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Article Title: Using AXIS in a Production Environment
Article Type: General System  
Article ID #: 354
GGY Contacts: GGY Client Support (416-250-6777)
Last Modified: 26 Nov 09

Article Summary:

This article discusses various special considerations relevant to the supporting IT professional when AXIS is to be used in a production financial reporting application, and identifies some of the features and capabilities of AXIS that help support corporate objectives related to such applications.

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Article Detail:

Overview

AXIS is a powerful actuarial modeling tool that can be used both for research and analysis and for production financial reporting of insurance and annuity products and of their related investments.  It can handle extremely large volumes of seriatim business data, as well as quickly running quick and dirty one-off investigations.

While AXIS can only be installed on computers running Windows operating systems, these computers can range from single processor desktop/laptop PC's to multiple processor workstations or servers installed in secure data centers.

This article attempts to review the various special considerations involved when AXIS is to be used in a production financial reporting application, and identify the features and capabilities of AXIS that help support corporate objectives related to such applications.  Technical hardware issues are dealt with in much greater detail in other articles.

AXIS has the capabilities to perform a complete self-contained production application, including all of the following steps:

  • initial reading of seriatim source data files produced as extracts from administrative systems,
  • transformation and preparation of source data for analytic processing,
  • valuation and projection of cashflows, profits, inforce statistics, capital requirements
  • capturing and/or printing of various predefined and custom designed reports all the way from seriatim level to full portfolio, line of business, and company level
  • automatic back-up and restore of AXIS datasets and key source files
  • automatic archiving of error logs, control reports, summary statistics and audit logs

All of these processes can normally be set up by trained actuarial users, using AXIS features and functionality, in a desktop test environment, and do not necessarily require the assistance of IT support professionals, although some development of programmed procedures, using AXIS script "language" may be involved.  This document will touch on some of these features and functionality for the information of IT support staff, but further details can be found in AXIS help and documentation, or by contacting GGY for assistance.

Production Environment vs. Test Environment

Production financial reporting applications will normally imply special considerations compared to testing or research environments, which can include some or all of:

  • higher hardware performance requirements
  • restrictions on installation by users of new software and software updates
  • access permissions with respect to updating data files and stored procedures and running programs,
  • coordinated or timed launch of production routines during reporting cycles
  • disaster recovery planning and scheduled backups
  • audit trail requirements

Although many clients using AXIS use their desktop computers for all of testing, research and production applications, it is becoming more common to set up centralized installations of AXIS on secured hardware that is dedicated to development and production applications.  This approach allows tighter controls to be applied for production runs, while preserving the freedom and flexibility of users to research and analyze results between production cycles.

For more information about installing AXIS on the server please visit the following pages

AXIS on Terminal Server: https://ggy.com/faq/kbdetails.asp?searchterm=&articleid=1063

Development and Production Environments https://ggy.com/support/kbase/kbdetails.asp?searchterm=&articleid=903

There is virtually a complete separation between AXIS software and user data, which is restricted to AXIS datasets.  Applications are essentially promoted to a production environment by:

  1. Copying the dataset to a designated production partition visible to the production server
  2. Running the batch in AXIS on the production server
  3. Ensuring that all identified external source files or external database files that are required for the application are available and appropriately linked to the application dataset.

When an existing application is being updated, the same process can be used to effectively overwrite the previous user data.  However, an alternative process can be used to selectively update just those objects for which changes have been made, if control and documentation of the changes from reporting date to reporting date is required.  In this case, the production dataset can have an Audit Log feature turned on, and user defined changes can be implemented by transferring changed or new objects into the production dataset or by various other interactive or batch processes.  All such changes are logged with user ID, date and time stamps, in the Audit Log database, which can be queried, exported or printed at a later date.

If an upgrade to the released version of the AXIS software is required, it can easily be installed.  AXIS will automatically convert any existing datasets to be consistent with the new software before running them in any interactive or batch application, so IT involvement in this process is usually minimal.  Users however will want to perform separate validation tests to confirm that the software update itself has no impact on calculated results, and investigate any changes identified.  Refer to the related article for more details on Installing Updates to AXIS Software.

Hardware considerations

A production environment may impose specific requirements on the hardware used from the viewpoint of performance and security.

Performance considerations relate to the need to reliably complete a full processing cycle in a narrow window of opportunity and provide sufficient time to review and approve or rerun results.  Processing times on AXIS applications can be reduced by using faster computers (refer to Equipment Recommendations) or by using the Distributed Processing feature to take advantage multiple processor cores to complete a single batch process. 

 AXIS GridLink is designed to provide a secure, robust production environment that can scale over multiple dedicated computers up to 100's of processor cores running multiple distributed jobs in parallel or in succession. Consider AXIS GridLink as a solution when:

  • many jobs in different datasets need to be run
  • end-user workstation need to be free to develop models
  • required processing resources exceed 15 CPU cores (e.g. for stochastic processing)
  • multiple users need to share the processor farm
  • multiple versions are in use
  • access control to data partitions is required
  • teams of users need secure production/testing/development environment

Refer to a related articles for information on Performance Considerations and Scalability and AXIS GridLink: www.ggy.com/gridlink

 

Access permissions

When operating on local machines or under individual use, access to the application is controlled by hardware or software keys assigned to each user. AXIS relies on the combination of client network security Windows user account control, so the ability to access and change model definitions can be limited per user by granting specific access rights to the data partitions.  Individual objects in the models can be selectively “protected” or “superprotected” to ensure consistency and avoid inadvertent change. 

When AXIS GridLink is used to manage and control a secure production environment and efficiently use multiple processors and/or processor cores to reduce runtimes, then additional security and authorities are implemented through AXIS GridLink.  Ability to perform specific actions can be limited by assigning user roles. GridLink Access Groups feature provides control over access to the data and calculate d results on per individual user or user group.

When the audit log feature is turned on in a dataset, AXIS will log all changes to object definitions by Windows user ID.

Launching Production Routines

 

AXIS is able to execute a predefined sequence of processing steps under batch control, in addition to interactive execution of selected processes. 

There are two different types of system batch objects available.  Dataset Macro and Dataset Formula.

Dataset Macro allows you to define a sequence of execution for multipl batch jobs in the dataset.

Dataset Formula, on the other hand, offer more power and flexibility, since it is defined using AXIS Script language, which is coded using VBA structures and syntax.  This permits conditional execution of various processing steps, intelligent user defined handling of error conditions, and other advanced options.  The execution of specific processes can also be timed or dependent on the existence of files in specified locations.

AXIS can be launched by another external process using a command line syntax, which specifies which system batch or dataset batch is executed upon startup. 

However the best solution for launchind, managing and monitoring the batch jobs on the production server is AXIS GridLink.

AXIS GridLink

AXIS GridLink is a Grid solution to managing the processor farm used for distributed processing of AXIS batch calculation runs. It offers a comprehensive set of tools that help you create and manage a more efficient and secure production environment.

With AXIS GridLink you can: 

  • Control your farm without logging on to the farm servers.
  • Initiate AXIS batch jobs from any AXIS workstation.
  • When the job is submitted to the farm it is not running on the user's workstation anymore so it becomes free to do other work - even run AXIS and work in a different dataset
  • Automatically start the appropriate Master and Helpers for the current job on the farm, and control the maximum number of helpers.
  • Monitor the batch job running on the farm and the queue of jobs submitted by multiple users in multiple AXIS versions, from your local workstation or from home (using VPN).
  • Move pending jobs up and down in the queue, or cancel them, if required.
  • Review the history of runs with detailed documentation

For more information on AXIS GridLink please click here (https://ggy.com/gridlink)

Disaster Recovery Planning

The basic AXIS software is independent of data and can be easily installed and re-installed if needed. All AXIS releases (including historical versions) are readily obtained from the GGY website.  Since the user cannot update or customize the application software, it is not generally necessary to schedule backups of AXIS itself.

Disaster recovery planning will focus instead on the user data, which for the most part is totally contained within the AXIS datasets.  Datasets are conveniently compressed and written to zip files using backup commands in AXIS, and similarly back-up files may be easily restored to specified locations by AXIS.  These backup and restore commands can also be integrated into batch processes so that archiving to network locations can automatically occur after each production cycle.  Once Dataset backups and databases of stored reports are created on network drives, then normal corporate archiving policies should be used to maintain copies in secured locations off-site.

Note:  AXIS is very processor intensive, but also can read and write large amounts of data from disk, the speed of which can impact overall processing time.  It is very important for the reliability and speed of production routines, to avoid having scheduled backups of network disks or any other intensive process running on the computers or accessing the network drives used by AXIS during a production process.

Audit Trail Requirements

Audit trail requirements are specific to each company.  AXIS offers various features to help the users satisfy audit requirements.  These include:

  • the Audit Log feature to help track changes to actuarial assumptions, or other user defined elements of the calculation and data transformation process,
  • the system log which automatically tracks AXIS generated errors and warnings during interactive or batch processing
  • record count reports during source file loading and transformations

For further information on any of the above, please contact GGY Client Support.

 


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