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SAS vs R: Which Tool Works Best For You?

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In a world where ‘big data’ has been an important buzzword for the past few years and will continue to be for the next few it’s essential to not only be able to collect data but to be able to do something effective with it. There are a number of tools in the market, ranging from free open source platforms to fully supported paid for programs which can do the job to varying degrees. This focuses on SAS versus R but there are other programs like Python, SPSS and SAP to name a few which may be worth considering.

Historically SAS has always been the go-to analytical tool and is the undisputed market leader in the commercial analytics space. It has a huge amount of legacy within the analytical community and many large companies have it as a fully integrated solution, not to mention there are many analysts out there who know how to use it. And if you’re one of those who has no idea how to code in SAS this is not a problem as there are a multitude of free resources available to get you up and running in no time at all!

The macro functionality that SAS possesses is one of the best out there so if you regularly run repeatable actions this is a huge advantage and it has strong data handling capabilities. It can also deploy end to end infrastructure easily and due to its history someone has always done it before you rather than needing to start from scratch. However the high price tag that has traditionally come along with SAS prevents any company who doesn’t have a well sized budget from using it.

So where to go if you don’t want to spend money on SAS? R was originally designed with a mathematical focus and has been a well-established program in academia for a long time. It is now making its way to the forefront of the commercial world and there are a number of big companies who are transferring all of their data analytics over to R as it is a far cheaper alternative that can offer parallel performance.

While not as easy to pick up from scratch as SAS, R can accomplish almost everything that SAS can. It is capable of doing all the statistical analysis and modelling that you could ever want and just as effectively if not better than SAS. Due to the open source nature of the program the developments and plug ins that have been created for it are numerous and ever increasing so that for anything you can’t do in R there is certainly a plug in of some type that will be able to do it. The open source nature of R also makes it one of the nimblest programs out there and the latest techniques get released quickly. R also has one of the most advanced graphical capabilities due to the various packages available.


*Taken from http://r.789695.n4.nabble.com/3D-bar-graphs-density-plots-td903317.html and http://leondangio.pbworks.com/w/page/16375841/Bird,%20R

If I had to recommend one of these programs over the other I would say it would be completely dependent on circumstances. If you’re just starting out in the analytical world I’d go for R. This is because:

  • R is easy to get set up on and free to use (or if you do need to pay for something it’s cheap)
  • although harder to learn, as long as you are well versed in the background and theory behind the analytics the necessary coding will come easily enough
  • its nimble ability and open source nature makes it one of the most up-to-date and easily ‘pluginable’ packages out there

If I was working somewhere that already had SAS licenses SAS would be my ‘go to’ program just because:

  • of the ease of usage and
  • the ability to automate processes.

However, I wouldn’t recommend bringing SAS to your business if it isn’t already an integral part unless you have a very specific need for it.

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