​Cloud moves see SAS ramp up dev and deployment

A rapidly increasing reliance on cloud-based infrastructure has seen business analytics stalwart SAS ramp up its services, deployment, capacity, and product portfolio development, according to company executive vice president and chief marketing officer Jim Davis.
Written by Leon Spencer, Contributor on

In the past two years, business analytics giant SAS saw its cloud-based business grow faster than any other part of its operation. In the past year, cloud grew by 24 percent, according to SAS executive vice president and chief marketing officer Jim Davis.

While much of this growth has resulted from SAS customers' burgeoning confidence in cloud-based infrastructure, it has also allowed the company to ramp up its services, rate of software deployment, and pace of product development.

Davis, who is tasked with providing the strategic direction for SAS products, solutions, and services, said that some of the company's largest customers -- many of which occupy the financial services space -- have undergone a volte-face in their trust of cloud-deployed data analytics services over the past few years.

"Historically, a lot of these larger organisations were not willing to let their data go outside the walls of their organisations," Davis told ZDNet. "That's changed dramatically in the last two to three years, probably, which is why the cloud business has grown as fast as it has.

"Where customers were worried three to five years ago that my data wouldn't be safe outside, in a lot of cases now, customers see it as my data is going to be safer," he said.

Davis pointed to Amazon Web Services (AWS) and other public cloud providers, along with SAS' own managed cloud service, as platforms that have been designed to accommodate "a tremendous amount" of certification and security hardening, which customers will no longer have to pay for themselves by deploying SAS software in the cloud.

"A lot of times, customers are thinking: 'I'm going to push that data liability off to a cloud provider, because they might have some better control over it than I do, and is this really where I want to spend my time as a company?'" he said.

The confidence with which SAS' customers are deploying software into the cloud -- be it public, private, or hybrid -- clearly indicates a marked shift in the industry's perception of cloud-based services, according to Davis.

"Almost 100 percent of our business was in the managed service area until the last 12 to 24 months," he said.

However, he was quick to point out that despite the rapid growth in external cloud-based deployment of the company's software, its own cloud-based managed services business also continues to grow.

Part of this continued growth has been driven by the work SAS has been doing to integrate with public cloud providers such as AWS, which enables the company to deliver its managed services in datacentres around the world, thus maintaining clients' data sovereignty.

Moreover, SAS' increasing utilisation of cloud infrastructure has seen the company make broad steps in its product development and deployment cycles.

"It's cost effective," he said. "It helps us to be quicker in terms of what we're pushing out, from a feature function perspective. A lot of the technology has changed on our end, as well."

While Davis conceded that SAS has not yet realised the full potential that cloud-based infrastructure can allow the company, he pointed to the soon-to-be-released latest iteration of its Customer Intelligence Suite -- the first for the company to be built with cloud-first architecture.

"A lot of what we're doing is re-engineering our software," he said. "So, our next major release of customer intelligence, which is a big, big deal for us, our CI Suite ... that's being completely re-architected into a multi-tenant cloud environment."

The first phase of the CI Suite cloud-native architecture is scheduled to be released toward the end of the year; an October time frame, he said.

The company is also embracing distributed storage framework Hadoop -- not just as a data store, but as a key component of an analytics platform, running analytics and in-memory processing in the cluster.

"We've just introduced event-stream processing so that we can stream data into Hadoop very, very quickly," he said.

For a company that spends around 24 percent of its $3 billion top line revenue on research and development, it is no surprise that SAS is putting so much time and energy into reforming its product portfolio around the cloud, with Davis indicating that dealing with the cloud is clearly a top priority for the company.

"As we rev our software, we're making sure that we can deal with the cloud," he said. "There's some real strong motivation to move to the newer architectures. Sometimes it's easier to move to those newer architectures in the cloud."

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