Tag Archives: WPS

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.

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.

Calculating Driving Distances with WPS and the Bridge to R

A few weeks ago, there was a posting on SAS-L where the poster was attempting to get the driving distance between two cities using google’s mapping services. I found that a rather interesting question and decided to see what I could do using WPS and the Bridge to R.

For those who are unfamiliar with the Bridge to R, it is a product from MineQuest Business Analytics that allows you to execute R statements from within the WPS environment. You can pass WPS datasets to R and return R frames to WPS quite easily. You also get the R log and list files returned to your WPS session in the corresponding log and list windows.

Here is the code that we used to create a driving distance matrix between three cities. The output is printed using the PROC Print statement in WPS. 

*--> data set for drive distances;
data rdset;
input fromdest $1-17 todest $ 20-36;
cards;
Grand Rapids, MI   State College, PA
Columbus, OH       Grand Rapids, MI
Chicago, IL        Grand Rapids, MI
;;;;
run;


%Rstart(dataformat=csv,data=rdset,rGraphicsFile=);
datalines4;

    attach(rdset)
    library(ggmap)

    from <- as.character(fromdest)
    to  <- as.character(todest)

    mydist <- mapdist(from,to)

;;;;
%rstop(import=mydist);

proc print data=mydist(drop=var2);
format m comma10. km comma 8.2 miles 8.2 seconds comma7. minutes comma8.2 hours 6.2;
run;

And this is the output:

      Obs    from                  to                              m          km       miles    seconds     minutes     hours       
                                                                                                                                    
       1     Grand Rapids, MI      State College, PA         843,978      843.98      524.45     28,256      470.93      7.85       
       2     Columbus, OH          Grand Rapids, MI          521,289      521.29      323.93     17,543      292.38      4.87       
       3     Chicago, IL           Grand Rapids, MI          285,836      285.84      177.62      9,695      161.58      2.69       
                                                                                                                             

So you can see how handy WPS and the Bridge2 to R can be as a resource – kind of a Swiss Army knife if you like.

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.

On ErrorAbend

One issue I always had with the SAS system as a developer was when I had a job that ran in batch that had an error. The SAS System would set the number of observations to zero and go into syntax checking mode for the remainder of the program.

This had some virtues but more often than not, the error was thrown because I had misspelled a variable name in a MEANS statement or FREQ statement that was used for checking my output. This would cause SAS to go into the syntax checking mode and all the rest of my program would not execute even though it was proper.

WPS, when running in batch doesn’t do this but if you want the same effect for your batch jobs, it’s easy enough to implement. Consider the following macro – called %ErrorAbend. %ErrorAbend simply checks that the program is not running in the FOREground and checks the value of the &syserr variable after every PROC or data step and if it returns a value of 3, then issues a note and sets the number of observations to zero.

%macro onerrorabend;
  %if %eval(&syserr eq 3) and &sysenv NE FORE %then %do;
     options obs=0;
     %put NOTE: WPS has been set with OPTION OBS=0 and will continue to check statements.
  %end;
%mend;

Below is a sample program that when run in batch, puts the system into syntax checking mode and basically stops the execution of any downstream statements.

data a b;
do ii=1 to 2000;
  x=ranuni(0)* 10;
  y=Round(ranuni(0),.01)* 100;
  z=round(ranuni(0),.01)* 10000;
  

  a=ranuni(0)* 10;
  b=Round(ranuni(0),.01)* 100;
  c=round(ranuni(0),.01)* 10000;
  
  e=ranuni(0)* 10;
  f=Round(ranuni(0),.01)* 100;
  g=round(ranuni(0),.01)* 10000;
  
  i=ranuni(0)* 10;
  j=Round(ranuni(0),.01)* 100;
  k=round(ranuni(0),.01)* 10000;

  output;
end;
run;

proc freq data=a;
tables ik;
run;

%onerrorabend;


proc means data=b;
run;

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.

Thursday Ramblings

Does anyone do comparisons of graphics cards and measure performance in a VM? Specifically, do certain graphics cards boost performance when running VM’s on the desktop? I like to see my windows “snap” open when I switch from VM to VM. As a developer, I often wonder if spending an additional $150 on a popular graphics card will yield a perceptible performance boost.

Speaking of graphics cards, we recently bought a couple of used Nvidia Quadro graphics cards from a local CAD/CAM company that is upgrading their workstations. I got these at about 5% of their original retail price so I’m happy. We were having problems getting a couple of servers to go into sleep mode using Lights Out and we discovered that we needed a different graphics card to accomplish this. The plus side is that these are Nvidia cards with 240 CUDA cores and 4GB of RAM. So we now have the opportunity to try our hand at CUDA development if we want. I’m mostly interested in using CUDA for R.

One drawback to using CUDA, as I understand it, is that it is a single user interface. Say you have a CUDA GPU in a server, only one job at a time can access the CUDA cores. If you have 240 CUDA cores on your GPU and would like to appropriate 80 CUDA cores to an application — thinking you can run three of your apps at a time, well that is not possible. What it seems you have to do is have three graphics cards installed on the box and each user or job has access to a single card.

There’s a new Remote Desktop application coming out from MS that will run on your android device(s) as well as a new release from the Apple Store. I use the RDC from my mac mini and it works great. I’m not sure what they could throw in the app to make it more compelling however.

Toms Hardware has a fascinating article on SSD’s and performance in a RAID setup. On our workstations and servers, we have SSD’s acting as a cache for the work and perm folders on our drive arrays. According to the article, RAID0 performance tends to top out with three SSD’s for writes and around four on reads.

FancyCache from Romex Software has become PrimoCache. It has at least one new feature that I would like to test and that is L2 caching using an SSD. PrimoCache is in Beta so if you have the memory and hardware, it might be advantageous to give it a spin to see how it could improve your BI stack. We did a performance review of FancyCache on a series of posts on Analytic Workstations.

FYI, PrimoCache is not the only caching software available that can be used in a WPS environment. SuperSpeed has a product called SuperCache Express 5 for Desktop Systems. I’m unsure if SuperCache can utilize an SSD as a Level 2 cache. It is decently priced at $80 for a desktop version but $450 for a standard Windows Server version. I have to admit, $450 for a utility would give me cause for pause. For that kind of money, the results would have to be pretty spectacular. SuperSpeed offers a free evaluation as well.

If you are running a Linux box and want to enjoy the benefits of SSD caching, there’s a great blog article on how to do this for Ubuntu from Kyle Manna. I’m very intrigued by this and if I find some extra time, may give it the old Solid State Spin. There’s also this announcement about the Linux 3.10 Kernel and BCache that may make life a whole lot easier.

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.

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.

Complexity and Cost

This past weekend, my wife and I went to a lovely wedding. This was a Catholic wedding that was amazingly short but the priest had a very interesting sermon on complexity and cost. He talked about complexity in our lives and the cost both direct and indirect that we each experience. One example that he gave was smart phones and how expensive they are in terms of outright cost of service as well as the indirect cost, that being how much time we take playing and looking at the gadgets at the expense of others and relationships around us.

Hi sermon got me thinking. This is true for software and business intelligence in particular. The cost of non-open source software can be pretty high. And the reason for that? Support cost, sales cost, maintenance cost, legal costs, etc…

I often see how companies have purposely fragmented their products so that they can charge more for additional libraries modules. This has increased cost tremendously for the consumer. Our competitor is a prime example of this. They send out a local or regional sales person to chat up the prospect. Often, they can’t answer the questions the customer has because of the complexity of the product. So they send out a Sales Engineer or two who visits the prospect to answer these questions and chat them up a second time. Now we have three people in the mix who are making a 100 grand a year (at least) involved in the sale. The price of the software product has to increase to the customer because of all the people involved in the sale.

Here’s another example of added complexity. Different pricing for the same product depending on how you use it. Take companies that are B2B in nature. Firms such as actuarial firms, claims processing, advertising etc… are often labeled as data service providers because they want to use the software in a B2B capacity. Sometimes this is as innocuous as being a Contract Research Organization providing statistical analysis. The cost here comes from a different license (think lawyers), people to audit the customer and employees to enforce the license. It all adds up!

That above examples illustrate everything that is wrong with traditional ways of thinking in terms of software. At MineQuest Business Analytics, we’re proud that we are able to help keep cost down for the customer. We don’t have such draconian licensing for companies that are DSP’s. We don’t have an organization that is setup to milk and churn the customer for every last cent. What we do have is a company that is dedicated to providing the best service and software at an affordable price.

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.