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New Viya, Azure integration enables SAS analytics users

A new integration between SAS Viya and Microsoft Azure makes Azure the preferred cloud for SAS customers and will enable a more seamless connection between the platforms.

SAS and Microsoft on Tuesday unveiled a new integration between Viya and Azure that will enable SAS customers to more seamlessly run their analytics operations in Microsoft's cloud environment.

Viya is SAS' cloud-native analytics platform, first released by the longtime BI vendor in 2016. Azure, meanwhile, is Microsoft's popular public cloud computing platform.

Working together

SAS and Microsoft formed a strategic partnership in June 2020 that included both technological innovations and a joint go-to-market strategy, and the new integration between Viya and Azure is the latest development in that partnership.

The integration is designed to enable SAS customers that use Azure as their cloud environment to more reliably run analytics operations in the cloud, give users access to the latest product enhancements and new developments from SAS and Microsoft, and centrally manage their analytics with familiar Microsoft tools.

In addition, under the terms of the partnership agreement, while SAS remains multi-cloud and will still enable users to deploy in the cloud environment of their choice, Azure is now the preferred cloud partner for SAS analytics customers, according to Bryan Harris, chief technology officer of SAS.

Microsoft and SAS are working deeply on configurations in the cloud on Azure to ensure that workloads, when they move out of the internal data centers of a company, get as good, if not better, performance.
Bryan HarrisCTO, SAS

Meanwhile, SAS' Predict & Plan Consumer Demand offering, built on Viya, is now available on the Azure Marketplace and is the first of many industry-specific analytics tools SAS and Microsoft plan to build together.

"Analytics workloads in the cloud are not trivial, and Microsoft and SAS are working deeply on configurations in the cloud on Azure to ensure that workloads, when they move out of the internal data centers of a company, get as good, if not better, performance," Harris said. "That takes a lot of work on both sides."

A progressive agenda

SAS, founded in 1976 when it was part of North Carolina State University and now based in Cary, N.C., was an early adopter of analytics in the cloud, and after investing heavily in its cloud analytics strategy nearly a decade ago, subsequently made a $1 billion commitment to improving the capabilities of its analytics platform with augmented intelligence.

That advanced technology ethos is part of what attracted Microsoft to SAS and makes SAS a good partner for the software giant, according to Casey McGee, vice president of Global ISV Partner Sales at Microsoft.

"What's really exciting about this is that SAS is really on the front edge of deploying analytics in the cloud, not just building on the strength of software-as-a-service scenarios but actually leveraging the power of the cloud," he said. "As much as we valued our partnership before, what SAS is bringing to the table now is really cutting-edge stuff that's giving solid value to the customer."

An organization's scientific data analysis is displayed on a sample SAS dashboard.
A sample SAS dashboard shows how an organization is using the vendor's BI tools to analyze scientific data.

He added that Microsoft relies heavily on collaborative partnerships for innovation, and while the benefits of the partnership between SAS and Microsoft are obvious from the SAS perspective -- technological integrations and strategic alignment with a software giant -- there are significant benefits from Microsoft's perspective as well.

Among them, SAS offers industry-specific analytics tools while Power BI, Microsoft's own analytics platform, is a more general audience system. Through its partnership with SAS, therefore, Microsoft is able offer industry-specific capabilities such as Predict & Plan Consumer Demand.

"We rely heavily on technology partnerships like the one we built with SAS to deliver the last mile of value to the customer," McGee said. "It's a deep engineering partnership."

While SAS was an early adopter of cloud-based analytics, its partnership with Microsoft and adoption of Azure as the preferred cloud for its customers may be an avenue for the vendor to save on the cost of maintaining its own cloud capacity, according to Doug Henschen, principal analyst at Constellation Research.

"Keeping up with hyper-scale cloud providers is an expensive proposition," he said. "My sense is that the partnership was a way for SAS to get out of the hosting business, and it's a comfortable choice for the many large enterprises that do business with Microsoft."

Regarding the joint development of products, Henschen added that while not unique, it speaks to the depth of the relationship between SAS and Microsoft.

"Partnerships that make it easier to deploy software on a particular cloud -- with quick-starts and preconfigured images available in marketplaces -- are [common]," he said. "It's less common to see third-party software offered as a cloud-native service."

Further collaboration

Now that the integration between Viya and Azure is complete, SAS and Microsoft plan to turn their attention to further integrations between SAS' analytics platform and the Microsoft universe and new joint development projects.

Among them are a deeper integration with Microsoft Office that will enable SAS customers to bring Viya reports into Office, an integration with Azure Synapse that will make SAS Analytics part of the Synapse ecosystem and further hosting of SAS' industry-specific SaaS offerings on Azure,

"The idea is to bring all the goodness of what we do and make accessibility to that data so simple that customers see us native to the entire Azure cloud environment," Harris said.

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