Cloud Computing with SAS

Cloud Computing is not a new computer architecture construct but there are several forces that are going to make it an alternative, if not the main way SAS software will be delivered in the future. This paper will detail some of the forces that are pushing many software solutions into Cloud Computing while describing how SAS is a microcosm of this transformation. Some of the topics being presented in this paper include:
  • Cloud Computing Introduction
  • Driving Forces for Change
  • Software Components of Cloud Computing
  • Requirements for Success

The development of Cloud Computing has been in the making for some time. There are still some challenges and SAS needs to prepare and make a shift to this computing environment if it is to remain a dominant force in business intelligence software.

As software becomes more sophisticated to handle larger and more complex sets of data, the computer systems that run these applications also become more challenging to manage. New system architecture such as Grid computing for parallel processing and multi-tiered computer architecture are designed for scalability to optimize performance. This environment enables hardware configurations to deliver and match user demand for data mining and powerful analytics. IT managers in organizations that are responsible for the installation and management of these systems are faced with daunting challenges that go beyond their resources. This is because each vendor and software system has its own unique computing configuration requirements and thus demands a full time member to validate each installation and perform the administration and maintenance of that system. This poses challenges but also opportunities which give rise to Cloud Computing. Cloud Computing embraces the complexities and unique requirements of complex software solutions, yet delivers them to users in much less time and start up cost. Cloud Computing is therefore going to alter the way computer systems will be implemented by large organizations and small organizations alike.

Software as we know it is going though a fundamental change in the way it is delivered to users. Historically, it has gone through several stages in its evolution and it is now going to make another transformative leap as it adapts to Cloud Computing. Early in software development, the main processing of software resided on a mainframe computer. Users connected to it through a dumb terminal which only displayed text on monochrome monitors. All the computing processes and related files were centralized on the mainframe. With the advent of the personal computer, the processing power on the user's desktop became more powerful so software shifted and was installed on desktop computers. Many software packages were delivered in a box, shrink wrapped and stored on CDs. The SAS system reflects this evolution with earlier versions of SAS on mainframes and version 8/9 migrating to desktops. The complexities from multiple offerings from SAS pushed the boundaries of software in the box model and is transitioning it into a new environment of Cloud Computing. Elements of this are beginning to happen as the SAS software is now delivered as a download.

The mass market acceptance of services such as Google and Amazon has helped push the evolution of Cloud Computing. The complexity of the software configuration is moving to a separate set of servers managed externally to the internal IT resources or individual software user. The hardware and software for these new systems are placed behind a "cloud" on data centers which are managed separately and accessed through the Internet. It is then delivered to users through a web browser so there is no longer the need for lengthy installation, validation, version upgrades and other related software maintenance. The portability of being able to access the software and related data combined with the ability to outsource the management of sophisticated software systems is proving to be more efficient and necessary for software such as SAS.

There are many forces at play that are creating a ground swell for the change that is enabling the growth of Cloud Computing. Some forces are technology advancements which have been evolving over the past decade, while others include market and economic forces that are more recent and can be more potent in specific vertical markets. The technology developments by themselves are not significant but the culmination of all them has profound effects across industries. The following list describes some of the reasons for the change and also provides insights on how you can adjust to and thrive in this dynamic environment.

  1. Telecommunications – With the dot com boom of the late 90s, there were fiber optics and high bandwidth data infrastructure put in place for global connections. This allowed access to fast speed voice and data connectivity. The dot com bust during the start of the millennium affected many of the companies that established this infrastructure by forcing them out of business. This offered the fiber optics and equipment for whole sale or at a market discount. This created cost effective opportunities for remote computing in many environments and in particular for the development of Cloud Computing.
  2. Commodity Hardware – Computing has evolved from expensive centralized mainframes to personal desktop computers (PCs) that have become ubiquitous. The mass production and personal consumption of PCs has made it a mainstream appliance which has driven down their prices. Although these PCs were originally designed for individual use, they can also be networked and clustered together into grid computing to form powerful super computers which provide the back bone of Cloud Computing. The power of Cloud Computing is no longer restricted to large institutions with large budgets but can be implemented at a fraction of the budget due to the commoditization of hardware accompanied with new clustering software.
  3. Open Source – The decentralized approach to software development challenged the institutionalized form of software development. It allowed for individuals to contribute program code updates to form sophisticated operating systems such as Linux that runs on most web servers and many computer electronic devices. Open source software also played a significant role in web server technologies that form the core components of Cloud Computing. In addition to the Linux operating system that was first installed on commodity hardware, Apache web servers provided web services. The server side software on these web servers along with middle ware including client side XML based components are all open source forming the foundation for many Cloud Computing applications.

complete paper was awarded best paper at SAS Global Forum... and related Serious Adverse Event Software ...

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