Off to the races
With SAS® Grid Computing, the IT team at SunTrust can meet any emerging business requirements.
Sterling Green is Vice President of Business Intelligence, Delivery Services, Enterprise Data and Integration at SunTrust – a lengthy title that requires him to wear many hats.
Green arrived at SunTrust over three years ago, tasked with establishing a SAS Center of Excellence that could build best practices and support the entire SAS end-user community. Additionally, Green was challenged with leading the effort design a road map for SunTrust's next-generation computing platform. The requirements were demanding—a stable and robust architecture that would meet the existing and emerging business processes and facilitate risk management and regulatory compliance.
What Green encountered were outdated hardware platforms, inefficient use of compute resources, siloed data and a limited ability to scale up. Additionally, the fledgling SAS Center of Excellence was faced with supporting the enterprise-wide SAS user community on three separate platforms: PC, mainframe and an aging HP-UX environment.
One major inefficiency that Green faced was that existing HP-UX servers were assigned to particular groups within the organization – one for the marketing group, another for the mortgage team, a third for consumer banking and so on – creating a sense of ownership within the various lines-of-business and a hesitation for sharing processing resources and allowing anyone else into the job queue. Waits could be long, especially for servers assigned to groups that run daily automated jobs. Server workloads were poorly managed as well. Some of the servers had reached maximum capacity and suffered from latent demand, while other servers were grossly underutilized.
To make the situation worse, "When another new group of potential SAS users wanted to jump into the SAS pool, there was no room for them," Green says.
"With this grid-enabled environment we're going to be able to direct projects, from any line of business, to the most appropriate resources."
The need for additional computing capacity continued to grow as new users were brought on board and the demand for processing larger and more complex data sources increased. For example, the risk management department was brought into the SAS environment to do in-depth modeling and regulatory compliance, while the marketing department increased its demand for performing well-defined customer segmentation analyses in a more timely manner.
Server allocation based on business function resulted in sufficient computing resources for some, not enough for others and a lack of flexibility in reassigning servers when more processing or infrastructure capacity were required.
"We have some pretty heavy power users," Green says, "and it was getting to be a real challenge to support them all."
Clearly a change was in order.
All resources, all lines of business
"It was important that SunTrust pay due diligence in selecting an enterprise solution that would meet the existing as well as emerging business requirements and be flexible enough to scale to provide a long term solution" Green says.
Based on that research, SunTrust chose an n-tiered Red Hat Linux network with JBoss middleware and an Internet Information Services (IIS) for Windows thin client server. The team then launched a project to migrate SAS from the existing HP-UX Superdome environment to a new SAS 9.3 computing environment enabled by SAS Grid Manager. The project was called Enabling End-User Analytics – and it's aptly named.
"With this grid-enabled environment we're going to be able to direct projects, from any line of business, to the most appropriate resources," Green says.
"There's no compelling notion of ownership in anybody's mind. As new lines of business want to take advantage of the compute power, we just put them in an active directory group, they're able to go out to the software portal, install the client and they're off to the races."
In addition to the advantages realized through the installation of SAS Grid Manager, the functionality provided by the SAS Enterprise Data Integration (EDI) and SAS Enterprise Business Intelligence (EBI) platform enables the data producers and data consumers to share work products more effectively. The combined platform reduces costs by eliminating the need for spreadsheets, email, federated data, data storage and back-up resources. The new platform can also take advantage of Web Portal services to serve up information to authorized hand-held intelligent devices.
Improved service delivery
Green says SAS 9.3 and grid computing will allow his platform administration team to provide a truly robust and flexible computing platform.
"SAS Grid Manager increases our processing power by allowing us to put all our resources in a grid environment and better manage the different analytic cycles, whether they're nightly batch, daily interactive processing or ad hoc analyses," he explains.
High availability was one of the major considerations for SunTrust in electing to go with grid computing. SAS applications can be decoupled from the execution infrastructure so that hardware resources can grow or contract transparently as needed and provide a measure of fault tolerance within the network.
The SAS grid solution allows SunTrust to expand its network without disruption. "It's very easy to add a node, which is critical for meeting any emerging business requirements," Green says. "That's the No. 1 benefit of this new approach."
Workload management was another primary consideration. SunTrust needed to maximize overall throughput by optimizing the processing of multiple applications and jobs. Centralized administration makes it possible to enforce business rules and policies, determine job priority based on the needs of different users and, in general, deliver better service levels.
Highest-priority jobs are guaranteed to run in the least amount of time. If all resources are busy, SAS Grid Manager will suspend lower-priority jobs and free up the necessary resources.
Parallel processing was another big consideration for SunTrust. The marketing analytics group at SunTrust uses SAS® Enterprise Miner™ and SAS® Enterprise Guide® to model cross-sell, up-sell, attrition rates and other activities for all lines of business. Early testing results show improved processing times, and because both products are tailored for parallel processing, the marketing analytics group expects additional improvements when the grid-enabled environment is fully deployed.
And yet another benefit is a clustered file system. In the past, business analysts at SunTrust often spent more time moving data from one server to another than doing actual analysis. They now gain a single version of the truth without federating the data across different lines of business within the bank.
Positive early feedback
It's obviously a big challenge to move users who are comfortable in their current environment – mainframe, PC or UNIX – into a newer, more flexible, interactive one with SAS 9.3.
That's why the SAS customer loyalty team for SunTrust was engaged to provide training on SAS 9.3 products to bridge gaps and encourage more SAS usage.
Initial reactions have been positive. As an example of the immediate feedback Green received, one user said that a job that used to take 10 hours to run on HP-UX ran in only about 2 hours on the new development environment based on SAS Grid Manager. With positive early results in the testing phases, Green anticipates SunTrust will really be off to the races when the production environment is fully online.
The results illustrated in this article are specific to the particular situations, business models, data input, and computing environments described herein. Each SAS customer’s experience is unique based on business and technical variables and all statements must be considered non-typical. Actual savings, results, and performance characteristics will vary depending on individual customer configurations and conditions. SAS does not guarantee or represent that every customer will achieve similar results. The only warranties for SAS products and services are those that are set forth in the express warranty statements in the written agreement for such products and services. Nothing herein should be construed as constituting an additional warranty. Customers have shared their successes with SAS as part of an agreed-upon contractual exchange or project success summarization following a successful implementation of SAS software. Brand and product names are trademarks of their respective companies.
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Outdated hardware platforms, inefficient use of computing resources, siloed data and a limited ability to scale up.
SAS® Grid Computing, SAS® Enterprise Miner, SAS® Enterprise Data Integration, SAS® Enterprise Business Intelligence, SAS® Enterprise Guide
An analytic platform that offers high availability, workload management, increased throughput and reduced demand for IT maintenance and support.
“SAS Grid Manager increases our analytic processing power by allowing us to put all our resources in a grid environment and better manage the different work cycles.”