June 19, 2020
Microsoft Azure is now the preferred home of the SAS Cloud.
A new partnership sets the stage for SAS analytics and AI applications to run in Microsoft Azure. The partnership, announced at the SAS Global Forum this week, provides a migration path for on-premises workloads to the cloud.
Also, SAS is developing a version of its Viya operational analytics platform that will run natively on Microsoft Azure. At this week’s forum, held virtually, SAS CTO and COO Oliver Schabenberger discussed the partnership with Microsoft EVP Scott Guthrie.
Microsoft’s Oliver Schabenberger
“This partnership is truly a milestone for SAS,” Schabenberger said. “It runs deep and affects every part of organization. And it can shape the future of analytics and AI in the market. With Microsoft Azure as the preferred cloud provider for SAS cloud, we are working together to provide the best experience and value as our customers transition to the cloud.”
In addition to providing “deep integration” of Viya with Azure services, the companies have various joint go-to-market activities.
Microsoft’s Scott Guthrie
“We are enabling SAS customers to now run their workloads in the cloud,” Guthrie said. “But we’re also bringing SAS industry expertise to Microsoft customers across some of the industries that are most important.”
Among them are health care, retail and financial services, Guthrie said.
SAS is among the oldest players in data analytics, and enterprises worldwide still use the company’s tools. Founded in 1976, around the same time Oracle and SAP formed, SAS revenues were $3.1 billion last year. In addition to Oracle and SAP, SAS competes with Informatica, MicroStrategy and Teradata, among others.
The company also provides data science and machine learning platforms. In that category, SAS competes with Alteryx, Databricks, Dataiku, MathWorks and TIBCO, according to Gartner’s most recent “Magic Quadrant.”
A ‘Generational Change’ for SAS
Independent analyst Tony Baer, founder and CEO of dbInsight, noted that SAS has faced a “generational change” for many years. Fueled by the rise of modern analytics and AI, the SAS Cloud is the foundation of the company’s transformation.
Last year, SAS announced it would invest $1 billion in R&D and resources to advance AI over the next three years. And this week, the company announced a key deliverable from that effort: Viya 4. Schabenberger described Viya 4 as “cloud-native, advanced analytics and AI for users of all skill levels, turning business intelligence into intelligent business in the cloud.”
SAS “is finally embracing cloud-native architecture in its flagship software,” Baer noted in a blog. Its partnership with Microsoft “could see SAS’ analytic services eventually become ubiquitous if your organization uses Azure services,” Baer added.
Guthrie said the partnership goes beyond just migrating SAS solutions to Microsoft Azure.
“We’re also deeply partnering to explore opportunities to integrate SAS analytic capabilities, including industry-specific models within Azure and Dynamics 365 to build new market-ready joint solutions for customers that are natively integrated with SAS services across multiple vertical industries.”
As an example, Guthrie described how SAS and Microsoft helped health care provider Mercy in St. Louis, and its sciences partners. The solution helped Mercy do research on how prevalent COVID-19 is in its communities — and outcomes from available therapies. Mercy is an on-premises SAS customer, Guthrie explained.
“By coming together to quickly stand up an SAS Viya environment in Azure, it will enable them to seamlessly collaborate with these partners across the industry to accelerate the research and potentially Drive faster outcomes,” he said.
In addition to Microsoft Azure, the partnership to extend the SAS Cloud includes Dynamics 365 and the Microsoft 365 platform. The latter includes Office 365, Windows and Microsoft’s management and security tools.
Guthrie demonstrated how a bank could use Azure Synapse, an analytic service that enables organizations to consolidate petabytes of data. After pulling data from various sources, he showed how to create …
… Synapse pipelines and map data flows. Notably, an individual can prep the data without having to write any code, he said.
Before passing the data on to data scientists, Guthrie showed how to transform it. In this instance, he combined customer and financial data to inform the model, then filtered out unnecessary columns to provide a clean data set.
“We also bucket age ranges to more easily classify customers down the line,” he said. “And with that the data is ready. It’s that simple.”
However, it wasn’t simple getting to where SAS is today, according to Baer.
“It takes a while to turn around a ship,” Baer noted. “Traditionally, SAS skills were so specialized that it practically defined its own job title.”
Its partnership with Microsoft will also ease the migration of legacy apps to Docker containers managed in standard Kubernetes-based clusters. Additionally, the partnership creates a new path for SAS Managed Applications services.
SAS also is rolling out industry-specific Quickstart cloud solutions, starting with retail and consumer packaged goods.
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