Comments on “SAS’ Nimble Dance”

There are many subjects in analytics more interesting than the SAS PR operation, but my Google Tracker pinged a few times this week after SAS successfully planted this article in the New York Times.  This morning I feel like shooting fish in a barrel, so here are four brief comments.

Steve Lohr writes:

In 2009, I wrote a long piece that looked at SAS and the challenges it faced. The headline read, “At a Software Powerhouse, the Good Life Is Under Siege.”

The piece in question — which looked like an IBM plant at the time — drew great mirth at SAS, especially the part about how hard-working SAS managers check email while driving home.   That explains why some say it’s dangerous to cross Campus Drive at 5:05.

A new version, coming in June, will be able to run entirely in remote “cloud” data centers. “It’s a complete cloud distribution, totally cloud-ready,” James Goodnight, co-founder and chief executive of SAS, said in an interview…Those clouds can be private ones operated by companies or government agencies. But SAS has its own hosted data centers, and its software now also runs on Amazon’s Web Services cloud.

Someone should explain to Mr. Lohr that the point of “Infrastructure as a service” is that you do not need special software,  unless of course your software license agreement is unduly restrictive, or your software vendor has a cumbersome license key.   “Now” appears to be 2011, according to this thread from the SAS support site; running SAS on AWS is not exactly a new thing, although doing so seems to be a science project according to the thread.  SAS crowing that its software is “now ready for Cloud” reminds me of folks at Electronic Arts crowing that you can now run SimCity because they bought more servers.

On Wednesday, SAS executives came to New York for an event at the Pierre Hotel to show off its retooled technology to customers. The code has been rewritten to run on modern hardware — so-called massively parallel computers….SAS has developed new visual tools — so users can do data analysis with a point-and-click on a laptop, or swipe-and-tap on an iPad tablet, as SAS demonstrated this week. The goal is to broaden the base of SAS users well beyond its traditional core of SAS-trained data experts. “Democratizing data is exactly what this is about,” said James Davis, an SAS senior vice president and chief marketing officer.

“Democratizing data” may or may not be a smart strategy for SAS; time will tell.   But what about “SAS-trained data experts”, what does this announcement mean for them?  SAS seems to be telling “SAS-trained data experts”  that they are working in software not designed to run on modern hardware, a point that many loyal SAS customers will be surprised to learn.

As a private company, SAS does not report its financial results. But Mr. Goodnight said its revenue grew 5.5 percent last year, held down by weakness in Europe and a strong dollar against the euro, which reduced reported sales. Europe is about the size of the United States as a market for SAS.

Nice try, Dr. Goodnight.  In 2012, the dollar declined against the Euro, by about three percent, which increased the dollar-denominated value of European sales.  In any event, all software companies operate in the same currency environment and, as noted here, IBM and SAP reported double-digit growth in 2012.

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