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SAS launches a free version – but, is it good enough?

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I have spent the entire 7 years of my corporate work experience working on SAS. So, when I heard that SAS launched a free version (late May) – I was all excited! My initial reaction was that if SAS becomes available for free, it would become the preferred choice of analysis tool for people entering the industry.

It is easier to learn (compared to R), has the highest market share (in terms of number of jobs) with awesome customer support (read more details here). Usually, high cost is the biggest hindrance to its wide usage among freelancers, consultants, trainers and data scientists. If SAS offers a version for free – it would be like having the best of both worlds. Did it actually turn out to be so? Well, we will figure out in a few minutes!

 SAS_analytics_U

The free offering – SAS Analytics U (or SAS University edition)

Let us look at what SAS has to offer in its free version and then try and understand what they were aiming to achieve. The free offering, which is called SAS Analytics U, is free for download for teaching, learning and research.

This is what SAS says on its overview page:

Our new software for teaching, learning and research in higher education is now available to download for free. You’ll gain access to the latest SAS software and programming environments for data analysis and reporting.

Sounds good! However, I am not sure what classifies as learning and research here. I participate in Kaggle competitions for the learning – so can I use it there? I am not sure. I think it is better to check. You can download the software here.

 

Components of SAS Analytics U:

I thought, I’ll download it anyway and use the software for teaching it to a few people, I used to coach. I was in for the next surprise as soon as I got into details. These are the components which are available for download in SAS Analytics U:

  • Base SAS
  • SAS / STAT
  • SAS / IML
  • SAS / ACCESS Interface to PC Files
  • SAS Studio

My eyes stayed wide open when I saw this list for the first time. There is no SAS / GRAPH in this package! How do you complete an analysis without the use of PROC GCHART? Who uses SAS without accessing SAS / GRAPH? This looked like a serious limitation to me initially. Thankfully, SAS has included ODS graphics into the package. So, you need to use PROC SGCHART instead of PROC GCHART. The output of SGPLOT looked better compared to GPLOT and SAS has provided easy GUI access in SAS Studio, so that even a beginner can learn SGPLOT.

There are a few more components which SAS could have added, e.g. SAS / ETS, SAS / OR or SAS / QC. SAS Enterprise Guide, Enterprise Miner or Visual Analytics would have been icing on the cake – but for now, we will have to live with what SAS has provided! I am told there is more coming in July. Till then my decision trees have to wait!

 

Installation:

You need to set up a virtual environment (through Oracle Virtualbox or VMware Player), both of which are free to download for non-commercial uses. So, I went ahead and did so. Virtualbox seemed to slow down even my top end monster – Quad core i7, 16 GB RAM and did not work for some reason. On the other hand, VMware ran fine and was up as soon as I finished downloading 1.5+ GB of installation.

I loved to see the SAS graphic back on my screen. You run SAS Studio through your browser. The interface is neat and should be familiar to anyone who has used base SAS in the past.

I tried installing the same on Ubuntu 12.04, but the SAS Studio failed to load – something to research at a later point.

SAS_startup_screen

Performance:

SAS has put on limitations to how much memory / processing power you can use. You can only use a maximum of 1 or 2 GB RAM with 2 processors. So, clearly, SAS is not offering Analytics U for advanced learning. This was the second deal breaker for me (first one being the missing components)

 SAS-v2

Community:

One new initiative worth mentioning is the community SAS is trying to create with Analytics U. It has Facebook, Linkedin and YouTube channels. However, the community is very small right now and lacks the quality of discussions you might see on the R or Python in their communities. Let us see how it grows and whether it converts into a meaningful community in future.

 

Overall Verdict:

It is heartening to see SAS reacting to open source softwares and their rise in recent years. It has definitely made a good attempt in pushing out first product. However, the current product is aimed towards new learners. I think they have put too many limitations to appeal to serious learners.

Having said that, it is not too far from a product which can provide a SAS career path for people entering the industry. If they can add the (few) key missing components, it can become a stepping stone for the future analysts / data scientists. Till that time, R and Python continue to reign this place. I am not moving away from any of them in near future.

It would be interesting to see what SAS comes out with in a few days. I am following this space closely.

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46 Comments

  • Kumar Chinnakali says:

    Dear Kunal,

    Thanks for sharing this information. It help us(beginners) to explore the analytics in additional tools along with R. Once again AV is doing awesome. Hats off.

    Regards,
    Kumar Chinnakali

  • pradeep says:

    Dear Kunal,

    Thank you for sharing. Installation seems to be little tricky.

    Regards,
    S.S.Pradeep

  • saurabh says:

    Hi Kunal,

    It would be great if you can share the installation steps as well in a separate article.

    -Saurabh Kapoor

  • Abhinav Jain says:

    Thanks Kunal for sharing this useful piece of information.

  • Anders Skollermo says:

    VERY good review! Many thanks!
    Please note that Graphics is included in many STAT procedures.
    Earlier you used a STAT procedure AND after that a geneal GRAPH procedure.
    Now there are several examples of STAT and GRAPHICS “joined together” – it actuall is quite good, for e.g. Kaplan Meyer analysis.

  • Hi Kunal, thanks for your feedback on SAS Analytics U and the free SAS University Edition software that is part of this initiative. The SAS Analytics U initiative was built on SAS community feedback, and we would be happy to discuss with you further and answer any questions you may have at SASanalyticsU@sas.com. Definitely stay tuned in the coming months as we continue to grow this program and expand our offerings!

  • Richard Self says:

    Actually, I found the installation very easy, once I had figured out the quirks in Oracle VirtualBox. Importing the SAS AnalyticsU VM was incredibly easy and it was up and running very quickly, just follow the installation instructions that are provided with the SAS installation..

    The most important item for me was to not to install the Python extension in VirtualBox, it killed VirtualBox completely. On my other PC, I had to get into the Bios to allow virtualisation.

    Otherwise this is an excellent tool for my students to learn most aspects of SAS and to get them enthused with making sense of data very quickly, especially if you use the UCLA SAS tutorials.

    The toolkits that are built in to SAS AnalyticsU, together with a wide range of data, are also excellent for learning SAS. It provides all the tools necessary to pass the Base SAS certification tests.

    You will find that the interface and SAS Studio can, in some ways, replicate aspects of Enterprise Guide, although this will require a bit of a mindset change.

    All in all I think that this is an excellent offering at just the right time to help address the huge Analytics skills gap.

    By the way, you really would not want to use SAS Visual Analytics in a virtual machine on a PC. It needs a huge 258GB Ram server according to the technical specs!

    • Kunal Jain says:

      Thanks Richard for the tip for not installing Python extension.

      I was hoping that SAS VA might work for small experiments without the big RAM requirement – Something like Qlikview personal edition. I haven’t used the product – have been part of multiple demos by SAS, where it looked like a good addition.

      Regards,
      Kunal

      • Richard Self says:

        What we have to realise that SAS have very clear roadmaps for different market sectors and levels of complexity. AnalyticsU / SAS Studio are designed for a specific area of the market.

        The Education version that we have been discussing is for beginners to learn with and has already been shown by a colleague to be easily capable of allowing students of SAS to complete all the Base SAS work that is necessary to achieve Base SAS certification standards.

        As a result, it is clear that this free for eduction and learners of SAS Edition achieves its purpose perfectly. It is quite capable of handling quite adequate volumes of data for learning purposes.

        I will contribute further items when I have explored its volume capabilities soon.

        It is unreasonable of the public to expect a commercial organisation to give away its Crown Jewels for free, so I would not be surprised if sometime in the future that a commercial offering of the SAS Studio, which is the core of the free package that we are commenting on, will appear. I have no inside information, so I can’t comment on any plans that SAS may or may not have.

        Turning to SAS VA. This is their flagship large corporate offering on which they appear to be basing many of their future developments. I was at the UK SAS Professionals Convention in Marlow today and they have some amazing developments in progress. Its whole architecture is designed for truly Big Data, hence the high RAM requirements because it is designed to process the data in memory. It seems that they are now realising that it could be useful for smaller datasets, so we now need to wait and see where they take SAS VA based on feedback from their customers.

        Hope that this helps

        Richard

        • Lee Herman says:

          SAS Studio is packaged with a number of commercial SAS offerings, with some dependencies on the type of environment (single-user, multi-user and enterprise). It is not be offered as a standalone commercial offering.

          Lee

  • Pradeepta Mishra says:

    Hi Kunal,

    Thanks for sharing this information. I have gone through the documentation part, i have couple of questions, apart from the limitations you have rightly mentinoed,

    1) Is there any data security issue, since we are accesing the sas studio server,
    can i assume that my data is not going out of my computer.

    2) What is the maximum data i can process through SAS U.

    if it is targeted at the university usage and not for small commercial entities, then
    surely it is going to be another blunder by SAS to take on the open source giants.

    why would some researcher move from R and Python to SAS U ?

    • Richard Self says:

      To answer the first question, the SAS server runs on your own virtual machine on your PC and is than accessed via one of your Web Browsers, so the security issue is essentially “How secure is your own PC?”

      I don’t know the answer to your second question but I suspect that you can use quite large volumes (at least in relation to its use in a University environment). If you are interested in in truly Big Data, then you will probably want to use the normal SAS for Windows environment or even SAS Visual Analytics (SAS VA).

      To answer the final point; it all depends on whether you are a hard core coder or a person who wants to do analytics and is less interested in coding. If the latter, then R has a very steep learning curve.

      With SAS for Windows and SAS JMP, I am able to get my students to be actively engaged in analytics within less than an hour, which I suspect is extremely unlikely if using either R or Python. This results in very rapid progress into SAS. We will be using SAS AnalyticsU next semester and will be very interested to see whether this further reduces the time to active analytics and develops even greater enthusiasm for Analytics.

      • Kunal Jain says:

        Thanks Richard for providing your view on the topic. Relevant points

        I’ll just add a few more points to what Richard has mentioned here.

        1. I guess the question is primarily coming from the fact that SAS Studio is running in a browser. If that is the case, you don’t need to worry. The data remains on local machine and runs as local server. You can run the engine, even when you are not connected to the internet.

        2. It is difficult to answer this exactly. I tried loading a few Kaggle datasets into the environment and they were taking long to load. I killed the process after waiting for some time. What I suspect is that like other SAS products, you will be constrained by how much hard disk space you have free in your virtual machine. There would probably be no limitation on how much data can be loaded – it would just be slow or you will run out of temporary available hard disk space while doing these computations. In my previous experience, at times joins has required more than 100 GB of disk space.

        I think the final comment is a personal choice. The product is definitely not for commercial use and Organizations. It might be too early to say whether the strategy is right or wrong. Coming back to researchers, as mentioned by Richard, SAS would make it easy to bring new people up to speed more quickly. The learning curve is not as steep as R. As compared to Python, it might be slightly easier. However, the product lacks a few components, I would have wanted to be included like ETS and OR.

        It is difficult to start a class on a product and if you encounter a time-series modeling or Optimization problem, asking them to use a separate tool. Hence, my view is, that it might work for basic research and may be becomes preferred tool there. But, researcher who has to deal with large data or advanced functions, would be constrained by the product.

        Hope this helps.

        Regards,
        Kunal

  • Richard Self says:

    One further point that needs to be made. SAS AnalyticsU is designed for University use (the clue is in the name) and for the stater levels of Analytic. I do not believe that it is currently intended as a heavy-weight research tool for university researchers. Departments in universities doing solid large-scale analytics will inevitable have the educational licenses for the standard products. Hence we are probably debating issues which are not actually going to affect the real world.

    It is one of the first new products to solve one of the problems that Dr Jim Goodnight promised at SAS Global Forum 2014 was a key focus for SAS this year, which is to make their products easier to install. I suspect that it is also an initial showcase of the future direction of SAS towards browser based interfaces with a much more GUI based approach to delivering the power of SAS to analytics users, which is clearly a great idea.

    SAS AnalyticsU is much easier to instal than SAS for Windows, takes just a few minutes rather than more than half an hour and, subject to some of the vagaries of installing the Oracle VirtualBox, is extremely simple. It also removes the necessity of managing and annually updating licenses on students’ PCs.

    Yes, I know it is currently slightly limited in some of the more “statistical” products but as I am using SAS as a tool to develop analytics skills rather than for teaching statistics, that is not a problem and in any case, we will have the full set of products on the Lab PCs for the students to use.

  • Ravi Kamani says:

    Hi KUnal,

    Thanks for sharing this, I will download it start learning SAS as i am new to it.

    • Pradeepta Mishra says:

      Hi Kunal,

      This is a question for you or SAS representatives:

      SAS-U software is exclusively for those who are university graduates/post grads/phd’s, who are pursuing some course from different universities across USA/UK/Europe.

      So why are we over excited in SAS-U as a free software. I am not, can I use the SAS-U for commercial purpose as I am using R and Python. The answer would be NO, because SAS has not mentioned anything relating to this on their website.

      When the SAS-U is for students there should not be much noise around something which can be an alternative to open source softwares.

      The title of the blog is slightly misleading, it should be “sas launches free version for students”,

      Thanks
      Pradeepta

      • Kunal Jain says:

        Pradeepta,

        The reason why it is exciting is that SAS is making more and more resources available for people wanting to learn SAS. There are a lot of people wanting to learn SAS (for the jobs mainly), who don’t have access to the software and the resources.

        With this move, SAS makes it easier for people to learn SAS on their own and be better prepared for the jobs.

        As far as the title is concerned, I think it is correct as the software is free to download for any one who wants to learn it. SAS is not stopping any one to download it, as long as you use it for non-commercial purpose.

        Regards,
        Kunal

  • Ravi Kamani says:

    Hi All,

    I am planning for SAS Certified Statistical Business Analyst certification. Where can i get the study material, has anybody done this from here?

    I know my posting deviating from the discussion above. Your comments will be highly appreciated.

    • Kunal Jain says:

      Ravi,

      SAS has recently released Statistics-I course for free. You will need to create a profile on their website and you can access the video tutorials for the course for free.

      Regards,
      Kunal

  • west exchange says:

    Hi when I try to download free SAS University I get the following message: Oops! Your profile does not have permission to complete this download.
    I have a basic yahoo email address. How do I download the software?

    • Lee Herman says:

      Regardless of your email provider, you must register with SAS by creating a SAS profile (free). Starting from the initial SAS University Edition page (http://www.sas.com/en_us/software/university-edition.html), when you click through to download the software, you will be presented with a page where you can login in with an existing SAS profile or create a new one. If you have not registered with SAS before, you will need to create a free profile to complete the download.

      Lee

  • Prashant says:

    The SAS University Edition is quite slow to launch in the absence of Internet .Also after the recent Update to the University Edition the software no longer works with the Oracle VM Virtual box in the absence of Internet .It gives an error that Port 8561 is unavailable.Due to this I switched to the VM player version of the software.This works in the absence of Internet but is slow.

  • David Corliss says:

    While SAS / ETS has not been included, much of the basic functionality for time series analysis is available in base SAS. Do a search and you will find papers with source code in base SAS for forecasting, ARIMA models, leading and lagging indicators and even some newer, more advanced topics such as wavelet analysis and clustering methods for time series data. Yes – more tools, more functionality and more power are available with ETS, which is not included in SAS University edition. However, University Edition has a lot of power for time series analysis, especially for the beginner and student for which it is intended.

  • kriss says:

    Hi, I have a problem with Sas U. When I trying to go to localhost:10080 in Chrome or IE or Opera – there is still the same empty website ‘Website is not available’. Vbox working properly, there is black console window visible. What shall I do? Thx.
    Btw. Do You know good software for Biostatistics (trial pharmacy and epidemiology)? It would be great if it will have similar or better parameters as SAS. I am not a kind of programmer guy so R and Python does not work for me ;b
    Thx.

  • vasanth says:

    Hi Kunal,
    I have issues with installing VMware with the SAS University edition. When I try to connect the SAS U through the VMware , I am getting a truncated URl…

    Regards

    Vasanth

  • kayode says:

    please house I need your help on where to be able download sas university edition because sas has block where they said I should download please this is an urgent matter

    thanks

  • Gitika says:

    Thanks for very valuable information! Can one use SAS sql in the free university edition?

  • Suvrojit Roy says:

    Hi Kunal,
    Thank you very much for this insightful post. I am new to SAS and Analytics and a little confused about the various terminologies I came in touch with. I hope you can help. I would like to acquire the BASE SAS certification to start with. I could not use the University edition since my Laptop did not allow virtualization. So I’m reduced to using SAS on Demand via my web browser. What I understand is it utilizes SAS Studio. Does it implement SAS 9 versions since I believe the BASE SAS certification would require practise of SAS 9. Is SAS 9 available through SAS Studio as well? Or do I need the SAS Enterprise Guide or SAS for Windowing environment to practise SAS9.

    • Prashant says:

      @Suvrojit. SAS Ondemand for Academics Offers Web based SAS Interface known as SAS Studio .The Actual SAS software is installed n Linux Server .The BASE SAS Version is 9.4M2 ( 9.4 Maintenance Level 2) and is the latest edition of Base SAS software available right now.

      you can always check the software versions and products installed by running the following codes in SAS ( including SAS studio) and then verifying the log for the details :

      Proc Setinit;
      Run;

      Proc Product_Status;
      Run;

      Hope this helps .

      —Prashant

  • Juan Jose Espinosa says:

    Hi Kunal,

    I work as a SAS freelance consultant.
    I have a new client that has asked me for SAS training. My cliente doesn’t have SAS licenses yet. My question is:
    Do you know if I can use SAS onDemanad for this training. Obviosuly I will get paid for the training is a commercial course.
    Thanks

  • Kandarp says:

    Hello Kunal,

    Can you suggest the best available book to learn SAS programming?

    And, does any book is better to have for developing analytical skills or the practice itself enough?

  • shashank says:

    Many companies ask for SAS competency. Can we practise on SAS-University and claim that we know it?
    How much different is SAS-University edition with Licence/ paid version ?

    • David Corliss says:

      Shashank –

      I would say SAS University edition can be one important component of SAS training. However, more is needed than saying “I worked with / learned on SAS University Edition”. Some substantive product produced is also needed. This could be a published paper, a student internship that delivered a tangible product or volunteer work that, again, produced a result a prospective employer could see and evaluate. Employers often ask for (1) what training did you have – in this, SAS University Edition – and what procedures, methodologies and data step practices can you demonstrate, (2) show a tangible product – a model, a paper, a database, a set of visualizations…the more the better and (3) good references to say you did the work yourself – not just that you participated in a team of 40 people and someone else created the final products.

      SAS University Edition is a powerful tool and great for learning. To convince an employer to hire, you need a description of your training, samples of finished work and references talking about the value you added to projects.

      Wishing all the best in your endeavors!

      • shashank says:

        Am just tring to understand if the SAS university edition varies from the licensed version in usability..?? This would help me to prepare.

        • Kunal Jain says:

          Hi Shashank,

          Just to add to what David has already said, University edition differs from licensed version on several fronts. The article above highlights some of them any ways. You are limited to 1 / 2 GB RAM of the virtual machine floated, so you can’t really work on large datasets or complicated problems.

          Further, you can not build models like decision trees. So, while it is a good starting point, it can not compensate on real life experience on large data sets.

          Hope this helps.

          Regards,
          Kunal

          • shashank says:

            Thanks a lot Kunal, I just want to try working on small dataset and understand the syntax and working of SAS.
            SAS has done a good job by making it available for free then.

  • charmi says:

    SAS university edition dosent have proc autoreg in it.
    Please let me know how can I use proc autoreg?

    Thanks
    Charmi Dholakia
    8097055678

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