Hello folks! Yvonne Jones here, Marketing Manager, with ROK. For this week's update we have decided to pick the brain of our CTO Jason Harris and discuss his thoughts on GIS hosting and cloud services!
YJ: Good Morning Jason. We are very excited to hear your thoughts on this very hot and trending topic!
JH: Good Morning Yvonne, great to be here.
YJ: Let's jump right in to the thick of things and start off with, why is a cloud hosted GIS solution important?
JH: It is funny, when I first heard the term 'Cloud Computing' many years ago, I said to myself 'This just means a server that's sitting somewhere outside of your building, it just a new buzzword that the industry is pushing'. It didn’t take me long to realize just how wrong I was. It is all about data redundancy, security, speed, scalability, and optimal use of available computing power. GIS, like other industries, can take advantage of these real world benefits right now. All industries and organizations should want to serve their data faster, more securely, and of course less expensively - and using the Cloud to serve geographic data and services should be no exception.
YJ: How does one make an informed decision in regards to what program to choose?
JH: As the industry continues to mature, we are given more and more options when it comes to serving GIS through the cloud. There are many factors to consider when choosing a vendor or service. The very first thing I discuss when making recommendations to folks is how hands on do you want to be? Many people opt to use a service such as Amazon EC2, where you 'rent' an entire server in which you must administer from start to finish. From licensing, to publishing maps, server maintenance, etc. Everything. It is your server and you are ultimately responsible for it. It is not a role that some folks want to take on though. There can be some budgetary issues because the cost for this service can vary quite a bit from month to month due to bandwidth demand, extra CPU cycles, etc. You pay for that server even if it sits idle for hours. For the very high volume and demanding map services, along with the right personnel administer it, this option works well.
For folks that wish to take a more hands-off approach, the latest offering from Esri called ArcGIS Online is an excellent choice. It allows non technical users the ability to quickly and easily publish their maps and data to web using the power of the Esri hosted cloud. Simple web maps can be easily configured from a wealth of ready to use templates - and then shared within your organization, or the world. There can be some downsides to this service, mainly the limited ability to utilize the more advanced features of ArcGIS Server. ArcGIS online is a 'metered' solution meaning you pay for what you use - which can be both good and bad. As your monthly usage can vary widely, these situations can be difficult to budget for. Overall, if you are looking to get your feet wet in 'Cloud Hosted GIS' and looking to easily share your data, then ArcGIS Online is a great option.
Then there is a hybrid type of cloud solution, which I like to call the 'Personalized Cloud'. In this scenario, you partner with an existing company, such as ROK, to host GIS data and map services for you on their cloud. This approach allows you to be hands on, while maintaining all the benefits of the cloud infrastructure - such as scalability and redundancy. In addition, the full power of Esri's ArcGIS Server is exposed. However, you get one more very important benefit - the expertise of a dedicated team backing you up. Managing servers and dealing with intricacies of serving spatial data can be time consuming. When you have a talented team that is there to help, it can make all the difference. Using this approach allows you to focus on your core competencies, and leave the heavy-lifting and server maintenance to others.
YJ: Wow. Jason that is a pretty lengthy answer, could you narrow it down to the single most important point?
JH: Well Yvonne, it really all comes down to the economics of scalability. Some options use the 'metered' pricing tier, while others, such as ROK, use a fixed price. The very first thing that we do here at ROK is to talk to the customer. We are all developers at heart and understand what it takes to successfully launch a service or new web app. So, in these initial discussions, we get a good feel for the requirements and target audience. This lets us estimate out the resources needed and determine a fixed monthly price that won’t vary - and one that the customer is comfortable with. Let us look at this scenario - Suppose you are hosting an emergency management application during hurricane season along the gulf coast of Florida. As a hurricane approaches, more and more citizens use these hosted services to, for example determine an evacuation zone. This scenario would sharply raise your monthly bill, since more and more 'credits' were used. Again, as we discussed before, this can be a budget concern if using the metered approach. The good news is that service is not susceptible to this rapidly increasing load. The cloud is able to quickly scale up, allot additional bandwidth as needed - all to effectively serve your GIS services.
YJ: Ok, so you spent a good time on how but now tell us why to
choose a hosted GIS solution.
JH: We are all expected to do more with less these days. No matter which approach you take, the benefits of utilizing a cloud hosted GIS are compelling. Taking into consideration a lower total cost of ownership, server uptime/redundancy, scalability, along with far fewer management headaches, moving your GIS to the cloud just makes sense.
YJ: You heard it best from our resident CTO. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to us here or contact Jason Harris at firstname.lastname@example.org.