At their virtualized Global Forum, SAS also previewed their upcoming Viya 4 release.
Tuesday saw enterprise analytics software vendor SAS take the virtual stage with their SAS Global Virtual Forum, a one-day version of their SAS Global Forum event which was postponed and moved online by the pandemic. That pandemic is casting a shadow over SAS this year, although one that the company says it has handled well, and will be short-term. Much of their news involved new or expanded partnerships to build out their business going forward, with the major one being with Microsoft.
“SAS has always been in transformation mode,” said Oliver Schabenberger, COO and CTO at SAS. “The path we are on is one driven by the digital transformation of the world, to simplify business and improve customer experience. Change and disruption are not unusual – but the scope caused by COVID-19 is.”
While many IT vendors have been beneficiaries of the pandemic, Schabenberger indicated that SAS is not one of these. He also stressed his view that the company has successfully weathered the storm.
“SAS is doing okay, and SAS is doing its share,” he said. “We are financially stable and secure, and we are debt free. While we expect revenues to be down somewhat this year, we will be fine. COVID might end our 44-year streak of profitability and that’s okay.” He emphasized that one reason SAS may lose money this year is because they decided not to take the step of furloughing employees.
Schabenberger also emphasized that SAS has remained consistent to what they see as the three fundamental principles of analytics.
“Analytics follows the data – analytics everywhere,” he said. “Data without analytics is value not yet realized.”
The second principle is democratization – analytics for everyone.
The third is that analytics is more than algorithms.
“The value lies in solving data driven problems end-to-end, with analytics which are enterprise grade, scalable, and governed,” he stressed.
The big announcement SAS made around their event – actually announcing it the day before – is the extension of their partnership with Microsoft.
“SAS has had a strong collaborative relationship with Microsoft for many years, and we operate our own enterprise on Microsoft technology,” said Jay Upchurch, executive vice president and CIO at SAS. “Yesterday we announced a new strategic partnership which we believe will shape the future of analytics and AI.
“We saw significant overlap in our customer bases – and overwhelming demand for SAS services on Azure,” Upchurch added. “The market spoke and we listened.”
Upchurch said that the expanded Microsoft partnership will involve three waves of collaboration. The first is what they are doing today.
“We will work to migrate SAS analytics onto MS Azure using containers or quickstarts,” he stated. This will involve both the SAS flagship version 9 analytics platform, and SAS Viya 3.5. Upchurch also emphasized that while SAS will be Azure first, they will not be Azure only, and will fully support competitor clouds.
“We will continue to be agnostic and will run anywhere, but we will integrate our operations with Azure,” he said. “Microsoft is our preferred partner for cloud solutions, but we want to meet customers where they need their platforms to run. We want to make they have a great experience regardless of the platform.”
The next wave Upchurch referred to as ‘Coming Soon.’
“This will see the next release of SAS Viya on the Azure marketplace using cloud-native services and optimizations,” he indicated.
The third wave Upchurch described as the Future.
“We will jointly explore SAS solutions and analytics on top of Viya on Azure, so we can do things faster than either of us could do on their own,” he said.
Upchurch also emphasized that the Go-to-Market strategy with Microsoft will see extensive co-selling and comarketing.
“We can bring this together in a way that neither one of us alone would be able to do,” added Ulrich Homann, Corporate Vice president at Microsoft. “We believe this partnership helps make us better together.”
SAS also announced a partnership with KPMG that Dave McDonald, Chief Sales Officer at SAS, said was in lockstep with the Microsoft partnership. The KPMG initiative will see the two organizations accelerate SAS clients’ move to the cloud with Cloud Acceleration Centers with specific focuses in North America, Europe and Asia Pacific.
“The initial focus of these centres will support applications like anti money laundering and procurement integrity,” McDonald said. “This is the first of many joint initiatives we envision with many global partners and Microsoft this year.”
Another new collaboration is with Handshake, a career community for college students in the US from over 900 US colleges and universities. The collaboration is designed to help SAS customers meet the growing demand for SAS analytics skills.
“We are working with Handshake to create demand for skilled young analytics workers, so companies can find this talent in their backyard,” Schabenberger said.
Schabenberger also announced that SAS has decided to extend indefinitely what had originally been 30 days free access to their online training resources, on account of the pandemic.
Finally, SAS previewed SAS Viya 4, which is scheduled to be available later in 2020, and which is engineered to take advantage of the latest cloud technologies.
“Viya 4 helps simplify and develop models and get them into production,” said Gavin Day, Senior Vice President, Technology at SAS. “Viya 4 is developer-friendly and can be embedded into applications with public APIs.”
“For developers and integrators, Viya 4 is about our commitment to API-first design,” said Bryan Harris, SAS’ SVP of Engineering. “They will be able to integrate and leverage Viya 4 as a foundation to create new solutions for their own customers.”
SAS Viya 4 uses a continuous integration, continuous delivery [CI/CD] process that lets customers choose their release intervals, to gain access to the latest product innovations when they are ready. The container-based architecture, orchestrated by Kubernetes, provides portability across different cloud environments, including Azure, Google, AWS and OpenShift.