SAS makes big data easier to look at

Brian Bloom is a staff writer at ComputerWorld Canada. You can find him on . He covers enterprise hardware and software, information architecture and security topics.

SAS says its new Visual Analytics software will make business intelligence faster and easier to understand through its “highly visual” orientation.More users will now benefit from high-performance in-memory analytics with a drag-and-drop interface and intuitive functions, the company says. Visual representations of data can also be published to mobile devices, says Randy Guard, SAS Institute Inc. vice-president of product management.

“This is a completely new architecture from SAS where we have built the capability to manage large amounts of data and bring that data into memory so that you can analyze it, explore it, create visuals, publish reports and everything you would expect to do,” says Guard.
The software was “built to handle big data from the very beginning,” he says. It will also be “highly scalable,” he adds, “meaning it uses nodes of compute capability, and that can range from as low as four nodes, all the way up to over 100 nodes.”
Nigel Wallis, research director for IDC Canada’s application solutions research group, says the new software represents a shift in how SAS is developing and marketing its products.
“They had to move away from data warehousing and OLAP (online analytical processing), which was kind of a traditional approach…and move into something that was closer to near-real-time and was able to take different types of data…stuff that was coming out of your CRM, stuff that was in your supply chain, stuff that was in ERP, and potentially new types of data. And be able to analyze those simultaneously.”
Besides traditional data sources, he says, Visual Analytics will be capable of analyzing data from social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. The new drag-and-drop, point-and-click interface will make advanced analytics accessible not only to more companies, he adds, but also to more departments within a given organization. It will also reduce the cost of hiring specialized staff.
“By allowing you, as a non-statistician, to plug-and-play, without breaking it, in a format that is visually appealing, actually means that you don’t necessarily need to have the same investment in statistically-trained individuals, which are really hard to find these days, “ Wallis says.
The intelligent capabilities of Visual Analytics will “democratize analytics” and appeal to a wide variety of different business sectors, he says.
“SAS originally used to have a really difficult interface that required lots of training,” he says. But Visual Analytics “has pre-loaded and pre-baked suggestions for, ‘hey you’ve got all this data, this is the problem you’re trying to solve, we think you should do a pie chart,’ or ‘we think you should do a line chart.’”
For now, the software will be capable of rendering visuals on iPads, says Guard. “In the subsequent release we will support the Android environment as well,” he says.