A first look at SAS University Edition

My first introduction to SAS came near the start of my post-university career over a decade ago. It was six weeks of classroom training and hands-on case studies that got me going with SAS 6.12. The included SAS products naturally included the components of Base SAS for data processing (data step, PROC SQL) and reporting as well as SAS/Graph. All of that was enough for a placement with one of my then employer’s clients with the added advantage of becoming one of the client’s own employees at the end of it. During that stay, more SAS versions followed until the launch of 9.1.3. Eventually, I moved onto pastures new and I remain a SAS user with 9.3 being the most recent version that I have met at work while SAS University Edition is bringing me towards 9.4.

SAS Learning Edition

Though it is possible to extend one’s knowledge on the job, that can be harder to manage during the working day when times are busy. Before SAS University Edition, we had SAS Learning Edition and I took delivery of a copy while it was available. It included SAS Enterprise Guide 4.1 together with a limited version of SAS 9 that a few limitations. Firstly it only would process up to 1500 records in any dataset but that was not such a problem for learning. Support from SAS was limited too even if the package had a price that I seem to remember was around £100 but my memory is hazy about this. What you need to remember is that SAS licenses are vastly more expensive than this so you got that for which you have paid. If you did have a Base SAS installation, Learning Edition would co-exist with it and versions like 8.2 and 9.1.3 Service Pack 4 were compatible so long as you had them pre-installed. There was a warning that re-installation of software might be required if either SAS Learning Edition or Base SAS is removed inappropriately.

Speaking of licenses, Learning Edition was time limited with its own version 2.0 (based on Enterprise Guide 2.0 and, if I recall correctly, SAS 8.2) and version 4.1 purchased prior to September 10, 2007 expiring on December 31, 2008. The expiry date for version 4.1 after the aforementioned purchase deadline was December 31, 2011. More conventionally, it was for single PC installation only and that PC had to run either Windows 2000 or Windows XP Professional. The process was one that would be more than familiar to anyone who ever installed software on a machine running Windows. Even with those older operating systems, it needed 1,080 MB of hard disk space. It reminds me of a time when 10 GB of hard drive capacity was generous but that had moved beyond 160 GB around ten years ago. The RAM requirements also fitted the time with 256 MB being the bare minimum and 512 MB being recommended.

Usefully, the whole package came with a copy of The Little SAS Book and, not having it next to me while writing these words, I cannot recall whether whether it was the version for Enterprise Guide or the Primer edition. Though I may not have made as much use of the software as I could have done, it certainly came in useful for trying a few things and I found a way to start up the more traditional SAS DMS interface as well as Enterprise Guide.

SAS University Edition

Apart for being made available free of charge, SAS University Edition is very different from its predecessor, SAS Learning Edition. After all, things have moved along since the last decade and SAS has its SAS Analytics U (for University, I presume) community now and that may explain the name though there is a wider focus on established university teaching too. Even long term SAS users like me can be called learners too so we get allowed in as well.

Firstly, it works in a very different way since you no longer are installing SAS software like you would with Microsoft Office or Adobe Photoshop. To work, it needs you to have one of Oracle VirtualBox (4.3.12 is preferred at the time of writing), VMware Player or VMware Fusion because what you are getting is a virtual machine. For those unfamiliar with such things, SAS has Quick Start guides for each:

VirtualBox

VMware Player

VMware Fusion

The available VM’s are built around Linux in that 64-bit Red Hat Enterprise Linux is installed in there with SAS running as a service on top of it. In fact, the virtual runs solely as a server with just a screen informing you of the IP address that you need to load in your web browser of choice. That reveals another break with the past with SAS Studio being used in place of Enterprise Guide or the SAS DMS. While all the processing happens within the virtual machine, it is possible to store files on your own host operating system’s file system using by setting up a shared folder called myfolders that points to where you want it and that SAS Studio can use.

The use of virtualisation to roll out a local SAS server that makes SAS Studio available is neat and means that you do not need to run Microsoft Windows on a PC as was the case with SAS Learning Edition. Mac OS X and Linux are possibilities and I use the latter at home so this is a very good thing. Furthermore, there are installation guide for each supported operating system:

Linux

OS X

OS X

The version of SAS that you get is 9.4 and it is licensed until the middle of June 2015 with a 45 day grace period taking you as far as the end of July. Along with Base SAS, you also get SAS/STAT, SAS/IML, SAS/Secure 168-bit, SAS/ACCESS Interface to PC Files, SAS/ACCESS Interface to ODBC, SAS/IML Studio, SAS Workspace Server for Local Access, SAS Workspace Server for Enterprise Access and High Performance Suite. SAS/Graph is absent but new statistical graphics procedures like SGPLOT and SGPANEL are there so graph creation possibilities should be covered anyway.

All in all, SAS University Edition looks a snazzy arrangement and I plan to explore what is offered. SAS Studio is a new to me but there are enough recognisable features to help me settle in with it and it would merit an entry of its own on here. In fact, SAS has some video tutorials on their YouTube channel that show off some of its capabilities and the new tool certainly carries over from both Enterprise Guide and the more traditional DMS interface.

Speaking of blogging, SAS has an entry on one of the theirs that it has called Free SAS Software for students!, which is another introduction to SAS University Edition. Other (non-blog) articles include Get Started With SAS® University Edition along with a useful FAQ.

Learning about Oracle

My work in the last week has put me on something of a learning about Oracle. This is down my needing to add file metadata to database as part of an application that I am developing. The application is written in SAS but I am using SAS/Access for Oracle to update the database using SQL pass-through statements written in Oracle SQL. I am used to SAS SQL and there is commonality between it and Oracle’s implementation, which is a big help. Nevertheless, there of course are things specific to the Oracle world about which I have needed to learn. My experiences have introduced me to concepts like triggers, sequences, constraints, primary keys, foreign keys and the like. In addition, I have also seen the results of database normalisation at first hand.

Using Oracle’s SQL Developer has been a great help in my endeavours thanks to its online help and the way that you can view database objects in an easy to use manner. It also runs SQL scripts, giving you a feel for how Oracle works, and anyone can download it for free upon registration on the Oracle website. Also useful is the Express edition of the Oracle 10g database that I now have at home for personal learning purposes. That is another free download from Oracle’s website.

My Safari bookshelf has been another invaluable resource, providing access to O’ Reilly’s Oracle books. Of these, Mastering Oracle SQL has proved particularly useful and I made a journey to Manchester after work this evening (Waterstone’s on Deansgate is open until 21:00 on weekdays) to see if I could acquire a copy. That quest was to prove fruitless but I now have got the doorstop that is Oracle Database 10g: The Complete Reference from The Oracle Press, an imprint of Osborne and McGraw Hill. I needed a broader grounding in all things Oracle so this should help and it also covers SQL but the aforementioned O’ Reilly volume could return to the wish list if that provision is insufficient.

SAS and Oracle

It seems that SAS have put a good deal of effort into making their software work with Oracle. Admittedly, you have got to buy SAS/Access for Oracle in addition to the other components that you already have but it is worth it. The Oracle library engine makes things easy so long as there are no incompatibilities on the database side. For instance, SAS has no plans to support the Oracle timestamp format until the forthcoming SAS 9.2 and this does make things a little interesting. However, this can be resolved with the Oracle SQL pass-through facility where you pass Oracle SQL through to the database itself for processing, avoiding incompatibilities. A more pressing issue is using PROC APPEND to add records to the data tables without updating any sequences that are associated with table ID’s. The SQL pass-through facility is the best way around this so that you can update the sequence with a SELECT statement and use the current value for the ID in the following EXECUTE statement. It may sound far from ideal but you need to process your data row by row; once set up though, everything works well.