Thanks, but no thanks, SAS

Thanks, but no thanks, SAS

Summary: Yesterday I wrote about some data analysis I need to do. It turns out, there is quite a lot of analysis that needs to take place, along with fairly serious data management, especially as we start to relate MCAS scores with other data (SATs, special education testing, socioeconomic data, etc.


Yesterday I wrote about some data analysis I need to do. It turns out, there is quite a lot of analysis that needs to take place, along with fairly serious data management, especially as we start to relate MCAS scores with other data (SATs, special education testing, socioeconomic data, etc.). Having been a SAS programmer in a few former lives, SAS was an obvious choice for both the data manipulation and analysis.

I contacted SAS yesterday for a quote; mind you, I'd always used a copy supplied by an employer or school. While I knew that SAS wouldn't be cheap, I was in for serious sticker shock when I received the quote. For those of you who have never used it, SAS is the industry standard for statistical analysis, data management, and, more recently, business intelligence. It is divided into countless modules, most of which can be purchased a la carte. To keep costs down, I asked for a quote on just the basics: SAS Base (the required main module), STAT (containing countless statistical functions), and GRAPH (for making school committee-worthy graphics instead of standard line printer output from the other modules).

I only wanted a single user license; it's just me doing the actual analysis and SAS programmers aren't exactly a dime a dozen in small, rural school districts. Care to know the first-year costs? Just to get started, we were already well over $5000. SAS requires a yearly renewal, as well, running about 40% of the year 1 costs. I could just see the blank stares as I tried to justify those numbers to the school committee.

Of course, this is the land of free and open source software. Nothing free or open source can fully replace SAS; there's a reason it's an industry standard and SAS is the largest privately-held software company in the world. However, at those prices, I'm more than happy with good enough. So I downloaded R, a very serious open source take on the S language (implemented commercially as S-Plus), found brief tutorial, and will start banging away this week on a new programming language and interface. It's always good to learn something new, especially when something old costs as much as my budgets for my elementary schools.

Topics: Data Management, Enterprise Software, Open Source, Software

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

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  • Some good R links
  • openIntel

    Try openIntel, a free data model offered by OSEd ( ). IT is free and it includes
    documentation explaining it, the tables and the
    relations. It was designed by Maurice Frank, the
    original creator of the IBM Insight at School
    education data warehouse. The data model can be used
    with any database, PostreSQL is free and open source,
    and it can be accessed by any standard reporting tool.
    We used BIRT, a tool provided as part of the Eclipse
    framework, which is supported by IBM among many others
    as a standard Java development platform.

    All you need to know is common SQL to generate your
    data sets and then you use the graphical interface of
    the BIRT tool ( )to create
    charts, tables, insert graphics, etc. It works
    seamlessly with Apache web server and all reports are
    delivered in HTML or PDF.

    The only trouble you will face is getting the data
    into the data model, but we will be happy to assist
    you. You can use an open source ETL tool to do this.
    i use Pentaho's Data Integrator, but there are others
    out there like Talend or Jitter.

    You do not need the power of SAS to do the majority of
    reporting inn education. The real power is in the
    data model that allows you to easily relate disparate
    types of data to each other in a meaningful way.

    We would love to help you develop and deploy a robust
    reporting environment using common open source tools.
    Take a look at the data model. It should address 85%
    - 90% of your reporting needs that occur on a daily

    Casey Adams, Founder & President
    Open Solutions for Education
    • URL Correction

      Group is;
      URL is
  • SAS would do well with a "home" version

    Meaning one without so many procs and elaborate options. The whole data management approach is approximately obsolete and could be simplified for the limited version.

    So long as Excel doesn't have iterative processing there'll be a market for a limited functionality SAS. And if the company were ever to be purchased, I think such a product would become available in less than a year.

    If SAS doesn't take this approach, then there may be an opening for another software company, assuming that a not-quite-adequate open source product doesn't preclude a competitor and protect SAS's expensive monopoly.
    Anton Philidor
    • I don't now if it's adequate

      but SAS has another more lightweight software in its catalog : JMP
      Its cheeper ( found a reseller at 1500? in europe in five minutes ) at its one time.
      of course that exceeds the price of an open source solutions, but from what I remember of a quick overview five years ago, it really offers a GUI that simplify teh work ( not prorgamming language based ).
      • That's still $2,000 to $2,500

        And most people wouldn't consider that a minor investment.

        If module charges are also necessary, such as Excel to SAS, the price can quickly double, at least.

        The functionality required by individual users varies considerably, but SAS seems highly expensive for all of them.
        Anton Philidor
    • Probability zero

      SAS makes enough money marketing their wares to large corporations, universities, and government that I think it's highly unlikely that they would ever market to the small number of people that would be interested in using it at home. In all likelihood they'd be too afraid of commercial users cheating. The only things that could lower SAS' prices are a functional clone and a major deflationary spiral (either/or).

      MS-Excel, of course, isn't even close to being in the same league, even if you know how to program in VBA (for one thing, it's hopeless for batch processing).
      John L. Ries
      • Excel?

        Why does everybody mention Excel? Excel is a calculator, not a database. You should be comparing with Access, or some other relational database software.
  • I would like that

    but strange things usually happen. While official dollar to euro rates are around 1.4 dollar for a euro, in practise it's often the other way round.

    a technet subscription can be had for 250$ with a coupon, in france it's 350 euros, with no coupon available.

    adobe photoshop is 690$ and 999?
    even with taxes compensated you end up with a practical parity often around 1.2 euro for a dollar...

    this is not always true some editor like to have the sama tag price in euro and dollars....
  • RE: Thanks, but no thanks, SAS

    People dump on the school system, but as long as I could remember there were laways dedicated teachers who dug into their own pockets and donated their time for their students.

    JJ Brannon
    • No Dumping Allowed

      I don't think this is a case of dumping on the system. The fact remains that educational budgets are small, and as such, are closely watched down to the penny in terms of spending. After all, how much you spend in one fiscal year determines how much you get in the next.

      Personally, I still don't understand why a school text book costs three times as much as a consumer non-fiction book on the same topic.
  • RE: Thanks, but no thanks, SAS

    I have used the SPSS analysis software for a very reasonable price. SPSS is very supportive of education and offers excellent software support. Download a trial version at
  • My condolences

    As a SAS programmer, I find the S language to be a major pain. I can do it, but I really don't like it for the sort of database management at which SAS excels.

    If I ever become independently wealthy, I'm writing a SAS clone.
    John L. Ries
  • I've used SAS extensively, but what about PSPP?

    If you can get along with the basic stats, PSPP is an open-source alternate to SPSS.
  • RE: Thanks, but no thanks, SAS

    That strikes me as quite a decent price. The problem is that SAS and SPSS create a lot of value for commercial organisations so they have little trouble making excellent business cases to purchase the software at these high prices. It is clearly better business for SAS and SPSS to keep their prices high and fleece the business market than bother about reaching individuals. There is definitely room in the market for some niche players.
  • SAS Learning Edition?

    Hey Chris, I work for SAS. There???s an inexpensive version of SAS designed specifically for educators called SAS Learning Edition. It includes Base SAS/V9.1.3 SP4, GRAPH, STAT, QC, ETS and Enterprise Guide 4.1. Here's a link.