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Your System Performance Needs Help

11/11/2019 by Michael Koob Ken Matz

There are three main areas of a SAS deployment that need to be analyzed over time for ensuring good system health. Those are system performance and troubleshooting, system monitoring, and capacity planning.

Often organizations do not have the personnel available to fill this need and instead select the nearest fit resource they have. Using an outside managed service like ZenGuard gives a company a dedicated team and flexibility. You can purchase as many hours as you need for administration support rather than hiring a full-time position.

Michael Koob, a SAS deployment and administration expert at Zencos, shares his thoughts on the ZenGuard difference:

  • Key aspects for avoiding pitfalls when administering a SAS System and Platform
  • Issues SAS Administers face on a daily basis
  • Benefits of outsourcing SAS Administrators

Learn how a dedicated team of SAS Administrative professionals means much more value gained by your company’s SAS deployment!

(See transcript below.)

Transcript for “Why ZenGuard?”

Ken Matz: (00:00)
Good afternoon, for folks who are users or administrators of SAS software or the SAS system, you often have to think about lots of things when it comes to administering the platform. We’re here today with Michael Koob to talk about some of those things. Michael, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Michael Koob: (00:17)
Hi Ken, Yeah, so I’m director of emerging technology at Zencos, where I’m primarily now focused on the newest of technology, but my focus areas around deployment and administration of all those solutions. And I have about 20 years of experience working with SAS, going back to versions before nine, with experience on grid and the BI Platform Foundation SAS more or less, most of the SAS products. So I’ve done a lot of administration over the years and there’s been, a lot of lessons learned. So I’m happy to talk with you about the topic.

Ken Matz: (00:53)
Great. Well we’re glad to have you here. What are some of the key aspects that you look at that you advise customers on that you help them avoid pitfalls for when it comes to administering the SAS system and the SAS platform?

Michael Koob: (01:06)
I think when we look at the administration of the system, that’s frequently an IT function. A lot of times I believe that there’s a misconception around the SAS product suite in that, you have products like excel and other desktop applications that are relatively easy. They can be uninstalled quickly re-installed you have all the data’s external, it doesn’t have custom configurations. And then you have more complex solutions like say a database management system like SQL server or Oracle. I think the common misconception is, is that for somebody who doesn’t know SAS that well, they tend to want to think of it more as a simplified application maybe from their experience with foundation SAS on a PC. As you get into the BI platform for SAS or SAS VIYA, you end up with a stack that looks much more like the complex model of an oracle or SQL server and much less like a desktop.

Ken Matz: (02:12)
Much more towards the enterprise level administration than like the previous desktop version.

Michael Koob: (02:17)
That’s right.

Ken Matz: (02:19)
And so workforce wise, people wise, what do you anticipate, what types of things do they have to worry about in their daily?

Michael Koob: (02:28)
Right. So the activities that go along with this, are really, you know, they’re copious, right? So there are hot fix applications, which sounds simple in theory, but reality is, that on a complex solution, after a number of months there could be hundreds of fixes. Most of those fixes have documentation associated with them and may have manual steps that have to be done after the fact and specific operations. So it’s not like you just select from a list, hit a button, and you’re done. These are things that require preparation and planning. Sometimes they require significant downtime, but when it’s production system, you only have limits. So they need to be executed well and under pressure. In the upgrade, similar scenario, but even more so than with hot fixes where you have downtime considerations, a lot of planning needs to go into it.

Michael Koob: (03:24)
You need to be able to effectively and confidently back up the entire system for a safe restore, because things don’t always go right. Performance troubleshooting, more often than not in these enterprise environments, everything runs, but maybe it doesn’t run as fast as somebody wants. That’s a very significant skill set. It takes time and effort and knowledge of the application stack to know how to carry out performance troubleshooting. System monitoring and alerting, to run a stable system, you need a system that talks to you when things don’t look good. So there is a whole system of thought around what things do I monitor, how do I monitor them? How do I get alerted on them? Capacity planning is another item where we need to have a view towards whether or not our system is got enough oomph to support the end user base.

Michael Koob: (04:24)
And so one needs to be able to understand how to accumulate and analyze that information. So management can be told ahead of time, you know, be proactive about is this system going to meet our needs for the next, you know, one or two years. And then finally in the most advanced environments, they’re very complex operations like, disaster recovery, you know, running multiple environments and failing them over, which adds complexity to an already complex stack. There’s the high availability elements that are available with SAS VIYA and with, the SAS Grid and BI platform that again, add more complexity in our specialized knowledge set. So when you sum all those up, you can see that as you go from foundation or PC SAS and you move towards the more advanced solutions, it becomes much more difficult to maintain the skillset necessary to keep the environment healthy.

Ken Matz: (05:22)
That sounds like a lot of work. And those are excellent points. Excellent clarifications for people who might be thinking of SAS 10 or 15 years ago, as people look towards the new technologies, as they look towards their workforce for that expertise, what do you tell people when they don’t have that expertise or when they only have part of that expertise? Do you have solutions around education? Do you have solutions around outsourcing, that type of thing

Michael Koob: (05:50)
Sure. These are questions that a lot of organizations are asking. What we frequently see, if left to their own devices, whats often coming about is they look for the nearest fit resource they have. And so the nearest fit as well, it runs on an operating system. So why not an operating system admin? A lot of times we will see windows or Linux admins where that’s their primary role and their part time role is to keep the SAS environment up. Or if they don’t go that route, they look at, well, who are my power users of SAS? Okay, well let’s get them maybe the access they need in order to perform the function of a SAS administrator. But the reality is, a true SAS Admin, a specialist is a combination of all of those skillsets.

Michael Koob: (06:44)
Most SAS admins, the specialist SAS Admin, they know enough about the application to be conversant with the power user. They may not write code quickly, but they can read it, they can performance, troubleshoot that code, probably better than the power users can. They also have operating system, networking, DBMS knowledge that allows them to follow the action through the stack and be conversant. If they’re not an expert in DBMS, they know how to talk to the database administrator and be conversant. They know how to talk to the security people and the operating system admins, they’re basically, they’ve got specialists knowledge, they use all that stuff together effectively. And that takes time and focus in order to develop. And so it doesn’t fit very well with the part time model because it takes so much time on a part time basis to develop those skills.

Michael Koob: (07:41)
And then there’s the network. And the people network. And so a specialist SAS admin over time develops a network within SAS. They’re technical support. They know who the right people to go to are. They know the processes to get attention with their issues. They’re able to keep up with the products, right? They can make recommendations on whether an upgrade is needed or what it’s going to get them. These are all things that are very difficult to support. If your main focus of your day is upgrading operating systems or writing models or building dashboards.

Ken Matz: (08:17)
So what can people do if they don’t have the staff, they come to the reality that you’re telling us that I just don’t have the people where do they turn to? Where do they go?

Michael Koob: (08:25)
Well, what we think the best solution for that is, is that you can hire those resources. The nice thing about hiring those resources in a managed service type of basis is you can get as much as you need, right? So you could go anywhere from, okay, our whole SAS admin staff, you know, really big operation, you three or four admins is what you need. You can hire that in managed service basis, but maybe even more usefully. If you’re a place that needs 20 hours a week of a SAS Admin, like these part-time folks, we’re talking about what if you could hire 20 hours a week of a pure SAS admin? Right now there’s going to be a ramp up time getting to know your organization, but that ramp up since they have the skills, the base skills that they already need, that ramp up is relatively minor compared to say, ramping up a Linux admin to understand a SAS Grid or a power user and understand VIYA deployment and ansible, those are bigger lifts.

Michael Koob: (09:28)
And so a very good solution is to just hire those resources on a basis of the hours that you need. And then that flexes as well. Usually that is backed by a pool of resources. So if you need to ramp the resources up, you can ramp them up. You know, as your organization grows, you don’t have to add though. Do I need to hire a full FTE. No, not necessarily. So that’s where, solutions like ZenGuard really shine in terms of being able to augment your staff effectively with the right kind of skills and knowledge, and to keep your resources focused on the job that they, you know, that they’re best at.

Ken Matz: (10:09)
Thanks, Michael. It’s clear you’re an expert and you have a lot of experience with this. We really appreciate you taking the time today to talk to the listeners about them.