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Microsoft and SAS, the privately held enterprise data management and analytics company (and not the airline), today announced a far-reaching partnership that will see Microsoft's Azure become SAS's preferred cloud, and deep integrations of SAS's various products into Microsoft's cloud portfolio, ranging from Azure to Dynamics 365 and PowerBI. The two companies also plan to launch new joint solutions for their customers.
While you may not necessarily be familiar with 44-year-old SAS, the North Carolina-based company counts more than 90 of the top 100 Fortune 1000 companies among its customers. Marquee customers include the likes of Allianz, Discover, Honda, HSBC, Lockheed Martin, Lufthansa and Nestlé. While it provides tools and services for companies across a wide range of verticals, they all focus on helping these companies better manage their data and turn it into actionable analytics. Like similar data-centric companies, these days, that includes a lot of work on machine learning, too.
SAS COO and CTO Oliver Schabenberger
"It is a technology partnership," SAS COO and CTO Oliver Schabenberger told me ahead of today's announcement. "Our customers are increasingly moving to the cloud. I have something that I call the 'principles of analytics.' The first principle is: analytics follows the data -- and increasingly, data is moving to the cloud. We have our own cloud operation at SAS. We have done enterprise hosting for over 20 years and have a lot of experience in that. So one of the strategic questions that I asked myself is how do we combine what we love so much about our own cloud and managed services and working directly with a customer with the scale, the agility and the reach of a public cloud?"
The answer to that for SAS was a partnership with Microsoft. Both companies, Schabenberger said, are looking at how to democratize access to technologies like machine learning and analytics, he noted, but are also trying to build data visualization tools and other services that make it easier for anybody within a company to work with the increasingly large data sets that most enterprises now gather.
"The technologies of SAS and Microsoft to me go hand in hand," said Schabenberger. "They really complement each other. What Microsoft's doing with Dynamics, with Power Platform, I can envision a new class of business applications -- all low-code, no-code -- where data and analytics drive logic and drive decisioning. And so for us, what's really interesting, fascinating and innovative about this relationship is that this is not about bringing a service to Azure, or an integration into Synapse. It is really looking at the entire Microsoft Cloud estate, if you will, from Azure to integrating with AD, with AKS, with [Azure] Database for PostgreSQL. These are obvious things, but then looking at Microsoft 365, Dynamics 365 and Power Platform, how can we be part of this ecosystem? I think that's a very powerful integration."
It's important to note that this is not an exclusive agreement and Schabenberger stressed that SAS will continue to offer support for customers who choose a different public cloud provider.
Scott Guthrie, Microsoft executive VP of its Cloud and AI group, echoed this. "We couldn't be more excited on the Microsoft side for this partnership. If you look at pretty much any business out there, they're using SAS for analytics and they're using Microsoft software as well. And the thing that Oliver called out and what we really look for in strategic partnerships like this is, where can we help our mutual customers do more and achieve more? And I think both from a technology alignment perspective and then also from a mission statement and culture perspective, that's where we're so aligned."
Both Guthrie and Schabenberger stressed how deep the integrations here are. As an example, Guthrie noted that users will be able to take SAS models and embed them into SQL Server statements -- and there will be similar integrations for Microsoft products into SAS's tools, too. Guthrie also noted that the two companies will go to market together in a deep way, too, leveraging the existing sales forces of both companies. "So it's a little different from what we might do with a startup, which tends to not have a big sales force. But as part of this partnership, you'll definitely see our go-to-market deep alignment and Microsoft sellers will be heavily incented to promote and push the SAS integration and likewise, SAS is going to be highly incented to drive this integration from their perspective as well."
One interesting aspect here is that both companies offer competing products, be that around data management and analytics, as well as data visualization. Guthrie and Schabenberger were quite open about this, though. "I'm perfectly comfortable with that," said Schabenberger. "I've recognized for a long time that our customers have choices and they exercise those choices. And if we bring the right technology to bear and offer it to them, then I'm proud of the technology we built. We're not the best at everything and I am really looking forward actually to focusing on our core competency, where we're strongest -- and I'm happy to have customers make other choices. [...] We have an existing customer base that wants to make use of their existing investment in SAS technology, but also wants to modernize, wants to be part of a cloud ecosystem, wants to operate with agility and speed -- and we can combine all that."
"We've been around long enough and we're big enough and we have enough customers to also realize, what really matters is making your customers successful," noted Guthrie. "And the complementary capabilities that we're bringing together by partnering is so powerful that, yes, there might be some overlap in a few places, but for the most part, this is such a powerful accelerant for our customers and we're going to both benefit from that."