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SAS: World's Largest Privately Held Software Company...

...validates Linux as a viable platform for business data

SAS (www.sas.com) is the world's largest privately held software company and a global leader in business intelligence software. SAS, founded in 1976 and headquartered in Cary, N.C., has taken a different path than many of the "Johnny-come-lately" software vendors, starting from modest beginnings and spanning 27 years of continued revenue growth to $1.34 billion in 2003. This accomplishment is not only a testimony to the value of its products and the execution of its business, but also to its knowledge of good business practices. Ninety-six of the top 100 companies on the 2003 FORTUNE Global 500 use SAS products to analyze data and make decisions about their enterprises through data warehousing, intelligence storage, analytics, and business intelligence.

SAS9, officially launched in March of this year, is the most significant software release in company history, and is supported on 10 different platforms. Jim Metcalf, director of technology platform management at SAS, said that in his 10 years working with SAS, he has not seen a higher or more significant level of interest in any platform than he has with Linux. This is one reason why SAS supports 32-bit Linux and is monitoring the 64-bit Linux market very closely.

Another reason, according to Rob Hamm, technology strategist and product manager, is that enterprises are beginning to understand the "total cost of ownership" (TCO) of Linux. The factors behind Linux as a platform are not just a matter of a lower cost of entry; conversely, all of SAS's Linux customers are deploying SAS products on enterprise Linux from either Novell or Red Hat, which involves support costs. Hamm observes that affordability of commodity hardware is also compelling decision makers to deploy Linux in their enterprises, especially in contrast to the costs involved in buying proprietary hardware for commercial UNIX.

While SAS is platform-agnostic, both Metcalf and Hamm agree that Linux can be a viable alternative to any of the other platforms they support, from various flavors of Unix to Windows server platforms. Many parallels can be drawn between the growth and adoption of Linux and SAS. "We aren't just the groups of geeks and statisticians that some people have labeled us in the past anymore; we are now providing a viable business solution," Metcalf said about SAS. That same label is slowly lifting from Linux. Many organizations see Linux as a practical solution to their business problems, despite its roots in a technically savvy community. It's likely that SAS and Linux will both simply be known as quality business solutions, having shed the stigma as "geeky" software that is prohibitively complex for the nontechnical enterprise.

One interesting item to note is that SAS9 is fully grid-capable, allowing it to run cross-platform over variable architectures in disparate locations, which, from an implementation standpoint, would allow Linux servers performing computations to run side by side with Windows and UNIX servers. Also, Linux continues to grow rapidly among SAS customers, especially as companies such as Red Hat and SuSE provide solutions that can take advantage of the multithreading and extended address space that Linux can now offer. Metcalf says that Linux offerings are becoming a significant revenue stream for SAS, and he anticipates SAS will see a greater adoption of Linux among its customers in 2005.

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) implemented a Linux and Wintel grid that cut total elapsed execution time on key research projects by 95%. Linux is seen as a very good fit for grid computing, which allows large-scale computational analysis to take place across multiple machines working together. The use of these grid resources is helping the NIEHS analyze rat genome research at speeds many times faster than before. This research, powered by Linux, could provide medical research and cures for diseases that were formerly limited by the ability to affordably analyze research data. "The heavy lifting required for data analysis done by SAS sometimes pushes hardware limitations," said Hamm. Linux, which can be affordably scaled to meet large workloads, provides the heavy lifting required for large data sets and is a very practical solution for such applications, especially when looking at the price and performance of such jobs.

SAS support for Linux is significant in the fact that it demonstrates the commitment of serious IT vendors to the platform. Most distribution vendors and the community at large are addressing all performance, reliability, and security issues. However, "the last mile" for server deployments is the application availability for large enterprises, particularly as a trusted platform to store and analyze critical data. One of the SAS mantras states, "We deliver superior software and services that give people the power to make the right decisions." According to the folks at SAS, Linux is indeed the "right decision" for an enterprise to handle its critical data.

More Stories By Mark R. Hinkle

Mark Hinkle is the Senior Director, Open Soure Solutions at Citrix. He also is along-time open source expert and advocate. He is a co-founder of both the Open Source Management Consortium and the Desktop Linux Consortium. He has served as Editor-in-Chief for both LinuxWorld Magazine and Enterprise Open Source Magazine. Hinkle is also the author of the book, "Windows to Linux Business Desktop Migration" (Thomson, 2006). His blog on open source, technology, and new media can be found at http://www.socializedsoftware.com.

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