Ozri Update: GIS Goes Online

The latest from Ozri

This Ozri session focused on ArcGIS in the cloud, looking at three capabilities you have at your disposal when looking to create online GIS capability – ArcGIS Online, ArcGIS Online Premium, and ArcGIS for Amazon EC2.  Each of these three capabilities presents unique advantages over the other, and in today’s session we took an indepth look at all three and discussed the differences.

ArcGIS Online has been out for a few years now, and over time Esri has worked hard to create an easy to use environment, that allows people to share services and applications.  OK, so far so good, nothing new to see here, dare I say Geography Network?  That’s probably not fair, GN was great in its day, but we look back and shudder at how simple it was, and what “couldn’t” be done.  Back then we were in the bubble, the GIS bubble.  What we did, what we learnt, what we shared, was all about us.  The general population within (and outside) our organisations were consumers of our analysis and work, and rarely wanted to create their own map, application or content.  Today things are different.  People want to create content.  On their phone, on their tablet, on their desktops.  It doesn’t matter where they are, they want access, and they want capability.

ArcGIS Online gives people the access and capability they require.  It allows them to share files like kml, gpx, and csv (that’s right csv).  Take a csv file with Latitude and Longitude column amongst its many other fields.  Drag and drop it onto the ArcGIS Online map viewer and presto! You have a spatially enabled csv file.  This map can then be altered to your liking…

• creating popups for the items in the csv file.
• changing the names of the columns to make more sense (adding spaces between words etc, think of it as aliasing column names in a geodatabase).
• adding charts and links to media content within the popups.
• changing the base map to something appropriate (did you know the streets and topographic base maps now have all of the Navteq data in them).

There are many more things one can do with a smart map in ArcGIS Online.  So where is its advantage over the other cloud options?  Well the big advantage here is price… there isn’t one.  All of what I mentioned above is 100% free.

We then moved onto looking at ArcGIS Online Premium. The premium service still has the above mentioned capabilities but it adds the ability for you to skin your own little area of ArcGIS Online.  Think of it as being your own little portal online, hosted by Esri.  With this service comes the ability for you to assign publishers within your organisation.  These publishers can use ArcGIS desktop to create content and publish it to ArcGIS Online through this service.  Some might be thinking, nothing new here either, and I can do that for free now.  Well you can, but only through using packages from ArcGIS Desktop.  What is new?  The ability to directly publish these packages as services, hosted by Esri, in ArcGIS Online.  This dramatically lowers the barrier to entry for organisations wishing to host map services and applications.  Furthermore, by using the mashup capabilities within the ArcGIS Online viewers (Javascript and ArcGIS Explorer Online), organisations can create very compelling web maps for their own staff or the public to use.

As part of premium, you also get access to geocoding and street network services for the whole of Australia.  These services will allow users to leverage the services within Desktop and web based applications.

These benefits over the free ArcGIS Online, make leveraging the world’s most powerful GIS Server both affordable and easy.

So, you want your own server, but you don’t want to own infrastructure.  Enter Amazon EC2.  The last in our trio is the closest cloud option to what many organisations do today.  That is, host and manage their servers, licenses and applications.  With EC2, some of the server management tasks are taken away from you.  Namely, you do not manage the hardware, Amazon does this for you.  Does this mean the machine requires no administration?  No.  The operating system and versions of the software that you install on it are still your responsibility.  This will include tasks such as log clearing, backups, OS patches and ArcGIS Server patches.  That’s the bad news, the good news, is the service provides you with the means to massively scale your operations within minutes. 

Esri provides ready-made Amazon Machine Instances (AMIs) for you to leverage.  To describe how these work think of making a pizza.  There are many types of pizza you can make with many different types of ingredients.  You can also create many different sizes.  The one constant is the base.  It is made of many ingredients but once made, you have a starting point for size, and your own tasty toppings for personal touch. 

The Esri AMIs can be thought of as the pizza base.  It is made of many ingredients, an operating system, a web server, and ArcGIS Server.  It does not have a set size, or any data and services (your tasty toppings).  From the Amazon console you choose to start an instance based on one of the Esri AMIs.  You choose the size (2 cores, 4 cores, 8 cores, memory etc).  Once the machine starts you have remote access through Remote Desktop Protocol.  You can then add your data, mxds, and create services.  Once you have the machine configured, you may then want to take an image of it (to create your AMI).  Creating your own base has many advantages.  When you need to scale up the servers, you can start from your own preconfigured base.  This saves massive amount of time when you need to add more computing power to the system.

Utilising the Amazon cloud has been very successfully used during the Queensland floods and cyclones, and the Brisbane to Gladstone Yacht Race.  Systems that would have most certainly failed due to load, were able to be scaled to meet demand and have zero downtime.

Whatever way you look at it, these are certainly exciting times to be making apps in the GIS field.  The barrier to entry has been lowered significantly.  The ease at which one can create a compelling map that complements their story is nothing short of amazing.  After nearly 10 years at Esri Australia, I have seen this capability grow, from quite time consuming processes that we used with ArcView IMS, and ArcIMS, to become what it is today.  And of course, the end is nowhere to be seen. 

Over the next few years you are going to see more and more functionality pushed to the web from all angles, not just GIS.  The explosion of the smartphone and tablet markets is giving the web a new medium through which to captivate its audience.  Make no mistake about it, we are fast moving from the era of PCs to the era of the smart device.  These new services from Esri are smart device ready.  So go ahead… sign in to ArcGIS Online and start making maps to complement your business.  When you do, let me know about it, maybe we can feature it on Australia’s “Featured Maps” section of ArcGIS Online.

Ben S.

To find out more about this presentation or topic, please contact us via email.

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