Optimizing Sort Performance


You want to sort the data in your source tables before running a job. Sorting is a common and resource-intensive component of SAS Data Integration Studio. Sorts occur explicitly as PROC SORT steps and implicitly in other operations such as joins. Effective sorting requires a detailed analysis of performance and resource usage.
Sorting large SAS tables requires large SORT procedure utility files. When SAS Data Integration Studio is running on multiple SAS jobs simultaneously, multiple SORT procedure utility files can be active. For these reasons, tuning sort performance and understanding sort disk space consumption are critical.


You can enhance sort performance with the techniques listed in the following table. For more information, see the ETL Performance Tuning Tips white paper that is available from http://support.sas.com/resources/papers/tnote/tnote_performance.html.
Sort Performance Enhancement Techniques
Use the improved SAS®9 sort algorithm
SAS®9 includes a rewritten SORT algorithm that incorporates threading and data latency reduction algorithms. The SAS®9 sort uses multiple threads and outperforms a SAS 8 sort in almost all circumstances.
Minimize data
Perform the following steps:
  • Minimize row width.
  • Drop unnecessary columns.
  • Minimize pad bytes.
Direct sort utility files to fast storage devices
Use the WORK invocation option, the UTILLOC invocation option, or both options to direct SORT procedure utility files to fast, less-utilized storage devices. Some procedure utility files are accessed heavily, and separating them from other active files might improve performance.
Distribute sort utility files across multiple devices
Distribute SORT procedure utility files across multiple fast, less-utilized devices. Direct the SORT procedure utility file of each job to a different device. Use the WORK invocation option, the UTILLOC invocation option, or both options.
Pre-sort explicitly on the most common sort key
SAS Data Integration Studio might arrange a table in sort order, one or multiple times. For large tables in which sort order is required multiple times, look for a common sort order. Use the MSGLEVEL=I option to expose information that is in the SAS log to determine where sorts occur.
Change the default SORTSIZE value
For large tables, set SORTSIZE to 256 MB or 512 MB. For extremely large tables (a billion or more wide rows), set SORTSIZE to 1 GB or higher. Tune these recommended values further based on empirical testing or based on in-depth knowledge of your hardware and operating system.
Change the default MEMSIZE value
Set MEMSIZE at least 50% larger than SORTSIZE.
Set the NOSORTEQUALS system option
In an ETL process flow, maintaining relative row order is rarely a requirement. If maintaining the relative order of rows with identical key values is not important, set the system option NOSORTEQUALS to save resources.
Set the UBUFNO option to the maximum of 20
The UBUFNO option specifies the number of utility I/O buffers. In some cases, maximizing UBUFNO increases sort performance up to 10%. Increasing UBUFNO has no negative ramifications.
Use the TAGSORT option for nearly sorted data
TAGSORT is an alternative SAS 8 sort algorithm that is useful for data that is almost in sort order. The option is most effective when the sort-key width is no more than 5 percent of the total uncompressed column width. Using the TAGSORT option on a large unsorted data set results in extremely long sort times compared to a SAS®9 sort that uses multiple threads.
Use relational database sort engines to pre-sort tables without data order issues
Pre-sorting in relational databases might outperform sorting that is based on SAS. Use options of the SAS Data Integration Studio Extract transformation to generate an ORDER BY clause in the SAS SQL. The ORDER BY clause asks the relational database to return the rows in that particular sorted order.
Determine disk space requirements to complete a sort
Size the following sort data components:
  • input data
  • SORT procedure utility file
  • output data
Size input data
Because sorting is so I/O intensive, it is important to start with only the rows and columns that are needed for the sort. The SORT procedure WORK files and the output file are dependent on the input file size.
Size SORT procedure utility files
Consider a number of factors to size the SORT procedure utility files:
  • sizing information of the input data
  • any pad bytes added to character columns
  • any pad bytes added to short numeric columns
  • pad bytes that align each row by 8 bytes (for SAS data sets)
  • 8 bytes per row overhead for EQUALS processing
  • per-page unused space in the SORT procedure utility files
  • multi-pass merge: doubling of SORT procedure utility files (or sort failure)
Size of output data
To size the output data, apply the sizing rules of the destination data store to the columns that are produced by the sort.