Category Archives: Consulting

Disruptive Analytics

I picked up Disruptive Analytics available on Amazon which is Thomas Dinsmore’s recent book a few days ago and thought I would leave my impressions. Note this is not a review! First, I really enjoyed the history of the analytics platforms. The second and third chapters were very informative (History and Open Source respectively) and I learned a few things!

Regarding Open Source, I agree that we will see Python supplant R as the “go to language” for analytics in the Open Source arena. It might take a few years but if my customers interests are indicative of this trend, it will happen.

Dinsmore does an admirable job in Chapter 4 on Hadoop. This chapter is fairly dense reading for me mainly because there are a lot of terms and definitions in this chapter. If you were ever looking for an overview of the Hadoop ecosystem, this is probably a good start.

The other chapter I really liked was Chapter 6. This chapter deals with streaming analytics and I believe we are just in the infancy of this revolution. Smart Cities will be a very visible platform for many people to see and benefit from streaming analytics.

I would like to see in a future edition a presentation of the role of the analytics workstation and flash memory in the analytics framework. Data Scientist who are developing algorithms and processing data are often using workstations in lieu of servers. Perhaps even a few pages on how nVidia is revolutionizing the analytics world with CUDA processing on high power workstations. I think I would enjoy that.

About the author: Phil Rack is President of MineQuest Business Analytics, LLC located in beautiful Tucson Arizona. Phil has been a SAS language developer for more than 25 years. MineQuest provides WPS and SAS consulting and contract programming services and is an authorized reseller of WPS in North America.

Tucson – Western Office

We’ve finally made the move to Tucson and are getting ready to move into new office space in the next few weeks. We are still finalizing some of the corporation issues but we have made some progress. Moving a business is never easy! I thought it would be interesting to share with some of my readers what we have discovered about Tucson as a place for small business and emerging technology businesses.

First, it’s pretty well known nationally that the city of Tucson, and to some degree Pima County is not very embracing and welcoming when it comes to small business and technology businesses. There are a few exceptions to this and I want to point out two of these at the very beginning. Thryve and StartUp Tucson are very hands-on and welcoming. These folks have a plan and great ideas. They deserve a lot of support.

The reputation of Tucson for not being business friendly is well known. There are lots of folks who have left the Tucson area and migrated back east. They are quick to talk about the raw beauty of Southern Arizona as well as how terrible the business climate is in the area. Much of the blame seems to be around a very welfare centric government, higher than average union memberships, highest sales taxes and property taxes in the state of Arizona and an alarming lack of good leadership.

It’s a common refrain among the folks I have met here who have migrated to the Tucson area that you either bring your job or bring your money. The meaning behind that is the job scene here is pretty poor so you need to have a job that is portable – where you can basically work from anywhere. The bring your money part of it means you need to be wealthy enough to move here as in being a retiree because it’s slim pickings otherwise. Which has some ramifications if you are married and your spouse needs to find a job.

When was the last time you saw an advertisement in Fortune, Forbes, or Bloomberg’s Businessweek on the virtues, attractions and compelling reasons for locating your business to Southern Arizona?

Issues surrounding education are enormous here. We have discovered that the politicians and ruling elite (currently a democrat majority) and specifically referring to the Mayor, City Council and Pima County board of Supervisors are anti-education. Strange as that sounds, the facts are there.

TUSD which stands for the Tucson Unified School District is generally just awful. I have not yet met anyone who sends their child to a TUSD school. The priorities expressed are so out of whack with reality that it’s kind of entertaining. Everyone we have met here sends their children to a charter school (Basis Tucson) or to a private school. TUSD is widely viewed as being inferior at every level including curriculum, teachers, superintendent and school board. Once you earn that reputation, it’s really hard to shake it. It tends to follow you for decades.

The Tucson political elite tends not to support higher education either. Even with the University of Arizona in the city, Tucson shuns any venture supporting higher education. Grand Canyon University was very interested in building a major campus in Tucson. GCU is a private school that has a religious orientation. Building a campus in Tucson would have meant hundreds of good paying jobs at occupational levels from janitorial and maintenance to faculty positions. However, the city council torpedoed this, in large part by council member Regina Romero. It just defies any logic how this once in a life time opportunity was wasted by the (ignorant) elite running this town.

As further evidence of the anti-education mentality by the elected elite, one of the very first considerations to stave off an operating deficit at the county level was to shut down a number of library branches. What consideration was given to reducing hours on weekends or create summer hours? Instead, it was the heavy handed threat to just shut down these branches. I have to wonder if the idea is a back handed attempt to keep certain patrons from reading and learning about how bad the local government is instead of offering a high quality service.

Pima Community College is another horror story. Having just been removed from probationary status after two years with the possible loss of accreditation. Still in question is the quality of the education, the college readiness of students who enroll at PCC and the faculty in particular.

Tucson is said to have the 5th highest poverty rate in the country as reported by CBSNews. I suspect that the city elite has not recognized or correlated that education and poverty are highly related. That would be a very simple observation to make for even the most casual observer. The public school system is so badly managed they can’t even attract teachers to fill 200 open positions. Low salary and miserable conditions are often cited as reasons for so many unfilled vacancies. At least that’s what I hear when I talk to some of the local business people. TUSD has to recruit teachers from outside of the state, in part because the districts reputation is so awful.

There have been some gains made in Tucson. Comcast is opening a call center in the area will employ around 1100 people. There has also been an announcement in the last year about some warehousing and distribution jobs being created as well. Let me say, any new jobs are welcome and I have to applaud Comcast for opening a call center here, but Tucson needs jobs that are better paying than what is typically found at call centers and warehouses.

Tucson seems to move from one crisis to another. Tucson never really appears to solve a problem but instead offers to kick the problem down the road by considering additional research or offering to fund a feasibility study on a given project. Long term problem solving and positioning the area for future growth is not a strong forte demonstrated by city or county leadership.

My advice, if you are considering moving or opening a business in Southern Arizona is to do your homework. Unless it’s absolutely necessary, don’t locate in Tucson proper (meaning the incorporated areas of Tucson). Take a look at the Catalina Foothills, Oro Valley and Marana as your future home base. These three communities seem to have the highest quality of life, income and education attainment in the area. They also have the best elementary and high schools. There’s plenty of quality office space in these areas. If you do a lot of sales online in Arizona (hence you have Arizona sales tax) the Catalina Foothills is probably the place to be. Two other areas that deserve mention but I have not yet researched these communities are Green Valley and Sierra Vista. Depending on their tax base, educational infrastructure and distance from other communities, they may be worthy of consideration.

About the author: Phil Rack is President of MineQuest Business Analytics, LLC located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Phil has been a SAS language developer for more than 25 years. MineQuest provides WPS and SAS consulting and contract programming services and is a authorized reseller of WPS in North America.

Banking, Financial Services and WPS

As a consultant as well as a reseller, MineQuest Business Analytics often has the opportunity to see and hear about the BI Stack that our customers use. Some of these systems are incredibly complex while others are uniquely simple.

One thing that we have seen time-and-time again is how the mainframe is used in the banking and finance industry. It’s been an evolving process, but the complex statistical systems seem to have moved to less expensive servers and heavy duty analytical workstations while the mainframe has become a repository for data.

Accessing data on the mainframe whether it’s in VSAM, Oracle or DB2 is a cinch with WPS also on the mainframe. As the analytics have moved away from the mainframe, the use of expensive software like those of our competitor is being called into question. The mainframe is now typically used for MXG (computer performance analytics) and ETL work. A lot of what is being done on the mainframe is just the extraction and summarization of data that is to be downloaded to the distributed systems that almost all banks and finance houses have in place.

Putting WPS on your mainframe can save you a lot of money over our competitor’s product on the same machine. If you have not already taken a look at WPS on z/OS you owe it to your company’s bottom line to investigate this product further. You will be pleasantly surprised at what you will see.

Finally, MineQuest Business Analytics can help your organization migrate your current processing to WPS. We can provide project management services as well as consulting, assessments, code review and code migration for your organization.

 

About the author: Phil Rack is President of MineQuest Business Analytics, LLC located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Phil has been a SAS language developer for more than 25 years. MineQuest provides WPS and SAS consulting and contract programming services and is a authorized reseller of WPS in North America.

Servers and Power Savings

We run a few servers here at MineQuest for developing WPS applications and we are always looking for ways to reduce cost and our carbon foot print. Running a server is not necessarily cheap but not all that expensive either. For example, our Windows Server which is a Six Core machine with 32GB of RAM and filled with 11 hard drives and a few SSD’s uses about 115 watts of power while turned on. That works out to about $10 a month. When we put the server into sleep mode, the power used is about 4 watts.

In reality, we only use the servers for about 12 hours a day during the week and maybe four hours a day on the weekends for doing maintenance. By putting a server into sleep mode when it’s not being used it lowers our estimated bill to about $3.40 a month.

We use a software product called Lights Out on our Windows desktops and Servers that do all the work for us. It also calculates the cost to date for the server in terms of energy usage and the amount of money saved by putting the server into sleep mode.

The product we use, Lights-Out-Green IT for Windows Server Solutions is so reasonably priced. I strongly suggest that anyone running a Windows Server and wants to save some money on their electrical bill take a look at the product. They have a free 30 day evaluation of their software. You can’t ask for much more than that!

About the author: Phil Rack is President of MineQuest Business Analytics, LLC located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Phil has been a SAS language developer for more than 25 years. MineQuest provides WPS and SAS consulting and contract programming services and is a authorized reseller of WPS in North America.

Building a BI Consulting Company Part II

In the previous post I mentioned that software costs and licensing can be a major impediment to offering a competitive consulting business. I’ve written numerous times demonstrating the cost between a WPS license and our competitor licensed product. You can see those articles here and here.

If you’re a small business and/or just starting an analytics business then cash flow is a major issue. You expect that there will be some significant startup costs but wisely choosing your products can have a major impact on whether you will be successful or not.

The same goes for what you can do with the license. For example, some software companies put the screws to you when you want to use their licensed software in a B2B fashion. This can be innocuous as creating reports and data sets for your customer. The vendor, if they realize it will then dramatically increase your license fees.

How about licensing issues between your company and the software vendor where they have a vested interest in a software solution and you want to offer a competing product? Or perhaps (and more likely) what if they develop a competing product to your solution and decide that they no longer want to provide your organization with a software license? This is a very possible scenario where software companies want to create or move into vertical market applications at the expense of their license holders.

So those are a few things to consider in regards to software costs and licensing. Do your research and ask questions of the vendor. It never hurts to be informed.

About the author: Phil Rack is President of MineQuest Business Analytics, LLC located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Phil has been a SAS language developer for more than 25 years. MineQuest provides WPS and SAS consulting and contract programming services and is a authorized reseller of WPS in North America.

Building a BI Consulting Company

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been engaged in a series of conversations regarding consulting and necessary hardware and software to run a successful consulting house. In the last year we’ve seen so many references to “big data” and many of us in the consulting field just shrug our shoulders and smirk because we’ve understood that “big data” is a lot of hype for most of us. If you want to be precise about it, the term (and what we should be concerned with) is actually “big analytics.”

As a BI consultant or consulting house, you don’t have to replicate your client’s systems or data warehouse to consult on “big analytics.” As a matter of fact, some of the most successful BI consulting going on today are with companies that have outsourced a portion of their analytics to a third party. For example, loyalty cards are a driving force in retail and many organizations have outsourced this to third party analytics firms. We also see a growing opportunity in health care for fraud detection and pricing of procedures and prescriptions.

So the question comes down to what is your consulting focus? Is it providing knowledge and programming expertise to a company and perform the consulting remotely (or even onsite) or is it more encompassing and moving in the direction where you have the client’s data on your systems and perform a daily/weekly/monthly service?

I’m inclined to argue that the more financially successful firms that are offering consulting are the ones that are taking client’s data and providing the analytics services away from the client. The rates and fees are higher than when you are on site and there is limited travel time and expense to deal with.

I often see quotes for servers that they have been solicited from Dell, IBM or HP when they are sizing hardware to run WPS. I am amazed at how reasonably an organization can purchase or lease hardware that is immensely powerful for processing data sets when running WPS. I’ve seen 16 and 32 core servers that can run dozens of WPS jobs simultaneously priced between $40K and $60K.

I’m convinced that if you have a good services offering (and a decent sales staff who can find you clients) that this is the golden age in analytics for smaller firms and firms considering jumping into this space. My observations with advertising agencies and others who offer such services bears out that the supply of talent is low and the demand is high.

Of course, hardware cost is just one factor in this line of business so in a future column we will talk about how software cost and licensing can constrain you to the point where you can’t provide any services to third parties or it can set you free and allow you to make significantly more money. Software licensing is a major component to running a profitable BI/Analytics service.

About the author: Phil Rack is President of MineQuest Business Analytics, LLC located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Phil has been a SAS language developer for more than 25 years. MineQuest provides WPS and SAS consulting and contract programming services and is a authorized reseller of WPS in North America.

Cool and Useful Software

I always enjoy reading other folks blogs on how they work and the tools they use most every day. It’s a great way to learn about new tools and how to work more efficiently. I have to rave about the phone system we use here at MineQuest. We use VOIP and our provider is VOIPO out of Texas. The quality is tremendous as well as the support. The cost is amazing for what you get. The benefits of VOIPO are numerous for a small business, but the one I like the most is a softphone. I can travel and still be able to use my phone system almost as well as if I was in the office. You can visit the VOIPO web site to get pricing and view all the features that they offer.

Of course I use Skype. I can use Skype to call overseas and to text message with friends, family and business contacts. I have contacts that are almost always on Skype and the number of Skype contacts that I have just continues to grow. If you want or need to do business overseas, then Skype maybe the only way you can do so cost effectively. I hope to see more integration of Skype into other products and services and the availability of an easier to use API. If you don’t have at least a free Skype account, you should visit the Skype website and get Skype today.

I recently started to use a new Linux distribution called ZorinOS. I have version 6.1 and essentially, ZorinOS is Ubuntu Linux with the coolest GUI interface. With ZorinOS, you can change the interface to mimic Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, Mac OS X and the Ubuntu Unity Interface. If you are a Windows User and want to start using Linux with minimum fuss and frustration, ZorinOS is something to try. Check out the ZorinOS website to learn more.

I also signed up for Microsoft’s Office 365. There are a number of plans available and you can see all of them at the Microsoft web site. But if you have multiple machines like I do, desktop, laptop and a Mac, Office 365 gives you five simultaneous installs for $100. This is an annual license and I love that I get Outlook on all my desktop machines. I love the simplicity and the fact that I get cloud storage to store my documents so I can access them from anywhere.

About the author: Phil Rack is President of MineQuest Business Analytics, LLC located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Phil has been a SAS language developer for more than 25 years. MineQuest provides WPS and SAS consulting and contract programming services and is a authorized reseller of WPS in North America.

Maximizing your BI Budget and Advantages of Licensing WPS

It’s coming up to the end of the year and everyone is worried about the Fiscal Cliff and how Obama Care is going to impact their business and personal lives. Many companies have plans they are setting in place for 2013 in regards to their analytics capabilities and trying to preserve their budgets worried about the unexpected. Which leads into…

As a WPS Reseller, I’m often asked how we price software and what is the logic behind it. First and foremost, we try to price our software to be a “high value and low cost” alternative to the SAS System. That comes across in a couple of ways. One thing you will notice if you get price quotes for WPS and SAS is that SAS has a very high upfront first year fee. Let me tell you, it causes a lot of sticker shock from the phone calls I get. Contrast that with the WPS System and you will see that WPS has a fairly constant price from year-to-year. There is no high upfront cost that is a barrier to bring WPS in house.

The biggest bang for the buck is when you put WPS on a server. There are numerous technical advantages for doing this which are beyond the scope of this particular post, but pricing for a WPS server is very aggressive. The cost for our four and eight core WPS Server licenses cannot be beat. Whether you look at Linux or Windows on a server, you will not be faced with having to pony up for client access fees to access the server. You can have as many users running and submitting code as the server is capable of handling. Not having Client Access fees can save you a lot of money.

Growing your Business

This is important when you are considering expanding your organizations SAS Language processing capabilities.  WPS and MineQuest make it easy and much more affordable to continue the expansion of your BI stack. Many companies need to add servers and desktops as they grow. This is especially true for smaller and mid-sized businesses. Keeping the first year price sensible goes a long way towards managing your cash flow and IT budgets.

As your company grows, WPS can grow with you. Earlier, I touched on expansion. But did you know that if you decided to move your processing from say a two core to a four core server (must be on the same OS platform) that you can get credit for those two cores that you already paid for? You don’t start over with a new license agreement, you just pay the difference in cost for the additional two logical CPU’s.

Virtual Machines

It’s pretty common today to run your analytics on a server that is actually a virtual machine. There are pro’s and cons to this but it is the reality of the day. WPS can run in a virtual machine like most other software, but interestingly there is no up-charge to this like our competitor. It really doesn’t make any difference to us from a technical perspective whether you run your WPS license in a VM or on the bare metal. This is important because you can save some significant money by running WPS in a VM on a large machine. Say the server has 32 logical CPU’s and you only need eight for your analytics, you can create an 8 LCPU VM and buy an 8 LCPU WPS license.  You can get a much better ROI on your server when you runs WPS this way.

DSP’s

I’ve mentioned this numerous times before in this blog, but companies who are DSP’s (Data Service Providers) often pay double and triple the amount of license fees to our competitor for using their software to provide reports, data sets, and analytics to their customers. This is truly a shame and in my opinion, just out right greedy. WPS does not have DSP fees and we encourage companies who are in the B2B sector providing analytics, reporting and data to use WPS for their processing. It’s a win-win situation for both parties.

Finally, it’s the era of Big Data. And what that means is that there are opportunities for many companies like Ad agencies, marketing analytics firms, loyalty processing organizations, healthcare processing companies and many others to capitalize on the current interest in utilizing data to its maximum effectiveness. Whether you are an individual consultant and only need a desktop license for less than $1300 or you are a large organization that makes a living with your data and requires server size processing capabilities, you can do yourself and company a favor and take a look at WPS.

 About the author: Phil Rack is President of MineQuest Business Analytics, LLC located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Phil has been a SAS language developer for more than 25 years. MineQuest provides WPS and SAS consulting and contract programming services and is a authorized reseller of WPS in North America.

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Newsletter

After kicking this idea around for a few years now, we’ve decide that we should have a newsletter for our customers, potential customers and organizations and individuals who are interested in WPS. It’s a lot more convenient to have a newsletter emailed so it’s sitting in your in-box on Tuesday morning than trying to remember to go visit a website to find out what is going on with a product.

We will keep it a monthly publications and we promise not to spam you with offers and notices on an almost daily basis. What we want to include in the newsletter is information on new features in the WPS product that may be of interest to you. We will also feature tools and tips on using WPS so that you can realize the full functionality of the software.

The first newsletter will be sent out on December 1st to existing customers and those who have had WPS evaluations through MineQuest. If you want to sign up for the newsletter, simply send us your name and email address to info@minequest.com and let us know you want to start receiving the newsletter. We promise not to sell give away your information to any third parties.

And finally, Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

 About the author: Phil Rack is President of MineQuest Business Analytics, LLC located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Phil has been a SAS language developer for more than 25 years. MineQuest provides WPS and SAS consulting and contract programming services and is a authorized reseller of WPS in North America.

What are the benefits when buying from MineQuest?

I’m often asked what are the benefits of buying a WPS license from MineQuest Business Analytics?

There are many, but I will touch on three of them in this post. First, when you purchase your server licenses from MineQuest, we provide a means of protecting your license investment. If you find that you need to scale up your server from say four to eight cores in the middle of your license period, we can upgrade your license so that you don’t lose money in the transition. We do require that you stay on the same operating system, but other than that, you get full credit for the time remaining on your license when you trade up.

The second benefit is that you automatically get a copy of the Bridge to R. The Bridge to R allows you to interface WPS into the R system for running more advanced statistical routines and enhanced graphics.

Third, we offer a first line of support for our customers. We have a few years of WPS experience under our belt and have developed products based on WPS. We know the product relatively well and we provide consulting services to companies needing it. We can implement WPS Link (i.e. submit programs from a desktop to a WPS Server) for customers who want a client server environment on any x86 architecture and help with installation and product overviews to users.

 About the author: Phil Rack is President of MineQuest Business Analytics, LLC located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Phil has been a SAS language developer for more than 25 years. MineQuest provides WPS and SAS consulting and contract programming services and is a authorized reseller of WPS in North America.