SAS Grid: Learn about Its Analytics Speed & Performance

08/21/2019 by Ken Matz Modernization - Infrastructure

Scalability. Fault tolerance. Load balancing. High performance. High availability. SAS® Grid.

These are all phrases that commonly come up during analytics infrastructure conversations.

Michael Koob, a SAS Grid expert who has installed and administered multiple SAS Grid installations, shares his knowledge of SAS Grid. Following his SAS Grid guidance will not only keep your users happy but also boost the user’s productivity while reducing administrative costs.

SAS administrators and CIOs are interested in this modern platform and considering making an investment.

(The transcript is below.)

Transcript for “What is SAS Grid?”

Ken Matz – Host:    00:01

We’re here today with Michael Koob. Michael, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Michael Koob:      00:06

I’ve been the Director of Emerging Technology with Zencos for about the last year and a half now, working on more advanced solutions. I’ve spent about 20 years working on-off with SAS and various clients, customers either working inside their organization as an employee or as a consultant on various implementation deployment optimization projects.

Ken Matz – Host:    00:31

Why don’t we start out by talking to the listeners about what SAS Grid is and what it means to them?

MichaelKoob:      00:37

Okay. SAS Grid is essentially your typical BI platform from SAS with a workload manager inserted underneath it to allow you to have a consolidated platform of hardware that doesn’t have to be a single host. So it treats a group of hardware infrastructure as a monolithic resource for the SAS platform and balances workload across that resource base.

Ken Matz – Host:    01:07

And what is the typical business case or business cases that users face when they consider a SAS Grid?

Michael Koob:      01:14

I see it as two different cases. [The most common] one that is around resource consolidation and centralization of the management of those resources. We worked with a number of research organizations and large financial institutions that fit that model pretty well.

What they’re doing is they’re taking large installation basis of PC based products and disparate SAS users that are difficult to manage and hard to keep track of and moving all of those users on to a what is account, what is basically a single SAS configuration stack. And that greatly simplifies administration and improves the visibility to the utilization of resources allowing for things like effective capacity planning. This also consolidates license management and some other things that add efficiencies at other places in the process.

Ken Matz – Host:    02:12

That sounds like it would be really productive for the right customers. But what about customers who don’t think that they’re strategically ready for SAS Grid?

Michael Koob:      02:22

SAS Grid is not a solution for everything. But we have seen very effective use of varied what amounts to what someone would consider a very small grid even down to as small as, you know, eight to 16 cores and product. What it essentially does is it builds into your architecture the ability to grow easily later. And so there can be a case for an organization that’s, they didn’t have a large SAS footprint but was anticipating large amounts of work coming in or building out, let’s say a modeling or analytics practice and SAS that they didn’t have before.

They can easily do that with something that they already have if they started with the grid. It can be much more challenging to do. So if you just kind of add on pieces of hardware and environments to, you know, to suit the same purpose when they’re considering that would be an important point for the need to consider for their organization when they’re looking at SAS Grid as an option.

Michael Koob:      03:25

So I think the most critical piece because SAS Grid is so scalable getting the capacity right to begin with in terms of the core account and compute capacity is not so significant. It can be difficult to figure, but it’s also not that difficult to change after the fact.

Michael Koob:      03:44

And incrementally what I find are the significant stumbling blocks. If you will are around improper architecture, particularly around the shared file system and the input-output or IO capability of that infrastructure that can end up with a poor experience. Then there’s the migration of the user base.

There’s not too many Base SAS [and] foundation SAS users on a desktop or a server anymore, but they still exist. And the Foundation SAS [is] well supported on a grid is not nearly as user-friendly because that ends up being a Unix-based XWIN foundation client.

Michael Koob:      04:31

So what we look for is as we try and do an exhaustive survey of who is using SAS that is going to be integrated into the environment, what are their interfaces? We look for things like heavy foundation SAS users because they’re going to have to transition to [SAS] Enterprise Guide or SAS Studio for their coding activity. So they may need support in that.

Otherwise, maybe the other gotchas are a heavily Windows skewed. SAS Grids can be built on Windows. It’s just seldom done that way because generally Linux is a little bit more stable performs a little bit better. And so there are also transition pains potentially from windows if they’re primarily a Windows user and moving into a Linux environment.

And there’s some code migration, fairly trivial most of the time, but there’s code migration. So getting a good understanding of how the businesses using SAS the different ways that they’re using it is going to be a critical feed into doing the planning for not just the hardware infrastructure really, but actually the migration of users to make sure that adoption is both smooth and happy. that can be done, but it can’t be done by just saying grid is the solution and then say, and everybody’s just going to fit in here. It’s best to go in with the mind of who’s going to have the difficulties fitting into this and giving them the support.

Ken Matz – Host:    05:58

Speaking of figuring out who’s gonna do well and who’s not going to do well, do you have a suggested set of success criteria that you suggest to customers when they’re evaluating whether it’s working in their organization or not?

Michael Koob:      06:12

Well, we largely look at, in terms of like the success of a given deployment and having done a lot of them is how many, how long is the warranty support period, and how intense is it if we’re very successful with our upfront efforts, once we cut over the end-user or all the users we expect a peaking of tickets very early, you know, the support that they want and the basic credit requests for assistance.

That may be because usually, it’s because of gaps in that information gathering process that I talked about, things that weren’t captured. But if we did a good job of that upfront process, there should be very, very few support tickets. The transition should be relatively smooth and that period of increased support level should be very short and sweet.

Ken Matz – Host:    07:06

Besides success criteria, what are typical benefits or return on investment aspects that you can advise customers that they’re going to see when they consider SAS Grid?

Michael Koob:      07:16

What I see as being a major motivator is that a properly designed grid is capable of supporting a much larger group of users with a much lower level of administrative support. We have a number of agreed customers where the reality is we’re supporting 400 users or so with a single administrator.

You know, and that’s, you know if you were to take those users and then spread them back into their existing environments, you know, multiple SAS server environments, lots of desktops that draws in a lot more people and requires a lot more overhead. And so I think that is a tremendous benefit is that you can support, again, well done, great implementation.

You can support a much larger number of users per SAS administrator. The return on investment. I don’t have as great visibility into how it impacts licensing, but most of the customers that I’m aware of are saving money on their SAS licensing by going from hundreds of base SAS desktop licenses into a grid.

Michael Koob:      08:29

They’re saving money on the software licensing. You also now will no longer need specialized desktops that need to support SAS and so the user goes back to having a standard desktop as opposed to the specialized one. They don’t have to maintain that.

And one of the biggest things that I think is an advantage, there is no effective way to look at a group of desktops and see what the user is using or and understand is that license actually being paid for. You’re allowed to, based on your license, run that core constantly all day long. That’s what’s assumed when you buy it. What’s actually used, particularly in PC licenses is it can be much, much smaller.

With a SAS Grid, you can actually see all in one place. What’s my core utilization? I can look at that. I can see if it’s trending up and I’m starting to hit limits.

Michael Koob:      09:24

I can also conversely see if I estimated way too high, I can trim back my SAS license. I can pull a host out of that and I can reduce that fairly quickly and easily. It’s the visibility of that all in one place.

That I think is what gives you the ability to adapt as your organization grows or occasionally shrinks, but you can right-size fairly easily. Since SAS other than the storage is largely commodity hardware, even downsizing is fairly cheap in that model that that hardware can be repurposed for something else. And so the flexibility is very nice.

Ken Matz – Host:    10:04

That’s great. This has been really fantastic. A good set of information for listeners and customers who have been listening to the information and find it interesting and want to take the next steps. What do you suggest?

Michael Koob:      10:19

Well, I think the critical factor in SAS Grid is choosing somebody as a partner that has the experience of having done this, that knows the questions to ask to deal with the migration issues. A first and foremost to set a plan in motion, get an architecture that fits with your site usage profile.

[Zencos] would do a SAS Grid workshop at your site or something similar, which involves surveying users to find out how they use the system today, what application interface is, all of those things. But really it takes some experience having done this.

Michael Koob:      11:08

And so the recommendation would be to choose carefully the partner that you want to take this journey with. Because it’s very easy to, to go astray if you don’t have the experience. That I think is the critical element is making sure that you choose somebody with some experience, who’s consultative, and is willing to listen to what your organization needs so that you end up with the right solution at the end of the day.

Ken Matz – Host:    11:34

Michael, that’s great advice and this has been great information. Thank you very much.

Learn more about our SAS Grid Migration service.