A Few Interesting Things About SAS Visual Analytics

This post is more than two years old, but remains popular.  For an updated discussion, read How to Buy SAS Visual Analytics on this blog.

Thanks to a white paper recently published by an H-P engineer, we now have a better idea about what it takes to implement SAS Visual Analytics, SAS’ in-memory BI and visualization platform.

(Note: SAS has taken down the white paper since this post was published).

(Updated again June 27:   SAS has reposted an edited version of the white paper, with interesting parts removed.  The paper currently posted at this link is not the original.)

It’s an interesting picture.

A few key points:

(1) Implementation is a science project.  

Quoting from the paper:

…too often the needed pre-planning does not occur and the result is weeks to months of frantic activity to address those issues which should and could have been addressed earlier and in a more orderly fashion.

Someone should explain to SAS and H-P that vendors are supposed to provide customers with honest guidance about how to implement a product.  If “needed pre-planning does not occur”, it’s likely because the customer wasn’t told it was necessary.  Of course, some customers ignore vendor guidance; but if the issues described in this white paper are systematic (as the author suggests), there are only two plausible explanations: (a) the vendors don’t know how to implement the product, or (b) they’re positioning the product as an “appliance” that is “ready to run.”

Elsewhere in the paper, the author notes that a response to a key question about how to monitor this application is “evolving”.  In other words, thirteen months and three releases into production and the vendors still don’t have an answer.

(2) Pre-Release testing?  What’s that?


Experience on initial installations is showing that networking is proving to be one of the biggest challenges and impediments to a timely implementation.

Well, duh.  This is the sort of thing ordinarily revealed in something called “system testing” and “benchmarking”, the product of which is something called “reference architecture”.   Smart people generally think it’s a good idea to do this sort of testing and benchmarking before you release a product rather than figuring it out in the course of “initial installations”.

Pity the early adopters for this product.

(Data and management networks) are typically overlooked and are the cause of most issues and delays encountered during implementation.

Well, why are they overlooked?   Ordinarily when implementing a product one starts with something called an “architecture review” where you — I’m talking to you, SAS and H-P — tell the customer how the product works and point out these network thingies and why it’s a good idea to provision them and not leave them just hanging out there.

(3) It’s not an appliance.

The author refers to the hardware VA sits on as an “appliance”; word on the street is that SAS reps position VA as an alternative to appliances (such as IBM PureData, Teradata Aster or EMC Greenplum DCA).   Well, caveat emptor on that.  The author goes into an extended discussion of data networking, with much interesting detail on such topics as the type of cables you will need to wire this thing together (copper or glass fiber).

It seems that you need lots of cable, and for good performance you need good cable.

(4) Implement with care.

The potential exists, with even as few as 4 servers, for a Data Storm to occur.

No, he does not mean the Amiga game.    For those not hip to the lingo, a Data Storm is a Really Bad Thing that you don’t want to happen in your IT environment, and vendors generally design products that don’t set off Data Storms.

A Data Storm is to Business Intelligence what train wrecks are to travel.

(5) Infrastructure requirements may be daunting.

After an extended discussion of IP addresses and the load this product places on your network, the author writes:

Since a switch with 100s to 1000s of ports is required to achieve the consolidation of network traffic, list price can start at about US$500,000 and be into the millions of dollars.

And after more extended discussion about networking and cabling:

…while all this sounds very scary and expensive….

Dude, you have no idea.

…there can be assistance from vendors during the hardware ordering process that makes this simpler and clearer to comprehend.

No doubt.  Hardware vendors will be happy to explain all of this to you.

(6)  High Availability?  Not exactly.

The author opens the High Availability section with a Readiness Checklist detailing whether or not you should even attempt to cold swap a SAS Head Node.  The answer: it depends.  Left unanswered: what to do if the Readiness Checklist says Do Not Attempt.  I presume that the answer is “call H-P”, but I’m just guessing.

This leads to the next section:

How to transplant a SAS Head Node and survive the experience (you hope) in a SAS VA configuration.

Nine steps follow, closing with “Assuming that everything seems to be in working order…”

(7) Finding people to keep this running will be a challenge.

The author is a twenty-year veteran of SAS and H-P (with four acronyms after his name), and his paper is littered with words like “scary”, “problematic”  and “crisis”.


77 thoughts on “A Few Interesting Things About SAS Visual Analytics”

  1. Thomas, very good blog. Thank goodness people talk about the realities.
    I cant actually find that whitepaper to download now, only an abstract. Will you email it to me please at david@article2.co.uk

    I hope the powers that be haven’t taken it down to stop people getting to the truths about these things.
    David, London UK.

  2. The article is back on the SAS support site. It may interest others to know that the head of SAS’ America’s Sales division has tasked every Account Executive with selling at least one copy of SAS VA – failure will cause the AE to not be considered 100% of target even if they triple their sales quota. This sounds like a “Sell it whether they need it or not” approach and is not typical of the old SAS.

  3. Any possibility of posting the original pdf document? I would be interested to see it as my company is currently being “pitched” SAS VA and would like to see the original.

  4. Hi, Interesting stuff. I would be very interested in the original. Can you please send it to me?

  5. Hello Thomas,

    Thanks for the information. Can you please send me the original whitepaper.

    Thank you very much,

  6. Thomas, Please could I have a copy of the paper as we are about to embark on a big VA install. markjenneson@gmail.com

    I notice the original post is over a year old. Do you think any of the issues have been successfully addressed?

  7. Mr. Dinsmore, Can you please forward me a copy of the original paper as well (lcross2@wisc.edu). Thank you kindly.

    1. The post is almost two years old, and since then SAS has sold ~1,800 VA licenses, so I expect that at least some of the kinks are out. Of course, many of those sales are single-node implementations, so one should tread carefully when deploying a larger configuration.

      That said, most of the issues reported by the HP engineer boil down to lack of planning, which happens when sales reps try to position a complex application as an appliance. Visual Analytics is not now and never will be an appliance; implementation requires careful planning by people who know what they are doing. No serious person at either SAS or HP would disagree with that.

    1. Simon,

      Since the document is more than two years old, I’ve stopped sending it. The issues encountered in early implementations of VA are likely resolved, although I would get that in writing from SAS and your hardware vendor. For an updated perspective, read “How to Buy SAS Visual Analytics” on this blog.



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