5 best practices for a world-class SAS environment

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SAS administration and support can be a real challenge for some companies. It all has to do with not having the right resources and skills.

Business analysts are often charged with maintaining SAS. They know data, but they don’t have the IT skills needed to properly support SAS. IT teams face similar challenges because their experience lies in Windows, Linux and Oracle administration.

SAS administration requires specialized knowledge that typical IT teams do not have on hand. Over the last 10 years, my colleagues and I have found that SAS support requires IT skills, knowledge of the company’s data and knowledge of how that data gets applied to solve specific business problems. 

Companies that want a world-class SAS environment need to have dedicated resources who can proactively maintain SAS. With a dedicated resource, you'll be well-positioned to increase performance, minimize downtime and ultimately maximize your investment in SAS software.

Once those resources are acquired (either by hiring or training SAS support resources or by outsourcing your SAS administration), we’ve found these five best practices to be essential for managing and maintaining a SAS environment:

1) Be proactive. 

Many companies install SAS and then leave it alone until something breaks. It's important to be consistently monitoring for run-time events and checking logs to look for errors, performance bottlenecks and root system problems before they cause system downtime.

A proactive approach to support enables you to deliver continuous system performance improvement over the life of the platform. It also helps you maximize the ROI on your systems.

 2) Document your SAS environment.

Good documentation helps institutionalize system knowledge. The architecture of your SAS environment shouldn’t live in someone’s head. If that person decides to leave the company, decision-support knowledge leaves with them.

Having your SAS environment fully documented also makes it easier to bring new resources on board to support or expand the capabilities of your SAS environment. They’ll spend less time learning the environment and more time managing and maintaining the environment.

Good documentation saves you time and money when something goes wrong. It also helps increases internal user productivity, satisfaction and adoption.

3) Conduct frequent reviews of your SAS environment.

Frequent system reviews ensure data security and access. Security breaches and system access issues can happen when people leave a company and no one deletes their user accounts. Every review should include a search for lingering user accounts and connections that could indicate security breaches.

It's also critical to review your metadata access control and security configuration. Use the Access Control Lists (ACLs) to create and maintain task-specific security roles (managing user accounts vs. managing libraries vs. managing connections to external resources). ACLs make the task of managing metadata security more scalable and easier to audit.

Your review schedule should also include regular audits of your software usage against your contractual obligations. This step can help ensure that you aren’t paying for seats that you don’t need, which could save you money.

 4) Learn continuously. 

As I emphasized in the first best practice, you don't want to install SAS and leave it alone. You want to be continuously working with SAS or a third-party provider to maximize your usage, learn about new features and increase productivity.

SAS software is evolves frequently. To get the most out of the platform and provide your SAS users with the latest analytical capabilities, it’s essential to commit to a continuous schedule of learning.

5) Plan for future growth.

A dedicated SAS administrator can help ensure that IT works with business users to understand future analytic needs so the SAS environment is well positioned for future growth. Planning for the future involves not only helping IT determine its SAS migration plan, but also selecting the right operating systems, hardware, networking and hosting that best accomplish the business goals.

We recommend companies evaluate their needs every 6-12 months. Frequent assessments are not only a good planning practice for IT,  they also encourage a dialogue between IT and the business, ensuring that IT is truly providing the analytical capabilities required to work with Big Data and improve the speed and efficiency of decision-making throughout the organization.

If you are interested in learning more, please watch my Google+ event Five Best Practices for Maintaining a World-class SAS Environment.

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About Author

Nick Welke

Director of Support Services, Zencos

Nick Welke is Director of Support Services at Zencos. Nick has been working with SAS clients for over 18 years, helping them maximize the performance of their SAS environments.

4 Comments

  1. Daymond Ling on

    Voice of an analytics practitioner...

    Having worked with SAS way back on IBM S/360 Mainframes to modern PC’s and mid-range UNIX servers, both as individual contributor and lead of an advanced analytics team, this topic is deeply personal and impactful as it profoundly affects my ability to deliver value to the organization.

    Your assessment of the situation is absolutely spot on, I like the suggestions, I think they are great. Sourcing and placing a SAS Administrator can be difficult though. They don’t sit well in IT as SAS administration is not a full time job typically, it is a specialty skill, and more importantly, SAS is not a tool that IT is familiar with because they don’t use it. Most of the time, IT have no idea of the types of problems we solve, how we use SAS to solve it, and many of them they think of analytics as “just code”. This makes them ill-qualified to administer and support us. In field, it is far more likely that we who use SAS everyday would know SAS and the required environment far better than IT. Yet, business leaders instinctively think of Administration as an IT job, and won’t fund such a position. It is so easy for us to get caught in this no-man's land.

    Current SAS Administration is shifting to cater to IT and their typical desire for control and lock down. To this, I would say I like SAS to enable us to help ourselves as much as possible, and not make us dependent on someone else. Reduce and minimize the need for Administration by design in the first place, and where it’s required, find the right balance between letting us control the environment versus needing someone else to administer my environment for me.

    Above all else, please engineer SAS Administration so that it is simple, flexible and effortless so that advanced analytics professionals can just focus on getting the job done, this is all that matters. We are your biggest supporters and fans, not IT. To IT, you are just a cost line item and support headache; to us, you are our lifeblood.

  2. Thanks for your comment Daymond,
    As you point out the role of a SAS Administrator is becoming more pivotal as the size, flexibility, and integration points with the broader IT ecosystem expand. More power typically means more complexity, and in most of the organizations we've worked with this falls somewhere in on the Business-IT spectrum, often skewed toward IT.

    At sites where IT isn't actively involved in SAS Administration we helped SAS Analysts acting as SAS Administrators to "simplify and automate" tasks through custom scripts, specific to their site. Today there are also tools that can be used to simplify and automate repetitive tasks that fall to the SAS Administrator (have you looked at MetaCoda Plug-ins?). Tools such as this, and custom scripts, can help make SAS Analysts who don't have a dedicated SAS Administrator more self-supporting and independent. We have found that often IT departments are willing to participate by "lending" these scripting skills to create or manage such custom scripts.

    Cheers!
    Nick

  3. Amy Peters

    Daymond

    It’s almost as if you’d read the charter for the SAS Environment Manager project! This admin tool was introduced with 9.4 and its goal is to help make SAS administrators self-sufficient while at the same time help them communicate what they need to IT. I’m not going to claim we’ve achieved both goals yet, but we’re making progress. The monitoring and alerting that’s available now has been very well received. What we’re still working on is “seeding” it with recommended alerts & metric collection levels, improving its ability to communicate with existing IT monitoring systems, and providing web-based replacement for SAS Management Console functionality.

    I don’t mean to sound like an ad, but I do want folks to know that this is a critical area for SAS and a lot of work is going on. Thank you for continuing to tell us what you need.

    Amy
    SAS Product Manager

  4. Hi Nick,
    I agree with all your points. To have a world calls SAS environment and to do these five points organizations need to have SAS administrators. SAS administrators are a cross bread of SAS analysts and IT and thus should be able to handle both environments challenges. And this adds to the responsibility and complexity of the tasks that SAS admin faces. To name a few challenges from both worlds:
    From SAS user’s perspective: helping resolve users problems, providing access to the various SAS software, libraries and data sources, improve business processes by automation, scheduling, participating in new projects and initiatives and finding new ways to make life easier for analysts
    From IT perspective: Maintaining SAS servers and ensuring availability 24/ 7, installing patches, upgrades, licenses, maintaining disk space, processes and healthy servers in general.
    Depending on the size or type of the organisation SAS admin responsibilities could be divided between SAS platform admin and SAS data admin or among several SAS admins.

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