Warehouse field gets crowded




James H. Goodnight is president and co-founder of SAS Institute Inc., the largest
privately held software company in the world.


Since 1976, practically every federal agency has found uses for the Cary, N.C.,
company’s decision-support and data warehouse software. Goodnight said the SAS System
has evolved out of a small statistical program for data analysis and forecasting by virtue
of 30 years of refining and moving the product forward.


This month, SAS Institute received the Labor Department’s Exemplary Voluntary
Efforts award for its success in recruiting and retaining a culturally diverse work force
of 4,500 employees.


GCN senior editor Florence Olsen interviewed Goodnight recently in Washington.


GCN: Data warehouses have spent
a long time—much of this decade—in the construction phase. How far have they
advanced?


GOODNIGHT: We have more than 1,000 successful warehouses. The Veterans Affairs
Department, which uses the SAS System for warehousing and reporting, just signed a $1.1
million deal with us.


GCN: Do executives at your
level trust the output from data warehouses?


GOODNIGHT: I certainly do. I have my own data warehouse. It’s the first thing I
look at every morning.


I see instantaneous overnight numbers. Automated jobs do the extractions from our
operational systems. The data is sorted and stored on a Unix server, and I bring up my
browsing tools to look at it.


One of the indicators I look at is the number of bugs per week being found in our
software before it’s shipped. We have to get the total bug count down below two
digits before we will ship. Right now, we’re down to a list of about 50 bugs for SAS
System Version 7. When those are fixed, we’ll ship.


GCN: Where are you focusing
your R&D?


GOODNIGHT: We’re primarily trying to get out our next release of the SAS System.
It’s totally Web-enabled. For every piece of output, you can request that it be
generated in Hypertext Markup Language, and you go straight to a browser for viewing the
output.


GCN: Is SAS working with the
Extensible Markup Language?


GOODNIGHT: We’re using XML in SAS Version 7. It lets you put non-HTML instructions
in the middle of an HTML data stream. You just bracket them with an escape sequence that
says, Get out of HTML and call somebody else to handle this stuff. We’re using XML in
a product we call Enterprise Reporter.


GCN: What forces of change are
you most concerned about?


GOODNIGHT: The market space we occupy, which is decision support, is getting more
competitive. We’re seeing Microsoft Corp. moving in with its OLAP Server.
They’re giving it away, which is very anticompetitive as far as I’m concerned.
Software companies that aren’t making billions of dollars on operating systems have
to charge for their software.


SAS has new competition on many fronts. The enterprise resource planning vendors are
trying to come out with data warehousing solutions. IBM Corp. is trying to get in with
some of its data mining products.


GCN: Which of your other
applications fit into the government market?


GOODNIGHT: Our CFO Vision is going into the Treasury Department for financial analysis,
consolidation and reporting.


We’re also shipping a Digital Alpha processor version of our Enterprise Miner.
That’s what you need for data mining, which is very CPU-, memory- and I/O-intensive.
Utah is using it for detecting Medicaid fraud and finding doctors [who] turn in bad
claims.


GCN: Why do you think Microsoft
has been so successful at licensing Windows NT?


GOODNIGHT: I think it’s more a matter of the user interface and marketing skills.
The operating system itself is years away from being as reliable as Unix, for example. But
we’re seeing more and more people choosing NT. We support it. I run NT myself on my
desktop, and I have to restart it only two or three times a day.


The upcoming release of NT 5.0 has gone up to 27 million lines of code. Microsoft will
never in 10 years get all the bugs out of that code. It has moved so much into the
operating system that NT 5.0 may not be reliable for years.


As a software developer, the number of lines of code concerns me. We have about 8
million lines of code in the SAS System. We’ve been trying to get the bugs out of
Version 7 for almost two years. At our peak, we were finding 750 bugs a week.


GCN: What do you think is
Microsoft’s greatest contribution?


GOODNIGHT: I would say that standardization of the desktop has been to some degree
useful. It could have standardized around Apple Computer Inc., but for some reason it
didn’t. Standardization is a good thing in the industry.


GCN: What procedures do you
have for user feedback?


GOODNIGHT: We get the most input through our technical support division, which collects
ideas from users about things they’d like to see in our software. Once a year we send
out the list to everyone on our mailing list and let them vote.


We also have a federal technology center devoted to government and working as a liaison
with our R&D effort to incorporate government needs into our products.

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