GIS — Yes, Geographic Information Systems — Go Cloud
The cloud’s intersection with geographic information systems demonstrates how the technology can place a niche application into the mainstream. GIS vendor Esri, for example, has created a public cloud framework that lets users of any stripe — not just geospatial specialists — build maps. Esri’s ArcGIS Online, available at www.arcgis.com, offers a series of base maps on which users may add layers — snow fall forecasts and wind speed, for example.
That’s a nice plus for users who need to quickly publish maps for presentations or other purposes. But for organizations that may have been daunted by GIS technology, the cloud has the potential to make deployment considerably easier. Esri’s cloud coverage includes ArcGIS Online and Amazon Web Services. As for the latter, Esri makes its flagship ArcGIS Server product available via EC2.
“You don’t need to think about vagaries of implementation,” said Bernie Szukalski, product strategist and technical evangelist at Esri. “You don’t have to worry about having the knowledge to scale the system or fine tune the system. So much of that can be outsourced by leveraging the cloud platform.”
The openness of the ArcGIS Online approach, however, won’t suit customers who operate in secure environments that aren’t linked to the outside world.
“Lots of users can’t use a public version,” Szukalski said, noting that some government agencies have expressed an interest in bringing Esri’s public approach in house.
With that in mind, Esri recently announced ArcGIS Portal, which is essentially a self-contained version of ArcGIS Online that runs behind an organization’s firewall. The company debuted ArcGIS Portal last month at its Federal User Conference.
ESRI isn’t alone in the cloud from a GIS standpoint. Skygone Inc. offers OpenGeo Cloud Edition, which it describes as an open source Web-mapping software suite available through cloud computing. And in another geospatial data move, ERDAS Inc. sells its ERDAS APOLLO on the Cloud as a monthly subscription.
Applications such as CRM were associated with the early days of the cloud. The arrival of GIS in the cloud underscores the spreading influence of the computing model and the range of applications it can transform.