Enterprise GIS and the Cloud

Interest in taking steps into the cloud is growing amongst many spatial organisations. From a distance it sounds good but what do you need to consider in embarking down this path?

Why do you want to use the cloud? The meaning of the cloud is ambiguous so while the overarching reason to move to the cloud would be to reduce costs on hardware and software you need to know what your business reasons are for looking at the cloud. The most common uses of appears to be email, archiving, CRM and storage. For spatial organisations, requirements to store large volumes of historical imagery or vector data and the need to serve fast, good looking, tile caches to external customers are two areas that are becoming common first steps into the cloud.

The other area that is already seeing a large movement to the cloud amongst spatial organisations is delivering applications that tend to have a short life span or high spikes of activity (or both). For example, the many spatial applications around the oil spill disaster where cloud applications recognise both the potential for high activity around news events as well as the short(ish) period of interest.

What type of cloud service suits your business requirements? There are a variety of cloud options; software as a service (SAAS), content as a service (CAAS), platform as a service (PAAS) or infrastructure as a service  (IAAS)all of which have their own potential benefits.

While SAAS is popular for standard business practices such as email it in its infancy for spatial applications. I would expect this area to grow rapidly as more non traditional organisations look to  embrace spatial technology to geoenable  their workflows but don’t have the skills internally to implement it.

CAAS is one of the key areas that the spatial industry needs to adopt to meet the rapidly growing demand for base maps and content to underpin location based services on mobile devices . While Google and Microsoft deliver generic base maps there is growing demand for focused base maps that deliver locally relevant information

PAAS is designed to provide a platform of core application functionality which developers can develop and deploy applications. These environments are very useful for innovative spatial organisations that want to rapidly develop and test new spatial applications without having easy access to suitable infrastructure internally. Design and scale issues can be tested relatively easily with potentially a much lower cost than doing it internally.

IAAS is designed to provide clients with virtual hardware on which they can bring their own software and set up and deploy their own systems. For large organisations migrating to an IAAS is complex, organisational and system issues need to be sorted out before migrating and is often done in partnership with a third part specialist. For organisations

What risks need to be taken into consideration?

  • Data Security — Where is your data stored? Do you have ownership rights over it to allow it to be put into the cloud?
  • Integration – with business systems becoming more and more dependent on each other will a cloud application be able to integrate with other internal applications?
  • Recovery – what happens if the cloud systems fails. Can you get your applications back up and running. If you choose to move to a different cloud provider how easy is it to move from one to another.

So in summing up there are many opportunities for spatial organisations to explore in the cloud but exploiting it successfully requires a clear understanding of what you want to achieve, an analysis of the fit between what you are trying to achieve and what the different type of cloud services can offer, a consideration of potential risks and a good dose of common sense.

Pat G

PS Some useful cloud links

ArcGIS and the Cloud

Gartner Cloud Computing Special Report

Google Apps for Government Addresses Cloud Security Concerns 

Platforms in the Cloud: Where will your next application run?

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