February 25, 2008
Visual Composite Application Platform
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Susan Smith - Managing Editor

by Susan Smith - Managing Editor
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Industry News

Visual Composite Application Platform

by Susan Smith

Lansing, MI firm IDV Solutions recently released Visual Fusion Server 3.0 (VFS), what they refer to as a “visual composite application platform.” According to the press release, “VFS goes beyond typical enterprise mashups to integrate with and extend Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 (MOSS), connect to any data source or Web service, and empower users to create compelling, interactive, actionable composites of data and services focused on solving real business needs.”

Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 (MOSS) has been out for less than a year and is the fastest growing Microsoft server product to be released yet. Scott Caulk, VFS product manager said that Microsoft has already sold 85 million licenses. “The reason it’s selling so fast is that enterprises are finding it easy to work with and very powerful.”

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Hitching its wagon to the MOSS star seems like a pretty safe bet for the new release of Visual Fusion Server. Although VFS offered an extension for SharePoint with the former release, “With the latest release we decided to integrate more heavily with MOSS, so all our stuff is implemented as SharePoint features in MOSS,” Caulk noted. “We get a lot of leverage from all the capabilities found in MOSS.”

VFS leverages MOSS functionality such as Excel Services, Enterprise Search, the Business Data Catalog, and security. VFS also geospatially enables MOSS Libraries and Lists, combining this information with existing enterprise data stores, such as SQL Server and ArcSDE, Web services, and information feeds. VFS offers advanced spatial operations, a more robust styling engine, and a new Graphical User Interface (GUI) to manage and organize information layers.

“We continue to do transformation to the data itself such as spatial operations that allow us to do clustering of points,” explained Caulk. “You can think of a visual composite application platform as three things: one is location intelligence, the concept of putting data in space; the second one is interactive data visualization - the concept of taking data out of spreadsheets and text files and putting them into pictures and things you click on and explore for really high level views, and the third thing is basically a geospatial content management system for which we leverage MOSS.”

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The VFS map viewer and control panel allows you to turn on and off data layers, comprised of locations of your facilities, real time weather data, geographical or political boundaries, etc. “Once you have a layer of your plans up on the map, you can tie those to other layers.”

For a large oil company, IDV Solutions used VFS to create a hurricane management system which allowed them to do geospatial content management. “They were able to bring in a couple dozen different weather feeds to pictures of the projected path and plume of the hurricane, in real time,” said Caulk. “They have their own internal data such as bathymetry data of the ocean floor in the Gulf of Mexico, plus up to the minute satellite imagery, stacked on top of each other. You can turn on and off the layers you want. You can change the opacity of these to get a good view of what you want.”

With VFS 3.0 the focus is on bringing the content management side into SharePoint. Within SharePoint are libraries and lists. Microsoft MOSS allows you to take one basic list and add and build onto it, extending it to make it serve specific purposes. “We took the concept of the library where you would drop in documents or Excel files, and added some code to that so that it would automatically georeference that,” Caulk said. “The code we wrote will allow you to make that available to the Map Viewer in our own map client. The control for turning on and off the layers will show up in the layer control.”

VFS 3.0 has an ArcSDE Connector as well as an SQL Server Connector for bringing in data. You can drop shape files into one of the libraries and they will show up on the map. A typical end user doesn’t have database expertise, but can drop shapefiles, GeoRSS files with location information, WMS feeds, and KML files, into the VFS database. New in 3.0 is support for KML and that data is available in the context of a map.

The data link library is a list of data links. It enables you to collect all the links, paste them into a spreadsheet view and the data from all those links will show up in your map. You can combine this data with all the enterprise data and different feeds. “You can create a list of layers with this data and organize it in a structure, then either export that to our viewer or export it as a KML file and put into Google Earth, and you can see all those layers from VFS in Google Earth.”

“One of the key things we’re doing is leveraging SOA,” Caulk pointed out. “Gartner estimated that 50% of all new mission critical applications and business processes were built on SOA this year.”

By 2010 they expect that number to rise by 80%. Caulk said that MOSS is a platform for leveraging SOA. SOA organizations can build web services that can connect into different databases or services which will can be brought into the VFS Map Viewer.

Caulk said that they do not consider VFS a GIS product, but rather a way to store spatial data and do spatial operations. VFS is a complement to a product like Oracle Spatial or SQL Server, in that it does some lightweight spatial operations such as clustering of points and buffering.

VFS 3.0 offers for the first time an SDK that will allow developers to customize and extend the capabilities of the product. An example of this is the hurricane management system which is a highly focused application built on top of VFS, with IDV developers extending and building toward a customized, business focused application.

With a straightforward implementation, once VFS 3.0 is installed, it can be used right out of the box. “You don’t have to do any customization to get value out of it. You can put data in to your SharePoint libraries, hook into SQL Server or ArcSDE,” Caulk explained. “There are native connectors built in, which empowers end users as well as developers.”

“The client agnostic server outputs KML and GeoRSS and our client receives that, but any client that will take KML or GeoRSS can use the server product.” Users can leverage their databases in one web portal.

Top News of the Week

The French National Geographic Institute (IGN) has selected
Leica Geosystems Geospatial Imaging’s RedSpider Catalog 3.0 to build and maintain a catalog of geospatial resources. With this catalog, the IGN will fully handle visualization requests made by end-users through the Géoportail.fr.

RedSpider Catalog provides a robust and secure solution meeting IGN’s in-house cataloguing needs, with the ability to feed the Géoportail.fr with interoperable geospatial resources.


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-- Susan Smith, GISCafe.com Managing Editor.


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