Tag Archives: SAS Replacement

Ubuntu 16.04 Released and Quick Test Drive

In the last week, Canonical has brought forth a new release of Ubuntu and it is pretty nice! Version 16.04 has a number of great features that should be of value to those who use Linux. One thing that Ubuntu has at this point is a vertical line of products. I can’t think of any other vendor who has an OS that runs on Phones, tablets, notebooks/workstations, servers and mainframes.

I decided to give it a try on one of my workstations running it in an Oracle Virtual Machine (Virtualbox to be specific) to see how WPS runs on this new release. Just to cut to the chase, it runs quite well. As a matter of fact, once I got the VM to use all of its allotted storage, WPS ran like a charm.

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A couple of things that might be of interest to potential Ubuntu upgraders. First, Ubuntu 16.04 supports ZFS. That might be important to a few sites. The second is the support for LXD 2.0. From the Ubuntu website –

LXD 2.0

Ubuntu 16.04 LTS includes LXD, a new, lightweight, network-aware, container manager offering a VM-like experience built on top of Linux containers.

LXD comes pre-installed with all Ubuntu 16.04 server installations, including cloud images and can easily be installed on the Desktop version too. It can be used standalone through its simple command line client, through Juju to deploy your charms inside containers or with OpenStack for large scale deployments.

All the LXC components – LXC, LXCFS and LXD – are at version 2.0 in Ubuntu 16.04 LTS.

In addition to trying Ubuntu 16.04 in a VM, I have also tested it on a small server (6 LCPU with 32GB of RAM) running WPS. Although I have not benchmark tested this exhaustively, it does appear that using v16.04 with WPS 3.3.2 (which is the latest release) provides a modest performance increase. This is easily observed with multi-threaded Procedures such as Means and Summary.

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.

Introducing WPS Express

Today, World Programming LTD announced the availability of WPS Express. WPS Express is a product for those interested in learning the Language of SAS. WPS Express comes with all the database drivers and other modules of the Standard desktop version of WPS.

What separates WPS Express from the Standard Edition desktop experience is the number of records that can be processed. Currently, WPS Express processes 100 records.

What WPS Express is meant be is a free product that allows you to learn the Language of SAS. As such, 100 records are probably sufficient to learn to program in the language, connect to many different databases, and run R.

One other caveat is that WPS Express is licensed to an individual and not to any organization. Again, it’s worth noting that this is a product to learn how to write code in the Language of SAS. Also, WPS Express is licensed on an annual basis so you will have to renew your license every year.

You can find WPS Express by going to the World Programming website and taking a look at: https://www.worldprogramming.com/try-or-buy/wps/editions/express

If you are interested in a more formal WPS training, especially on how to use the WPS Workbench, I recommend that you reach out to Art Tabachneck. Art has a placement company called Analyst Finder that helps companies and recruiters find analytical talent. Art also has a one-day training seminar and he can do the training online. I’ve seen the syllabus and slide deck and think it’s quite complete with regards to getting a thorough understanding of the power of WPS. Interested parties can reach out to Art at: art297@rogers.com

WPS Express, due to its 100 record limitations is not a practical product to use for evaluating whether to swap out SAS for WPS. Every organization would need the standard edition to process an unlimited number of records so that they could compare output of the products.

MineQuest Business Analytics is able and willing to help you and your organization with your evaluation of WPS. We can arrange for a free 30-day evaluation of the workstation products, both OS X and Windows as well as on all supported server platforms.

Interested in a quote or a free 30-day evaluation of the standard edition of WPS? If your organization is located in North America, simply fill out the Evaluation Request from our website.

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.

CleanWork for Windows

Recently, we decided to go back through some of our older programs and take a look at them and see if they could be updated and/or made open source. We wrote Cleanwork years ago and we often provided it to organizations that used our consulting services as a freebie and a way to say “Thank You.”

CleanWork does pretty much what the name says. It is a WPS program that when run, will clean out the work folders of old and orphaned directories that are no longer used. WPS comes with a cleanwork program for Linux and Mac but not for Windows. The version written by MineQuest will run on Windows Workstations running Vista, 7, 8, 8.1 and 10. It will also run on Windows Servers such as Windows Server 2008, 2008 R2, 2012 and 2012 R2. Basically, it will run on all Windows Servers except 2003 and before. It also runs on all Windows Workstations except XP and before.

Cleanwork is packaged in a zip file that contains the source code, the Usage Document, License and a sample program. Cleanwork has been tested to execute only on the WPS platform.

If you are running WPS on a Windows Server you may want to set cleanwork to run on a schedule. This is a perfect utility to automate and run on a regular schedule. For busy server installations, I could see setting a scheduler to run cleanwork every few hours.

The zip file contains five files. These are:

clean.sas – a sample program for running the cleanwork utility.

cleanwork_source.sas – the actual source code that implements the utility.

CleanWorkUsage.docx – a Microsoft Word document that explain how to use cleanwork.

SASMACR.wpccat – a compiled version of the macro that  is ready to run.

license.txt – The license agreement for use of the source code and user document.

You can find the download by going to the bottom of the page here.

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.

 

 

 

Why WPS needs to be part of your Corporate BI Stack

Recently, I’ve been talking to a few customers about why they decided to bring WPS into the company. After all, these firms have lots of money and talent. They can pretty much license any software they feel they need as long as it gets the job done. Of course, there are constraints due to pricing and training, but for the most part, these companies have free reign.

Below are the four major topics that everyone has touched on. Remember, these are large firms that are stalwarts in the analytics field offering products and services that are dependent on their IT and business staffs to generate revenue.

Innovation

WPS is rapidly growing and introducing additional procedures to the product. The customers that I have spoken with have all stated that WPS contains all the PROCS that they need to access, analyze and report on the data. Remember, we are talking about Fortune 500 companies here so that says a lot about how fleshed out the product is at this point.

Efficiency in Licensing

If you are a large corporation, it is likely that you have offices overseas. Licensing WPS is a dream compared to our competitors. There’s no multiple sales teams to have to work with and no differentiated licensing.

Also mentioned was that ALL the library modules are included in the price. There is no longer any confusion on what is part of the product.

Cost Reductions

It’s well known that WPS is a high value low cost alternative to the SAS System. Whether considering expanding the footprint with workstations or servers, WPS is an extremely competitive proposition. This is especially true on the server side. Since WPS is priced so competitively, even small workgroups can easily afford a server for their department.

Sole Source provider

One of the most interesting responses I received, and one that caught my attention (especially from a risk mitigation perspective) was that they didn’t want to find themselves beholden to a single source supplier of the language. I asked why they were concerned about that issue specifically. The three major points brought up are:

  1. They lacked flexibility in how they could use the product to deliver data, analytics and reports to their customers.
  2. They could take advantage of new concepts and features as they are introduced across two platforms.
  3. Fear that they would be held hostage in pricing negotiations. With a multiple providers, they felt they had leverage if they chose to not expand their footprint with the sole source provider.

 

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.

Some thoughts on a rainy Monday

The more I use Linux, the more I come around to understand just how much I can do with it. As a matter of fact, I could easily do without Widows and switch 100% of the way over to Linux if I wanted. The desktop(s) and business applications have really gotten that good.

Windows 8 just soured me on the whole MS ecosystem. When they bolted on the Metro interface on a server OS — that was the last straw for me. Who ever made that decision to strap on a touch interface to a server should be let go. Shown the door. Asked to leave…

I have Apple hardware here in the office, and it runs well, but I just have not been able to embrace it like so many others have. Apple makes some fine hardware and there’s a load of support for Office productivity applications as well as analytical apps. WPS runs quite well on OS X as well as R. As a matter of fact, I see a lot of R users who work on OS X as there preferred platform.

But Linux, and specifically Ubuntu 12.04 and 14.04 have been especially good. I don’t have memory issues when I run large simulations in R that require a lot of RAM. With Windows, that is often a problem, trying to allocate a large block of memory and there’s not sufficient contiguous memory to hold a large array, vector or data frame. The memory management is significantly different under Linux than under Windows.

Use of NVidia’s CUDA framework seems to be predominantly used on Linux and not Windows. I’m not sure why that is to be honest.

I’ve been reading a lot of articles stating that MS is working feverishly trying to get Windows 9 out the door. No doubt (at least in my mind) it has to do with the terrible Metro interface and people staying away in hoards. Of course, you can slap Start8 by Stardock on Windows 8 and it makes it useable by implementing the start button, and kudos to Stardock for doing such a thing, but I still can’t find a way to embrace MS on the desktop any longer.

An interesting phenomena that I have been witnessing is how much analytical and scientific development has been happening over the years on the Linux platforms. There are a lot of tools out there that are helpful if you are a data scientist or working with “BIG DATA” as it pertains to Linux. My experiences in reselling WPS is that there is an equal amount of interest (perhaps more) in using Linux on servers than in running Windows servers. Cost is one factor but performance is also a factor. Linux often out performs Windows Servers dollar for dollar and CPU second to CPU second.

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.

Post Installation Steps for WPS Workstations

We recently wrote a short technical document on a set of post installation steps that MineQuest Business Analytics recommends after you install WPS on your workstation. We are often asked what needs to be done after WPS is installed to get the greatest performance out of WPS without too much hassle.

The document walks you through modifying your WPS configuration file, moving your work folder to another drive, why you want to install R (for using PROC R of course!), creating an autoexec.sas file, turning out write caching and a few other pointers. You don’t need to to all of the suggestions, after all they are just suggestions, but they are useful modifications that will enable you to get more out of WPS on your workstation.

You can find the document “Post Installation Steps for WPS Workstations” in the Papers Section of the MineQuest website.

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.

WPS for Workstations

In the last few weeks, we put together a document that describes the World Programming System for workstations and desktops. The document describes some of the licensing behind WPS and what procedures and database engines are supported.

If you are considering a WPS solution and want some detailed background on the product before purchasing a WPS Workstation license, this document should help.

You can download the Product Overview from our website by clicking the link below.

Product Overview – WPS for Workstations (1.02MB PDF)

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.

A Summer Project

One of my summer projects is building and performance tuning a relatively inexpensive analytics server. Many of the parts that are being used have been scavenged from another server or two that have been retired. One thing I want to do this summer is report on what I have discovered in performance tuning a modest server.

The server consist of a six core AMD processor and 16GB of RAM to start out with. I would like to experiment with different combinations of RAM, hard drives, hard disk controller cards and perhaps an SSD or two. The OS will be Linux, Ubuntu 14.04 specifically.

My baseline build has just two work drives in RAID-0 and use the SATA 3 ports on the motherboard. I will use the Workstation Performance Assessment Program that I wrote about back in 2012. I’ve slightly modified that program so that it doesn’t spew output in the listing with the exception of the actual performance benchmark.

One thing I have already learned is that you need to make sure that you have the Write Cache enabled. In Ubuntu, you would do this by going to Disks and clicking on the options button at the top right of the dialog box and then selecting Drive Settings. Simply select the Write Cache and click on Enable Write Cache. You will need to do this for each disk in the raid array.

ubuntu_disk_cache

When I enable the write cache, my timings for the PROCs and data steps that took place on data sets that existed on the work array dropped 35%. That’s a big improvement!

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.

Who says only big companies can afford to utilize Business Intelligence?

One of the reasons I got into reselling WPS was the fact (and it’s still a fact) that it’s very expensive for a new firm or startup to utilize SAS products. Actually, it’s prohibitively expensive. A commercial startup business is looking at $8700 for a desktop license that provides access to BASE, GRAPH and STAT. That $8700 is for the first year and it doesn’t include access to a database, Open Source R or reading and writing to desktop files like Excel and Access. Add those necessities in the price and you are looking at more than $15,000 for the first year and more than $4200 for renewal.

With WPS our pricing is different. We kind of joke that whatever SAS does pricing wise, we do just the opposite. We don’t have a high barrier in terms of cost to start using our products. Actually, we encourage you to use our products! Currently, we charge $1,311 for a single desktop license. That’s the cost for the first year and it includes all the database engines that you would want.

We don’t have a high barrier to using the language. If you are already familiar with the language of SAS, then you are ready to go with WPS.

We don’t have a high barrier when it comes to accessing your SAS data sets. We can read and write SAS data sets just fine.

But enough about barriers, let’s talk about servers.

The pricing differential is even greater when you start looking at servers. You can license a small WPS server for less than $5,700. That’s a two LCPU server and it includes all the bells and whistles that our desktop licenses include as well. Meaning it includes all the database access engines. The nice thing about our licensing is that we don’t have client license fees. Client license fees are fees that you pay to be able to access the server you just bought! It’s a stupid fee and we try not to do stupid things!

Another way we differ from our competitor is that we don’t have Data Service Provider fees. Let’s face it, many small companies (and large companies too) provide data and reports to their customers and vendors for further analysis and research. As a DSP, you will pay significantly more for your SAS license than what is listed. Expect to pay at least 30% more and often times, a lot more.

If you’re a startup, the message is clear. You probably don’t have a lot of money to toss around and cash flow is an issue. MineQuest has partnered with Balboa Capital to help company’s manage their licensing costs. By working with Balboa Capital, you can manage your license costs by paying a monthly amount of money towards your license. You will have to take out a two year WPS license to qualify for the program, but it’s an easy and efficient way to manage your resources.

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.

High Performance Workstations for BI

There’s one thing I really enjoy and that’s powerful workstations for performing analytics. It’s fun to play around with and can be insightful to speculate on the design and then build a custom higher-end workstation for running BI applications like WPS and R.

ARS Builds

Every quarter, ARS Technica goes through an exercise where they build three PC’s mainly to assess gaming performance and then do a price vs. performance comparison. There’s a trend that you will soon see after reading a few of these quarterly builds and that is, the graphics card plays a major role in their performance assessment. The CPU, number of cores and fixed storage tend to be minimal when comparing the machines.

This if course will be in contrast to what we want to do for our performance benchmarks. We are looking at a holistic approach of CPU throughput, DISK I/O and graphics for getting the most for the dollar on a workstation build. But ARS does have a lot to recommend when it comes to benchmarking and I think it’s worthwhile including some of their ideas.

What Constitutes a High End Analytics Workstation?

This is an interesting question and one that I will throw out for debate. It’s so easy to get caught up in spending thousands of dollars, if not ten thousand dollars (see the next section) for a work station. One thing that even the casual observer will soon notice is that being on the bleeding edge is a very expensive proposition. It’s an old adage that you are only as good as your tools. There’s also the adage that it’s a poor craftsman that blames his tools. In the BI world, especially when speed means success, it’s important to have good tools.

As a basis for what constitutes a high end workstation, I will offer the following as a point of entry.

  • At least 4 Logical CPU’s.
  • At least 8GB of RAM, preferably 16GB to 32GB.
  • Multiple hard drives for OS, temporary workspace and permanent data set storage.
  • A graphics card that can be used for more than displaying graphics, i.e. parallel computing.
  • A large display – 24” capable of at least 1920×1080.

As a mid-tier solution, I would think that a workstation comprised of the following components would be ideal.

  • At least 8 Logical CPU’s.
  • A minimum of 16GB of RAM.
  • Multiple hard drives for OS, temporary workspace and permanent data set storage with emphasis on RAID storage solutions and SSD Caching.
  • A graphics card that can be used for more than displaying graphics, i.e. parallel computing.
  • A large display – 24” capable of at least 1920×1080.

As a high end solution, I would think that a workstation built with the following hardware would be close to ultimate for many (if not most) analysts.

  • Eight to 16 Logical CPU’s – Xeon Class (or possible step down to an Intel I7).
  • A minimum of 32GB of RAM and up to 64GB.
  • Multiple hard drives for OS, temporary workspace and permanent data set storage with emphasis on RAID storage solutions and SSD Caching.
  • A graphics card that can be used for more than displaying graphics, i.e. parallel computing.
  • Multiple 24” displays capable of at least 1920×1200 each.

I do have a bias towards hardware that is upgradeable. All-in-one solutions tend to be one shot deals and thus expensive. I like upgradability for graphics cards, memory, hard drives and even CPU’s. Expandability can save you thousands of dollars over a period of a few years.

The New Mac Pro – a Game Changer?

The new Mac Pro is pretty radical from a number of perspectives. It’s obviously built for video editing but its small size is radical in my opinion. As a Business Analytics computer it offers some intriguing prospects. You have multiple cores, lots of RAM, high end graphics but limited internal storage. That’s the main criticism that I have about the new Mac Pro. The base machine comes with 256GB of storage and that’s not much for handling large data sets. You are forced to go to external storage solutions to be able to process large data sets. Although I’ve not priced out the cost of adding external storage, I’m sure it’s not inexpensive.

Benchmarks

This is a tough one for me because so many organizations have such an array of hardware and some benchmarks are going to require hardware that has specific capabilities. For example, Graphics Cards that are CUDA enabled to do parallel processing in R. Or the fact that we use the Bridge to R for invoking R code and the Bridge to R only runs on WPS (and not SAS).

I did write a benchmark a while ago that I like a lot. It provides information on the hardware platform (i.e. amount of memory and the number of LCPU’s available) and just runs the basic suite of PROCS that I know is available in both WPS and SAS. Moving to more statistically oriented PROC’s such as Logistic and GLM may be difficult because SAS license holders may not have the statistical libraries necessary to run the tests. That’s a major drawback to licensing the SAS System. You are nickel and dimed to death all the time. The alternative to this is to have a Workstation benchmark that is specific to WPS.

Perhaps the benchmark can be written where it tests if certain PROCS and Libraries are available and also determine if the hardware required is present (such as CUDA processors) to run that specific benchmark. Really, the idea is to determine the performance of the specific software for a specific set of hardware and not a comparison between R, WPS and SAS.

Price and Performance Metrics

One aspect of ARS that I really like is when they do their benchmarks, they calculate out the cost comparison for each build. They often base this on hardware pricing at the time of the benchmark. What they don’t do is price in the cost of the software for such things as video editing, etc… I think it’s important to show the cost with both hardware and software as a performance metric benchmark.

Moving Forward

I’m going to take some time and modify the WPS Workstation Benchmark Program that I wrote so that it doesn’t spew out so much unnecessary output into the listing window. I would like it to just show the output from the benchmark report. I think it would also be prudent to see if some R code could be included in the benchmark and compare and contrast the performance if there are some CUDA cores available for assisting in the computations.

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.