R vs SAS – Which Tool is Better? - Great Learning

R vs SAS – Which Tool is Better?


The debate around data analytics tools has been going on forever. Each time a new one comes out, comparisons transpire. Although many aspects of the tool remain subjective, beginners want to know which tool is better to start with.

The most popular and widely used tools for data analytics are R and SAS. Both of them have been around for a long time and are often pitted against each other. So, let’s compare them based on the most relevant factors.

  1. Availability and Cost: SAS is widely used in most private organizations as it is a commercial software. It is more expensive than any other data analytics tool available. It might thus be a bit difficult buying the software if you are an individual professional or a student starting out. On the other hand, R is an open source software and is completely free to use. Anyone can begin using it right away without having to spend a penny. So, regarding availability and cost, R is hands down the better tool.
  2. Ease of learning: Since SAS is a commercial software, it has a whole lot of online resources available. Also, those who already know SQL might find it easier to adapt to SAS as it comes with PROC SQL option. The tool has a user-friendly GUI. It comes with an extensive documentation and tutorial base which can help early learners get started seamlessly. Whereas, the learning curve for R is quite steep. You need to learn to code at the root level and carrying out simple tasks demand a lot of time and effort with R. However, several forums and online communities post religiously about its usage.
  3. Data Handling Capabilities: When it comes to data handling, both SAS and R perform well, but there are some caveats for the latter. While SAS can even churn through terabytes of data with ease, R might be constrained as it makes use of the available RAM in the machine. This can be a hassle for 32-bit systems with low RAM capacity. Due to this, R can at times become unresponsive or give an ‘out of memory’ error. Both of them can run parallel computations, support integrations for Hadoop, Spark, Cloudera and Apache Pig among others. Also, the availability of devices with better RAM capacity might negate the disadvantages of R.
  4. Graphical Capabilities: Graphical capabilities or data visualization is the strongest forte of R. This is where SAS lacks behind in a major way. R has access to packages like GGPlot, RGIS, Lattice, and GGVIS among others which provide superior graphical competency. In comparison, Base SAS is struggling hard to catch up with the advancements in graphics and visualization in data analytics. Even the graphics packages available in SAS are poorly documented which makes them difficult to use.
  5. Advancements in Tool: Advancements in the industry give way to advancements in tools, and both SAS and R hold up pretty well in this regard. SAS, being a corporate software, rolls out new features and technologies frequently with new versions of its software. However, the updates are not as fast as R since it is open source software and has many contributors throughout the world. Alternatively, the latest updates in SAS are pushed out after thorough testing, making them much more stable, and reliable than R. Both the tools come with a fair share of pros & cons.
  6. Job Scenario: Currently, large corporations insist on using SAS, but SMEs and start-ups are increasingly opting for R, given that it’s free. The current job trend seems to show that while SAS is losing its momentum, R is gaining potential. The job scenario is on the cusp of change, and both the tools seem strong, but since R is on an uphill path, it can probably witness more jobs in the future, albeit not in huge corporates.
  7. Deep Learning Support: While SAS has just begun work on adding deep learning support, R has added support for a few packages which enable deep learning capabilities in the tool. You can use KerasR and keras package in R which are mere interfaces for the original Keras package built on Python. Although none of the tools are excellent facilitators of deep learning, R has seen some recent active developments on this front.
  8. Customer Service Support and Community: As one would expect from full-fledged commercial software, SAS offers excellent customer service support as well as the backing of a helpful community. Since R is free open-source software, expecting customer support will be hard to justify. However, it has a vast online community that can help you with almost everything. On the other hand, no matter what problem you face with SAS, you can immediately reach out to their customer support and get it solved without any hassles.

Final Verdict

As per estimations by the Economic Times, the analytics industry will grow to $16 billion till 2025 in India. If you wish to venture into this domain, there can’t be a better time. Just start learning the tool you think is better based on the comparison points above.

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Digital Marketing Manager at Great Learning. Loves to read, write and opine on almost everything. Travel and sitcom freak.

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