The DARK side of SAS On-Demand ?

In case you don’t know – SAS On-Demand is the “cloud-based” version of SAS for teaching and research at universities. That’s a fancy way of saying it runs on the SAS servers and it’s free.

Lately I have been happily working with SAS On-Demand for academics so I was a bit surprised speaking with someone at a different university who said,

“I’m probably not the best person to talk to about it because I think it is an unbelievable pain. SPSS, yes, Stata, fine but SAS On-Demand, well it’s been a headache.”

We’re supposed to have lunch sometime in the next couple of weeks and catch up, so I don’t know the details, but since I am starting teaching in two days using SAS On-demand, this was enough to cause some concern. While I was on campus today, I went into one of the classrooms and tried SAS On-demand and it was exactly what I feared – it was so slow as to be almost useless. I had seen this before and it got me to thinking perhaps this semester won’t be as problem-free as I had hoped.

One possible reason SAS On-Demand is so slow in computer labs may be that you have 30 or 40 people all trying to access the server at the same time. I know that when I was using the wireless connection in the classroom where I tested SOD there were probably 200 students in the building using the wireless at the same time. Unfortunately for me, there is no computer lab available, and even if there was, I’m pretty sure that a lot of computer labs use wireless connections, even though the computers are literally locked down. Also, only one classroom in the building has an instructor station and I’m not scheduled for that classroom.

There is an ethernet connection in the classroom so I can bring my own ethernet cable and plug my computer into that and see if it is faster. It should be.

I tried to break down all of the differences from my office set-up, which works fine, and the classroom, which did not.

1. In the office, all of the computers have an ethernet connection, not wireless.

2. In the office, I primarily use SAS O-D on a Windows 7 computer.

3. In the classroom, I was running it on a virtual machine with Vista on VMware.  I ran a couple of procedures and timed how long it took on the Windows machine versus the virtual machine. I have a pretty old PC because about all I use it for is to run SAS. I did a cross-tabulation of two variables, computing the frequencies and column percentages for each cell and a chi-square. For the menu to come up for the table analysis wizard and the analysis to run took, in total 30 seconds. That is longer than I would like but not unacceptable. It took about 10 seconds for the menu to come up and another 20 seconds for the procedure to run.

On the Virtual Machine, it took a minute and a half. Ninety seconds is a long time to just stand in front of 20 or 30 people and stare at a screen doing nothing. I know that other procedures, like characterize data or factor analysis will take a lot longer.

…. &  so on.

The rocket scientist thinks Windows 7 plus the ethernet connection should solve it, I think that’s the right track but that creating a dual boot Windows system will work better

BUT there are other problems:

Downloading SAS On-Demand took just a few minutes over my connection in the office but when I tried it over the home wireless network it took nearly an hour. This was in the evening when there were two other people in the house making heavy use of the network.

When I installed the client on my laptop and desktop it took just a few minutes. That was because the first step is to VERIFY SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS and on the two computers that I use very frequently everything was up to date. The same was not true of the test machines though, and there were several things that needed to be downloaded and updated, which took a good 15 minutes or so.

SO … what took me a few minutes in my office could take an hour or two in the classroom. Not good and that explains why my colleague may be so frustrated.

The rocket scientist doesn’t think I can install Windows 7 on boot camp, install SAS on-demand and get it working in 2 days. I think he’s wrong but since he is often right I backed up everything just in case.

What I am going to try to do ….

  • Install Windows 7 in boot camp and boot up as a Windows machine.
  • Bring my own ethernet cable and use that to connect in the classroom
  • Have all the screen shots and output just in case it is too slow to be usable. I actually had most of the powerpoint done already being the overprepared type that I am.
  • In the first class have students get a SAS profile and register for SAS On-demand accounts. Both of those should happen very quickly.
  • Walk them through the process of downloading and installing SAS on their computers so that they can (hopefully) do it at home
  • Cover all of descriptive statitistics

I think that’s enough for the first day.


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  1. Let’s see if SAS pays attention to your comments. They push it at their SGF meetings, but still can’t do anything about the SAS Oh-DamnIt problems you describe. I don’t think they realize how damaging it can be to turn off students with non-functional software. These students won’t put up with it, and SAS loses a student forever. They still doesn’t realize that they need to give SAS (PC-based, not SAS O-D) away to students for free.

  2. Installing SAS PC can be a major pain, too. It requires (as does SAS O-D), specific operating systems, e.g., doesn’t work on the Windows home version, doesn’t work on Unix or Mac.

    I think installing it and getting students started will take considerable hand-holding on the part of the professor. The main problem is going to be those who only have a Mac, no VM.

    Fortunately, the university does have a SAS license and those students can use that but it is version 8.2 !

  3. I’m teaching students in education and psychology. SAS is used much more in those fields. The other reason for not using R is that the response from students in social sciences and education to R has been overwhelmingly negative. These are people who are not programmers and often resistant to taking a statistics course in the first place, even more resistant to learning programming. SAS On-Demand is a mid-point between pointing and clicking like Excel or SPSS and actual programming.

    I’m testing it out at this point. I kind of think of it as the Alice for statistical programming. We’ll see how it goes.

  4. Microsoft gives away SQL Server Express edition free of cost. You can get a 180 day trial version of the full version free of cost. Oracle does the same for an unlimited period with almost all of its software for non-commercial use. Many other Datawarehouse and Database vendors do the same for 90 days or more.

    Why does not SAS do the same?

    I am trying to learn SAS using SAS online courses, paid for by my Organization. The problem is, if i connect to my organizations VPN Network to access SAS, the lessons take about 5 times the time they normally take to download. Else, i will have to do with faster lessons download time while not being connected to the VPN, without being able to work on SAS.

  5. I don’t know why they don’t do the same. They do give SAS at a very cut-rate price to universities, and, as noted above, they give SAS on-demand for free. So, students who are learning SAS in school get it free or very low cost. Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of schools where SAS is taught.

    I *think* they figure if you are learning SAS when you are out of school you are probably learning so you can apply it at work, in which case your employer has a license.

    There is a SAS for Professionals that is like SAS On-Demand I think. Have you tried that? Or is that what you are using for your course?

    I’ve had the same experience as you with SAS over a VPN being really slow at a couple of universities where I worked.

  6. Wish they’d bring back Learning Edition. It was perfect for doing small projects and writing code to be used in demos. I ran it under Parallels on a MacPro. One time, a couple of years ago, while on a flight back to Eugene, had the opportunity to give a lesson to a professor from KSU at 30K+ feet. We were bluetoothing data sets back and forth and I was demoing how to clean up his code – can not do that with SOD, nor when you’re in the Canadian Rockies backpacking in the middle of nowhere.

  7. I have been using SOD for about three years now. I am teaching a biostat lab and have had a few problems with SOD but not so many as to make me abandon it for another platform. First, the only thing I know about R is that it comes after Q and before S so for me another platform is out. Seriously, I’m not smart enough to learn R. Before SOD we (I) installed SAS 9.1 on 35 systems in our computer lab. That was tedious and there were constant requests from students to load SAS on their laptops. SOD seemed like the perfect answer. As to response time, my course has 30-35 students who are connecting via ethernet. Response time is not a problem. What DID present a problem early on was that this past fall SAS changed servers. We were trying to read Windows text files that I uploaded to the SAS OD server and we kept getting error messages. This was frustrating in front of a class. We learned that the SOD 4.2 servers read Windows *.txt files differently than SOD 4.1 servers. Once fixed everything worked like a charm. Students could access the SAS servers at night, from home with no problems.

  8. Having an ethernet connection would certainly make it much easier. I’m jealous. Have you tried the SAS Web Editor? What do you think of that?

  9. R isn’t nearly as much of a pain as its made out to be. The Rattle package provides a simple point-and-click interface that gets quite a lot of work done with no headaches.

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