What makes a GREAT SAS administrator?

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In my 26 plus years of experience, I would contend that the best SAS administrator would be an individual with a deeply skilled understanding of server and/or desktop administration, as well as SAS software usage. 

For SAS solutions to be implemented and work optimally, three key components need to be configured and managed effectively:

  1. Software to hardware installation.
  2. Metadata management.
  3. User configuration and access.

Administering all three components generally requires skills and training with server and desktop administration, in addition to SAS software configuration, including Metadata.  The arrangement and administration of the organization's IT infrastructure will have a direct impact on the human resources that are used to handle each of the components.

This person must understand the hardware and software interactions in order to optimize the system settings that will drive out the best solution performance and ensure proper integration of SAS Enterprise Business Intelligence tools.

I would recommend that the SAS administrator role be occupied by a seasoned veteran with no less than 10 years of SAS programming experience coupled with proven skills in server and PC hardware configuration.  Organizationally, I would recommend that the SAS administrator role report into a business operational area - serving as a liaison (point person) between the IT support group and business sector.

Take a look at these suport.sas.com pages that are specific to administrators:

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Rex Pruitt

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20 Comments

  1. I as a former SAS employee that worked as, SAS Technical Architect I'm a little disagree without you.
    Obviously to be a programmer experience is a plus but I performed my work with an excellent performance working as SAS Administrator having a great background in infrastructure and not too much programming skills. Yes, I have a good base from university about programming.
    I was PeopleSoft administrator and Microsoft Certified System Engineer before to enter to SAS World.

    Best regards

    Sebastian

    • Waynette Tubbs
      Waynette Tubbs on

      Sebastion,

      A broad view is of "What makes a great administrator?" is good. This post is only one opinion - it seems there are many backgrounds that make for a great SAS admin. I hope others add their ideas and background. This will help hiring execs and those who are thinking of the position for themselves.
      Thank you,
      Waynette Tubbs

  2. Having been a SAS Administrator for the last 8 years, I can tell you it is a role that is difficult to fill due to the broad area of knowledge required. While I agree with the majority of this article, the need for long term SAS programming experience is practically non-existent. While it is definitely nice to have, you really don't use it as much as you'd think. Java expertise can be much more helpful.

    This paper was presented at SGF in 2009, describing what it takes to be a SAS Admin as well.

    • Waynette Tubbs
      Waynette Tubbs on

      It is so coincidental that you should mention Margaret. I just finished a meeting with her about SAS administrators and we talked about this very topic. According to Margaret, another great background to choose from are former IT. These people would have a good idea of how to talk with the organization's IT staff about things that IT needs to monitor. Another great paper that Margaret suggested is also from 2009:

      • The SAS Platform Administrator is typically the primary go to person for all things application related. They are not only the interface between IT and Business but they are typically the liason between the users and SAS. They need to have the ability to communicate with customers of various level of expertise as well as feel comfortable talking to upper layers of management. You wear MANY hats when you take on the title SAS Platform Administrator. Likely as not, you will typically find only someone that has a block of required attributes and work with them for the rest.

        When looking for new SAS Admins, I would almost always look for people with solid system administration skills. The majority of the background you are looking for are good administrative practices...especially around security and system performance and management. Most Sys Admins already have the operational background that many developers and testers lack. They are typically already responsible for managing and maintaining other Enterprise solutions. The main shortcoming of typical System Adminstrators is getting them to let go of some of the control they liked to have and certain limitations when it comes to scripting. They also aren't used to having to use the software and typically only make sure it's operational. This can be overcome by training but it's much harder to train someone on the skills and mentality of good administration.

        • Waynette Tubbs
          Waynette Tubbs on

          Completely agree, in fact that is one of the main points in Rex's post. However, especially during these difficult economic times and in cases where the company has a small SAS footprint, many companies still hire from the ranks - someone who has many years of SAS programming experience but little in administration.

  3. Michelle Homes

    Another resource that may be of interest for SAS Administrators is - there is a lengthy reading list and detailed blog posts specific to SAS platform administration.

  4. How about if I expand a bit on the need or SAS Programming skills and/or experience? Having been a SAS administrator and programmer separately, and at the same time, for many years, I have an expectation of this role that probably exceeds expectations from the perspective of some. As a programmer, I have recommended many administrative solutions that required SAS Programming knowledge. One recent example of this is the use of PROC METALIB; to automate the SAS Metadata registration process. This saved a huge amount of time and even a SAS Training expert suggested that most people who come to SAS for Administrator training have no clue about how to use SAS Programming solutions that would optimize certain aspects of the SAS Administrative role.

  5. Above, Waynette, you said, "A broad view of "What makes a great administrator?" is good." I will respond first with some general remarks and then follow with some detail. If the SAS Admin can be an accomplished server admin (Windows or Unix/Linux) that is ideal. If the Admin can also have all possible related infrastructure technical knowledge and scripting skills (part of being "accomplished"), that is helpful. If the Admin can also be accomplished in the area of capacity planning and performance management, that is helpful. I could go on and on with a wish list. I say that some job postings are such that God could not qualify.

    There are people who maintain that an IT expert professional with no knowledge of SAS can get the job done. That's probably true. It also depends on what is your definition of getting the job done. My experience with SOME non-SAS-knowledgeable IT experts is that their view of SAS, or any non-OS-infrastructure product, is that their job is to install it and apply patches when needed, but otherwise the users are on their own.

    I'm not going to try to weigh in as to exactly what experience and/or which backgrounds the ideal SAS Admin should have. Let me instead just describe the real working life of one SAS Administrator. The SAS Admin had prior experience both in SAS application development and in IT infrastructure support (but not the infrastructure in use for this SAS server).

    Below "develop tools" means develop them with SAS and, where needed, with SAS accessing or triggering something in the platform infrastructure. Buying some package inevitably means living with its limitations. If you can find a way to build your own, you get EXACTLY what YOU want.

    For "those who are thinking of the position for themselves", here is what the job can be like, particularly if you have a bias for maximizing benefit to the SAS users--i.e., believe in attentive support of them and the environment, not simply creating and maintaining the SAS environment. The context is one where the SAS Admin was NOT the server OS administrator, but depended on IT personnel to handle some of what needs to be done. "SAS analytical database" was the collection of SAS data libraries used by analytics staff who were among the enterprise's users of the server.

    What Can SAS Administration and Support Entail?

    Platform-Oriented Support

    - support the SAS BI server
    - support the SAS software
    - serve as the essential subject matter expert for IT personnel on all problems and matters involving the SAS server, including performance, tuning, troubleshooting, gathering and interpretation of diagnostics, and decisions about configuration
    - coordinate the installation of upgrades, enhancements, and changes to SAS software
    - perform testing and quality assurance for all upgrades, enhancements, and changes to SAS software, including new releases, hot fixes, and service packs
    - perform SAS testing and SAS quality assurance for any upgrades, enhancements, and changes to non-SAS-software aspects of the hardware, software, and network that affected or involved the SAS server
    - coordinate and monitor progress of testing by users and professional programmers
    - schedule and coordinate all planned outages on the SAS server
    - alert users affected by unplanned outages on the SAS server, notifying them if there is to be an emergency reboot, and keeping them informed as to status and progress during the outages
    - review, evaluate, and select all SAS software fixes for relevance
    - assist and serve as user liaison/educator for upgrades to SAS server and SAS client software service
    - serve as liaison to SAS Institute on all aspects of the SAS software, licensing, and cost matters
    - review and advise on annual renewal of licensing for SAS software portfolio
    - serve as liaison and coordinator for all SAS-provided on-site training
    - develop monitor to track who is using the SAS server, when, and with what impact on CPU and memory resources
    - develop monitor with email alerts to notify users whenever their SAS process have consumed a threshold amount of CPU time, with follow-up alerts upon further consumption of each threshold increment, with email alert CC’s to himself as Server Administrator
    - develop tools to capture, parse, and analyze SAS-related records from the Windows Event Log
    - develop disk space usage reporting for permanent data, with emails to users of shared disks that reach or exceed a threshold
    - develop monitor to detect old data not cleaned up from critical shared disk used for SAS work data sets, sending email alert to owning user, with CC to herself/himself as Server Administrator—if the shared disk fills up, an entire group of users is immediately denied
    - perform disk space planning
    - allocate disk space for applications and users support
    - administer SAS BI server user access definition and controls
    - design the BI server user groups and corresponding logical servers

    User-Oriented Support

    - support users of client tools SAS Enterprise Guide and SAS Add-in for Microsoft Office
    - support professional programmer users of SAS in Batch
    - develop, administer, and analyze results from surveys of SAS user satisfaction and SAS user needs
    - organize and host internal SAS users meetings for user mutual education and networking
    - provide internal SAS consulting for users on matters of “how to”, performance, or malfunction
    - perform SAS training
    - develop tools so that users can monitor, control, and audit their processing
    - build and maintain custom macros for general and special use
    - prepare, disseminate, and internally web-post documentation on SAS facilities and matters of interest
    - design, create, and maintain a web-based User Documentation and Tools environment for guided and explained access to local documentation and resources, to tips & news, and to SAS information resources at support.sas.com and around the world
    - provide web-based guidance to users so that they can get immediate telephone help from, or online-submit problems to, SAS Technical Support—as option when she/he is unavailable as first level of support

    Data-Oriented Support

    - support all SAS-server-hosted data, regardless of type
    - define and administer Windows security to control access to SAS-server-hosted data
    - develop the applications for routine scheduled downloads from Oracle to the SAS analytical database
    - port outside vendor data (such as that of Acxiom) to the SAS analytical database—porting required rather complex manipulation of the raw input to support a maximally usable environment of SAS data sets, SAS format libraries for code-to-text translations, and SAS labels for data description; validate accuracy of load
    - provide documentation, code samples, and assistance for users who access data from non-SAS sources (relational databases, external files, etc.)

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  7. I also think that an 'ideal' SAS platform administrator would be someone that has general system administration skills and experience, together with SAS software skills and experience (including programming). This would provide an understanding of the SAS platform user needs together with knowledge of how best to provide them using the software and hardware infrastructure available. Of course with the increasing depth and complexity of the SAS platform and associated solutions, together with the wide array of system infrastructure options to support it, it is very hard to find a single 'ideal' person with all of the necessary skills. For organizations big enough to support it, a team that spans the necessary skills is more likely to be viable and might also be a good reason to embed SAS administrators, with SAS software skills, within the IT function so that they can cross-pollinate 🙂

    As one of the external instructors for the SAS Platform Administrator Fast Track course in Australia I have found that the students that attend the courses come from diverse backgrounds. My experience so far has been an approximate 50/50 split, with half being IT sys admins wanting to learn how to support their SAS platform users, and the other half being traditional/technical SAS programmers wanting/needing to learn more about administration. I find that both ends of the spectrum do as well as each other in the course. They also seem to benefit from the discussions and questions they have for each other (one of the reasons I believe so strongly in classroom training).

    Personally I believe that it doesn't matter so much which side of the spectrum aspiring SAS platform administrators come from as, given time, they can readily learn the other side (or have access to others with the required skills). Rather than skills that can be easily acquired, I would personally place more emphasis on finding someone who is rigorous and methodical in their approach to tasks. I would place more weight on a strong aptitude for careful and considered impact analysis, risk assessment, change management, and planning of recovery options. A methodical approach to troubleshooting based on layered pre-validation of underlying assumptions is also to be very highly valued.

    I believe the support of the organization itself, in recognition of the importance of the SAS platform administrator position is essential. Whilst, in the past, prior to SAS 9, SAS administration was often a small part-time role, these days I feel it deserves to be a full-time role for an individual (or team) in most medium to large organizations. When I speak to people who have been given administration in addition to their normal role they usually say they only have time to do the bare minimum and cannot be proactive in their approach. The strong support of an organization in terms of training, certification, and conference/user-group attendance (to learn from ones peers) is a wise investment. Learning from one's own mistakes with expensive and sometimes business critical hardware and software platforms can be a costly and risky exercise otherwise.

    • Uday Vakkalagadda on

      Paul,

      Well said, I agree with you as a SAS Administrator he must have the programming knowledge then only he can understand user requirements. As well as it would be better to know the different environments also.

  8. Having read the posts and comments, I think it becomes clear that the SAS admin does have to be some "jack-of-all-trades" meaning that knowledge is (preferably) required of SAS, SAS Administration (metadata) and how the SAS components interact.

    What I do somewhat miss is that with the fact that nowadays a SAS environment is spread amongst various operating systems (Windows, Unix, Linux). More and more you need to also have knowledge on how to perform actions on the different platforms including performance measurement, halting and (re)starting processes, and so on.

    As such, the "Jack of all trades" not only applies to the different components within SAS but also to various operating systems.

    Is the above just my perception, which maybe comes from the fact that as a consultant I work in various environments, or do others experience the same?

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