SAS Visual Analytics Provides Wow Factor

Getting my Friday off to a great start, I just watched a demonstration of a new analytics tool that powered through 1.1 billion rows of data in a flash, delivering results in data visualizations that can run on the user platform of your choice, including the iPad. To quote a tweet from Fern Halper, a partner at Hurwitz & Associates who had seen the demo, "analyzing 1.15B rows of data, in like a second. Very impressive."

The tool, from this site's sponsor, is SAS Visual Analytics. It packs a punch.

SAS Visual Analytics represents the culmination of a variety of ongoing development efforts, as Randy Guard, vice president of product management at SAS, explained during the partner demonstration that I viewed. These include consumer-oriented business intelligence, with "walk up and use," self-service capabilities; data visualization; mobile BI; Hadoop; and high-performance, in-memory analytics.

According to Guard, SAS designed the Visual Analytics architecture from the ground up with a deliberate focus on big data. From the tool's dashboard, called The Hub, users can pull -- or, more precisely, drag -- data from a selection of structured or unstructured sources and drop them in the "pallet," which is the on-screen workspace. From there, the tool does the analysis, creates a visual, and, if the user so desires, publishes the results to the Web or an iPad (with Android devices to follow).

SAS Visual Analytics comprises four elements: the Environment Manager, an administrative tool for managing users, security, and data; the Visual Analytics Explorer, for ad hoc data discovery and visualization; Visual Designer, for standard and advanced reporting and dashboards; and Mobile BI, for rendering the data visualizations natively on Apple iOS devices today and Android devices in the future, Guard said. SAS has pulled these together in The Hub, which provides role-based, secure access for IT, business, and analytics professionals.

In one demonstrated example, Guard grabbed 10 measures (unit ID, unit capacity, unit downtime, unit yield (actual), and so on) and allowed the tool to "tell him everything." Within roughly six seconds, it delivered a schematic showing the correlations among the 10 items. In another example, he showed the ease with which users can drill down from the big picture -- say, sales in the US -- to sales in a specific region, state, or city.

All of this relies on the highly scalable -- from four to 100-plus nodes or blades, depending on the data involved and the number of users -- SAS LASR Analytic Server, an in-memory analytics engine that uses Hadoop as local storage for fault tolerance. "This is not a relational database. It's not SQL dependent."

Dan Vesset, program vice president of IDC's business analytics research, said in a press release that the in-memory architecture offers tremendous benefits.

"Organizations can explore huge data volumes and get answers to critical questions in near-real-time," Vesset said in the release. "SAS Visual Analytics offers a double bonus: The speed of in-memory analytics plus self-service eliminates the traditional wait for IT-generated reports. Businesses today must base decisions on insight gleaned from data, and that process needs to be close to instantaneous."

Antoine Georges, vice president of analytics at Virgin Mobile USA, also watched a product demo, and he shared this thought in a press statement:

I could immediately recognize in SAS Visual Analytics the potential benefit of incorporating the massive amount of information in our call detail records into our models, but also the value of scoring and targeting our customer base in real-time with the most relevant offers. SAS Visual Analytics will let us quickly dig into our big data to uncover opportunities, and in time, to fully exploit them.

I'll say. SAS Visual Analytics definitely delivers a wow factor. What do you think about this tool's potential?

Beth Schultz, Editor in Chief

Beth Schultz has more than two decades of experience as an IT writer and editor.  Most recently, she brought her expertise to bear writing thought-provoking editorial and marketing materials on a variety of technology topics for leading IT publications and industry players.  Previously, she oversaw multimedia content development, writing and editing for special feature packages at Network World. In particular, she focused on advanced IT technology and its impact on business users and in so doing became a thought leader on the revolutionary changes remaking the corporate datacenter and enterprise IT architecture. Beth has a keen ability to identify business and technology trends, developing expertise through in-depth analysis and early adopter case studies. Over the years, she has earned more than a dozen national and regional editorial excellence awards for special issues from American Business Media, American Society of Business Press Editors,, and others.

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Re: SAS Visual Analytics Provides Wow Factor
  • 4/4/2012 7:38:42 PM

MDMconsult, I had the opportunity to sit down with the Visual Analytics team at this week's Gartner BI Summit, and was impressed all over again. The product is obviously in its early stages, but the ease and speed of pulling together, analyzing, and showcasing results in visual fashion was pretty cool. In this case, we were in L.A. and the data at SAS HQ in Cary, N.C. Results were near-instanteous. I know the team is already thinking ahead to the first set of enhancements, too, so this is definitely worth our continued attention.

SAS Visual Analytics
  • 4/4/2012 6:24:19 PM

@Beth SAS Visual Analytics is definitely a "Wow". "SAS Visual Analytics "Visually" explores data at the speed of sight. Quoted by Virgin Mobile USA: "I could immediately recognize in SAS Visual Analytics the potential benefit of incorporating the massive amount of information in our call detail records into our models, but also the value of scoring and targeting our customer base in real time with the most relevant offers," said Antoine Georges, Vice President of Analytics at Virgin Mobile USA, a Sprint prepaid company. "SAS Visual Analytics will let us quickly dig into our big data to uncover opportunities, and in time, to fully exploit them. " Great new article, Beth. The software is super fast! "

  • 3/26/2012 3:19:26 PM

I saw a demo of this tool last fall ... and I instantly fell in love!  So cool.

Some women dream of fashion - I dream of computer apps!  :-)

Re: Video demo
  • 3/26/2012 8:49:25 AM

Beverly, this really is a great of example of how visualizations complement the analytics. I've been concerned at times that people toss visualizations into BI reports just to pretty up the page without really knowing why they're doing it or whether they truly help deliver the information accurately. I think this approach to visualizations helps do away with that problem -- ie, report writers & business managers aren't left to their own devices!

Re: Client Server Model for analysis
  • 3/26/2012 8:44:11 AM

Hi Daniel, to be sure, trying to pass lots of data over slow or flakey client-server connections won't sure anyone's purposes. I would imagine much of the analysis would be done on the corporate network with the exception being when users are traveling or otherwise offsite and using mobile devices (at this point Apple iPad). I'm guessing that's one of the reasons the visualizations render natively on the mobiles devices.

Client Server Model for analysis
  • 3/26/2012 7:17:18 AM
1 saves

Beth, since they are using HPC clusters at back end, computational speed may be high. But in server client model, data transfer from client side to server for analysis may be a bottle neck, due to connectivity and bandwidth bottlenecks. Instead of transferring the input data from user end to server, accessing the service as mirror image to client desktop can offer a much faster results.

Re: Video demo
  • 3/25/2012 4:45:33 PM

This is a very sophisticated approach on SAS's part. Offering the same product to all stakeholders will, no doubt, foster better communication across teams. They may finally be able to speak the same language to one another. This is big, as many times we have addressed the problem of cross-team communication. Now finally maybe the business enterprise will be able to speak to the IT folks.

Re: Very Tre Cool
  • 3/25/2012 4:43:17 PM

Very cool, I agree. The next advance would be to make it web-based. Is that something in the plan?

Re: Video demo
  • 3/25/2012 4:42:07 PM

Thanks, Beth, for sharng this video. I particularly like the GUI. A graphical representation of results, rather than text. The drag and drop feature and the fact that you don't need cube structures. There is also tremendous flexibility with on-the-fly editing. This is definitely a state-of-the-art analytic tool.

Re: Very Tre Cool
  • 3/25/2012 12:56:15 PM

beverlyz -- I haven't tried out the product myself, but the demo certainly is impressive! I would imagine SAS will have to work out a bug here or there, as is the typical case with new products, especially those built on new architectures. But it'll be keeper, no doubt.

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