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Top 5 Cron Alternatives in 2024

Effective IT infrastructure management hinges on robust workload automation and job scheduling. In UNIX-like operating systems, the cron scheduler has long been a potent choice for scheduling tasks. However, various alternative solutions have emerged, offering enhanced features, distributed scheduling, and improved reliability.

This article delves into the top 5 alternatives to the cron scheduler in job scheduling, enterprise job scheduling, and workload automation. These emerging platforms provide diverse features, integrations, and adaptability to meet contemporary enterprise demands.

Alternatives to cron with similar capabilities

SoftwareDescription
Systemd
Init system used in many Linux distributions; handles system initialization and manages system processes.
Anacron
Schedules periodic commands when a system might not be running all the time (e.g., laptops). It runs jobs missed due to downtime.
bcronSecure and minimalistic cron implementation with permission control.
fcron
Combines features of both cron and anacron, can schedule tasks not only based on time but also on system activity.

The platforms listed above are free alternatives to cron with limited scalability. Nevertheless, businesses can utilize these platforms to access features that cron do not have.

For example, Systemd, a timer, can initiate a script or application to execute a set duration following an event, like booting up, starting, or finishing a prior task, or even after the service unit previously invoked by the timer has completed.

On the other hand, while anacron could be used alongside cron scheduler, it isn’t a direct replacement; instead, it offers a different method for task scheduling. The anacron system is built to run jobs at regular intervals instead of at specific times. So, even if you shut down your computer for multiple days, you can use anacron to execute crucial tasks once you start it up.

Enterprise-focused alternatives to cron comparison

VendorRatings*
ActiveBatch4.6 based on 246 reviews
Redwood RunMyJobs4.7 based on 148 reviews
Stonebranch4.5 based on 85 reviews
VisualCron4.7 based on 18 reviews
Forta's JAMS4.6 based on 162 reviews

*Ratings and reviews are based on Capterra and G2. Vendors who received the higher score are ranked first, except Redwood, Stonebranch, and ActiveBatch, who are sponsors of AIMultiple.

Cron scheduler review

Cron is a time-based job scheduler in Unix-like operating systems. It allows users to schedule jobs (commands or scripts) to run periodically at fixed times, dates, or intervals. These jobs are typically automated tasks that handle system maintenance, administration functions, or other repeated tasks without manual intervention.

Cron features:

  • Simplicity: One of the cron scheduler’s most significant advantages is its simplicity. Users can quickly define time-based schedules using the crontab syntax.
  • Availability: It’s standard across almost all Unix-like systems. Whether working with a macOS laptop or a large-scale Linux server, you can expect cron to be available.
  • User-specific Scheduling: Each user on a system can have their crontab, allowing for personalized task scheduling.
  • Granular Scheduling: With its five-field system (minute, hour, day of the month, month, day of the week), cron scheduler can handle various scheduling needs, from tasks that run every minute to tasks that run once a year.
  • Logging: By default, any output (including errors) produced by the cron jobs is mailed to the user. This feature ensures that users are informed of the success or failure of their tasks.

Where cron may fall short

  • Limited Time-based Scheduling: cron is purely time-based. Unlike more advanced task schedulers, it can’t schedule jobs based on events or conditions (e.g., when a file changes or the system load is low).
  • No Centralized Management: For organizations running multiple servers, there’s no built-in way to manage or monitor cron jobs across all machines centrally.
  • Potential for Silent Failures: Failed jobs can go unnoticed If users don’t regularly check their email (or if mail functionality isn’t set up correctly).
  • No Dependency Management: Cron does not have built-in capabilities to manage job dependencies. If one task depends on the successful completion of another, you’ll need to manage that logic within the scripts or tasks themselves.

While the cron scheduler is a powerful tool for simple, time-based task scheduling in Unix-like systems, its utility diminishes as job complexity, dependency management, and error-handling needs increase. Modern systems might employ more advanced task schedulers or orchestration platforms to complement or replace cron for more intricate requirements.

Enterprise-focused alternatives to cron

1-ActiveBatch

ActiveBatch and cron are both job scheduling tools, but they differ significantly in terms of features, scalability, and integration capabilities. ActiveBatch is a workload automation solution that optimizes and simplifies enterprise job scheduling.

It provides a flexible link to all servers, services, and applications. Its user-friendly drag-and-drop interface makes centralizing tasks easy (see Figure 1). All its features can be managed from one unified platform. ActiveBatch is often used in enterprise environments where the requirements exceed what cron can provide out of the box.

Figure 1: ActiveBatch UI

While the cron scheduler is specific to Unix-like systems, ActiveBatch offers job scheduling across various platforms, including Windows, Linux, and others. This means you can centrally manage jobs across your entire infrastructure, irrespective of the underlying operating system.

Reviews

  • G2: 4.6/5 based on 171 reviews1
  • PeerSpot: 4.6/5 based on 16 reviews2
  • TrustRadius: 9.1/10 based on 29 votes3

2-RunMyJobs

Redwood RunMyJobs is a hybrid-cloud platform tailored for task automation. By leveraging criteria such as date and time, events, or other triggers, IT departments can automate processes. With the primary goal of streamlining workflows, RunMyJobs minimizes the necessity for manual initiations, granting professionals more time to dedicate to intricate projects. 

By integrating Redwood’s job scheduling solutions, companies can enhance various business applications, pushing towards optimized operations. See the video below to get an overview of their offerings:

Reviews

  • G2: 4.7/5 based on 117 reviews.4
  • PeerSpot: 4.8/5 based on 19 reviews.5
  • TrustRadius: 9.5/10 based on 28 votes.6

3-Stonebranch

StoneBranch Universal Automation Center (UAC) is a tool to streamline IT and business operations, oversee file transfers, and unify the control of IT job scheduling and workload automation tools. UAC enables automation throughout the hybrid IT landscape by leveraging its event-driven automation capabilities. UAC aims to enhance the job scheduling landscape by analyzing, refining, and automating scripts executed by Cron.

Reviews

G2: 4.5/5 based on 74 reviews7

TrustRadius: None

PeerSpot:3.8/5 based on 24 reviews8

4-VisualCron

VisualCron is an automation, integration, and task-scheduling tool for Windows. VisualCron can be seen as an alternative to the cron scheduler. While the cron scheduler is native to Unix-like systems, VisualCron is specifically designed for Windows. For organizations primarily using Windows infrastructure, VisualCron may offer a more integrated and seamless experience.

Reviews

  • G2: 4.6/5 based on 6 reviews. 9
  • Peerspot: 4.0/5.0 based on 5 reviews. 10
  • TrustRadius: N/A

5-Fortra’s JAMS

Fortra’s JAMS is an enterprise job scheduling and workload automation solution by Fortra. It’s designed to manage, schedule, and execute complex workloads across a variety of platforms and applications. Like the tools in this list, JAMS can schedule tasks across various platforms, including Windows, Linux, UNIX, AS/400, and more. See its user interface below:

Figure 2: Fortra’s JAMS UI

Reviews

  • G2: 4.7/5 based on 142 reviews11
  • PeerSpot: 4.5/5 based on 21 reviews12
  • TrustRadius: 7.9/10 based on 43 votes.13

What is a Cronjob Scheduler?

A Cronjob Scheduler is a time-based job scheduling service found in Unix-like operating systems. It allows users to schedule jobs (commands or scripts) to run periodically at fixed times, dates, or intervals. It is most commonly used for automating system maintenance or administration tasks, such as backups, system updates, or sending emails.

How does a Cronjob work?

Cronjobs are managed by a daemon called cron. When a cronjob is scheduled, the cron daemon checks the job’s timing configuration and executes the job when the specified time conditions are met. The timing configuration is specified using a cron expression that defines the schedule.

What is a Cron Expression?

A cron expression is a string comprised of five or six fields separated by spaces, representing a set of times, normally as a schedule to execute a task. The fields represent minute, hour, day of the month, month, day of the week, and optionally the year.

How can I create a Cronjob?

To create a cronjob, you need to add an entry to your cron table (crontab). This can be done by editing the crontab file with the command crontab -e. Each line in the crontab represents a separate job and contains the cron expression followed by the command to be executed.

Can I run Cronjobs on a Windows system?

Cron is a Unix-specific service. However, Windows has its own task scheduling service called Task Scheduler, which provides similar functionality to schedule tasks to run automatically at predetermined times or intervals.

If you have further questions about workload automation, reach us:

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Cem Dilmegani
Principal Analyst
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Altay Ataman
Altay is an industry analyst at AIMultiple. He has background in international political economy, multilateral organizations, development cooperation, global politics, and data analysis. He has experience working at private and government institutions. Altay discovered his interest for emerging tech after seeing its wide use of area in several sectors and acknowledging its importance for the future. He received his bachelor's degree in Political Science and Public Administration from Bilkent University and he received his master's degree in International Politics from KU Leuven .

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