GIS and Mapping Go to the Cloud

GIS and Mapping Go to the Cloud

If you’ve got an information systems degree and work in IT, new developments from vendors can be important. A change in tools can mean new possibilities in how you do your job. And geographic information systems (GIS) vendor Esri not long ago made a big announcement: an online version of its GIS system. There are many reasons companies are moving important parts of their IT infrastructure to cloud delivery.

The technology permits a more efficient use of resources, with software installation, testing, and roll-out limited to one system. Users can have a browser client that runs on almost any type of machine, whether PC, Mac, smartphone, or tablet, giving the company flexibility in how it addresses delivery of services. Public clouds, run by a third party, can provide important capabilities that can help an organization, even if there aren’t enough resources to host and administer the software in-house. Importantly, cloud services are scalable.

An organization can increase or decrease use instantly, adding or removing users. It is even possible to undertake an analysis that requires massive computing power and get the extra resources necessary until you’re done, and then release them again. Furthermore, real cloud services move beyond providing a black box service. Instead, they incorporate an API layer for a building block approach to technology. Suddenly, any other program can in theory call upon the capabilities of the software, integrating them. The strengths of the cloud have significant implications for GIS in organizations. For example, in its press release for the new offering, Esri specifically addresses making services available:

ArcGIS Online provides new insights and opportunities for organizations to visualize their information spatially and quickly turn these visualizations into web services that can be shared anywhere. Organizations can mash up map services coming from a variety of sources and configure an array of ready-to-use applications that can be embedded and run in browsers and on mobile devices.

The online version integrates with the desktop and server versions, allowing GIS professionals to more easily make their work available within an organization. Anyone can be allowed to gain access to map displays of information through a desktop or mobile device browser. In addition, Esri stresses a fundamental aspect of cloud technology: self-service. People in an organization can get access to cloud services without waiting for IT to first order hardware and software and then install it.

For all the benefits to the organization, there are also implications for the IT department. Management needs mechanisms to monitor use for billing purposes and to automatically de-allocate resources that are no longer needed. Developers should systematically know of the capabilities and the APIs to reach them. IT also needs to inform business users of the new offerings and then train users on how to responsibly use them.