Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The SAS Analytical Products 12.1 Release, and Its Implications for Base SAS

There is a new SAS analytics release, collectively identified as SAS Analytical Products 12.1. This is a departure from past practice, in which SAS analytics products used the same version numbers that SAS had. As SAS/STAT 12.1 User’s Guide explains,

In previous years, SAS/STAT® software was updated only with new releases of Base SAS® software, but this is no longer the case. This means that SAS/STAT software can be released to customers when enhancements are ready, and the goal is to update SAS/STAT every 12 to 18 months. To mark this newfound independence, the release numbering scheme for SAS/STAT is changing with this release. This new numbering scheme will be maintained when new versions of Base SAS and SAS/STAT ship at the same time. For example, when Base SAS 9.4 is released, SAS/STAT 13.1 will be released.

Similar statements are found for other products. The new release includes SAS/ETS, SAS Enterprise Miner, SAS/QC, SAS/IML, SAS/IML Studio, SAS/OR, SAS Simulation Studio, SAS Forecast Server, SAS Model Manager, SAS Sentiment Analysis, SAS Content Categorization, and SAS Text Miner, all now numbered 12.1.

Users of these products will be interested in the many new features, especially the new regression procedures introduced in SAS/STAT. I am also interested in the implications for base SAS, though these are more speculative in nature.

Most obviously, the statement refers to “Base SAS 9.4” as a known future event. This is not the first official mention of 9.4 that we have seen, but I take it as the most definite indication to date that a revision to base SAS is in the works.

The wording also suggests that the release of SAS 9.4 is not imminent, that is, not likely to be seen in the next 12 months. More broadly, the new version numbering scheme suggests that base SAS releases may become less frequent, perhaps occurring in a 2- to 5-year cycle, while analytics releases become more frequent, happening almost every year.

My take on this divergence in SAS development is that the core technology in SAS is now successfully object-oriented and abstracted, a change that SAS identified as a strategic direction in the late 1990s. This would imply that an update to SAS would no longer require an update to every procedure. You could change the SAS version without reinstalling all of the procedures. Or, you might be able to use a SAS procedure with a SAS version other than the one it was created for. This is something a few of the more adventurous SAS users have been attempting, and sometimes reporting some success with, in recent years.

Getting more speculative now, I am hoping this is a sign that SAS is getting closer to the more flexible approach to data that I have been waiting for. Closer, perhaps, but not there yet. I have always assumed the new data-handling features were targeted for SAS 10; the changes would be too fundamental in a technological sense to roll into a second-level release number. The announcement of SAS Analytical Products 12.1 tells us that if indeed SAS 10 exists, we will have to wait at least several more release cycles to see it.