 last month, the tool gets a REST Web services API, better integration with Cognos, and enhancements to its Web browser-based UI.

Flux is used to create and execute automated workflows that involve a combination of steps and tasks across any server platform that supports a modern Java environment. The software can initiate batch jobs through scripting, interface with databases through SQL, and coordinate MFT activities through support for all major file transfer protocols, such as SSL and SSH-based FTP. With many customers in the financial services industry, Flux is often deployed to help automate ETL (extract, transform and load) and business intelligence tasks.

The tasks that Flux has been asked to help automate have changed over the years, Flux president David Sims tells IT Jungle. At this point, automating batch jobs at 3 a.m.--which has been the type of work that IBM i job schedulers have traditionally been asked to perform--is no longer the priority.

"In the early days, that used to be a bigger use case, or problem that Flux solved," Sims says. "It still happens. But today, it's evolved to focus more on MFT. At 3 a.m., maybe then you'll start monitoring your customers' FTP servers. Or maybe you'll call out to this Web service, and other kinds of SOA [service oriented architecture] environments."

Integrating with third-party services made available over the Web is also becoming more popular than coordinating a company's internal servers and job processes. "I'm seeing less and less of 'Let's script this process,' and more of 'Let's integrate it with this other service that's been made available across the network.' A lot of key IT infrastructure you see today is distributed across different companies."

Sims gives an example of one of his financial services customers, who uses Flux Web service APIs to access an external anti-fraud service. "The vendor who supplies that fraud service does not package that piece of software inside the firewall. It's only available as a service," Sims says. "There are obvious advantages to that. But the question becomes, how are you, as a company and as an IT department, going to orchestrate and automate all of these things together, with services that are no longer inside your firewall, but out there on the Internet?"

Sims considers his product's support for Web services and SOA an advantage over other workload automation tools. With the launch of Flux version 7.11, the company adds support for the RESTful API, which is gaining popularity as a way of integrating with external Web services. Flux already offered support for SOAP (service oriented application protocol), but the newer REST (representational state transfer) approach is simpler and less cumbersome than the older SOAP approach, Sims says.

Version 7.11 also brings enhancements to Flux's Web browser-based user interfaces. Just about all user interaction in Flux occurs in a Web browser, including the drag-and-drop design tool, which allows users to create jobs and workflows--all with various dependencies and logic. All Flux activity is centrally monitored from a browser-based console.

"Our goal is to put the IT professional into a Web browser, where he or she does everything," Sims says. "With version 7.11, we made that whole browser experience even easier to use and more configurable." For example, the new release brings more granular access controls to the Flux Operations Console. An administrator setting up Flux will expose only the components of the tool that users need to do their jobs, and conceal the parts they don't need. The new release also delivers better handling of the workflow promotion lifecycle, from development to testing and production.

Flux 7.11 also gets better integration with Cognos. Flux customers who use the tool to automate ETL processes for loading data warehouses now have a simpler and more powerful integration point for the Cognos environment. "The ETL space is pretty popular and is usually combined with MFT," Sims says. "In the Flux world, file transfers go hand in hand with business intelligence and ETL. The business intelligence ETL applications need data to work on, and Flux is the one that gets the data there."

Flux gives customers the option of deploying a Java-based Flux engine on each server involved in a workflow, or deploying a small agent to the targeted server. Most customers chose the full engine approach, according to Sims, who considers the agent-less approach and use of a single Java code base as competitive advantages over other workload automation and MFT vendors.

"With Flux, you can roll out almost as many engines as you want, and there's no master-slave relationship. They're all peers, all coordinating to fire jobs and run workflows," he says. "If one goes down, the others continue running and continue cooperating. There's no sense of, when the master is down, we need to switch over to the failover machine. There's none of that. The advantage of that, of course, is configuration is simpler, and you get more scalability."

Another advantage that Flux has is pricing transparency, if not pricing itself. Flux posts all list prices on its website. Licenses for the Flux engine start at $5,900 per server. The company also offers licenses for development and testing, and sells standby licenses for disaster recovery.

For more information, see the company's website at fluxcorp.com.

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