Is SAS still relevant?

I’m increasingly being asked the same question in a number of different ways. Essentially the question boils down to this; Given that open-source analytics, and Apache Spark in particular have become such a force to be reckoned with, does SAS still have any relevance? SAS is now over 40 years old, and has a large user base. Like it’s decades old counterparts Fortran and COBOL, SAS will exist for many many years to come.

The trend though is undeniable. Take for example the report by done by KDNuggets clearly shows that all proprietary analytics solutions are in a steep and sustained decline. For SAS, the lack of big data ETL capabilities is probably the largest contributing factor to the decline. Because of technical deficits in the platform itself, users have no choice but to embrace Apache Spark for big data and streaming applications. The lack of unstructured data capabilities is also driving many SAS customers away. Ironically, SAS’s unstructured data capabilities are largely based in Python, due to a 32KB field limits of the traditional SAS processing engine.

Although the cost advantage of open-source is a contributing factor, I don’t think it is the primary driver. The continued existence of IBM, Oracle, SAP and others proves that most companies aren’t all that motivated to ditch their overpriced ancient software towards superior open-source solutions. It’s only when a business problem simply can’t be solved with their existing technologies, do companies go out looking for other options. The lack of resources that know Spark is also a helping support SAS in the short term. That gap will not remain for long, as most graduates coming out of school with relevant degrees are learning Spark now. It’s been over a decade since SAS was the language taught in most schools.

For now, SAS will remain relevant until a fully developed ecosystem of tools surrounds Spark, probably a couple years off still. Enterprises crave platform stability, SAS if nothing else is solid as a rock. Spark on the other hand is evolving fast as lightning.