August 04, 2008
Data Transformation Comes to Cloud Computing
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Susan Smith - Managing Editor

by Susan Smith - Managing Editor
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Welcome to GISWeekly! This week GISWeekly staff will be attending ESRI UC in San Diego. Look for some highlights of that conference in our Top News of the Week. I hope to see many of you there.

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Susan Smith, Managing Editor

Industry News

Data Transformation Comes to Cloud Computing

By Susan Smith

Cloud computing enables organizations to take advantage of and provide internet services without having to own infrastructure themselves. This capability alone opens up all kinds of possibilities – and is why Safe Software entered into a partnership with WeoGeo, a one-stop marketplace for the mapping industry as well as a recognized provider of cloud computing expertise, to bring the powerful data transformation capabilities of FME technology to the cloud. This combined offering will make it easier to bring spatial ETL to a broader audience of users.

The focus of this partnership is two pronged: first, it will strengthen WeoGeo's data download web site by introducing the data transformation power of Safe’s recently released FME Server on WeoGeo supplies surveyors, engineers, cartographers, and scientists with the ability to store, search, and exchange global mapping and geo-content.

Secondly, organizations will have the option to deploy FME Server via WeoGeo's cloud computing expertise using the resources of Amazon Web Services (AWS). Organizations will be able to use FME's data integration and distribution capabilities on the cloud for sharing spatial data with online data consumers on an infrastructure that automatically sizes to match current demand. The data is made available in a structure and format that is immediately usable to consumers.

Around the same time of this announcement, Microsoft announced the beta of its cloud computing option called Live Mesh. According to Don Murray, president of Safe Software, WeoGeo’s expertise includes understanding of a variety of cloud platforms and developing the expertise to deploy on the cloud. “Part of the big benefit for us with this announcement is that WeoGeo is working with us to figure out how to put the FME Server on other cloud platforms besides Amazon. Our clients who want to take advantage of deploying this technology will be able to have a different set of options as far which cloud infrastructure to use.”

The partnership represents a significant development for those who wish to use Spatial ETL. “Let’s say you’re in a business, and at 3 p.m. every day you have to be able to support ten thousand users because maybe there’s an event that’s happening on a regular basis maybe once a month with a peak activity,” suggested Murray. “Whereas if you have your own infrastructure, you would have to have all your own hardware and your own bandwidth to handle that peak, but of course in off time you still have all that infrastructure, machines and bandwidth not being used which you’re still paying for. By using Amazon Cloud services and other ones,
you’re able to effectively pay for what you use. If you have a peak period where you need more machines, then automatically new computing resources are spun up just as part of the service that Amazon gives you, so you pay for that. But the rest of the time when you have less bandwidth requirements and less processing, you basically don’t have that hardware just sitting there. You only pay for the actual CPU, bandwidth and disk storage you use.”

“It’s very interesting technology for us,” Murray noted. “For some clients it really levels the playing field. If you want to put a servce out there and you’re not too sure how well it will do so you aren’t sure how much hardware to buy. If your service becomes wildly successful, then you’ll be getting revenue from your clients, but if it doesn’t then (with the cloud) you’re not going out on a limb.”

What’s more, this partnership is the first of its kind in terms of bringing spatial ETL capabilities to the cloud. FME technology will serve as the basis for WeoGeo’s data distribution offerings in their marketplace, making it possible for users to restructure their spatial data into the required format and data model they need to be able to share it out to those who need it.

What this means is that organizations will be able to use FME Desktop “to author spatial data flows that convert and integrate spatial data.” They can then publish them to FME Server on the cloud, which will manage the transformation process and make any resulting datasets available to consumers as they need it. “We think it will be more cost effective for organizations as well, because the nice thing about cloud computing is it’s a Web service and consumers don’t have to manage it in-house,” said Murray.

“People can use FME on the desktop to author data and so they would need it to be able to access the FME Server on the cloud,” said Murray. “The plan is to have a no charge FME that people can download that will enable them to author and test stuff before they push it to the cloud. They wouldn’t actually be able to do the final running on their desktop with this version; that’s targeted specifically at the cloud.”

Another issue is that cloud computing addresses is the amount of real estate that servers take up in an organization. Plus, generally costs will go down as staff won’t be needed to keep the machines running, and the costs of running the machines won’t be there.

There are a couple of important points to this announcement:

1) WeoGeo has its own data distribution site right now,, which has some minor transformation capabilities. “The first thing that will happen is that it will be moved to our FME Server technology and as part of that the client who wants to author their own transformation, will be able to download from that site on FME Desktop. That will be a special version of our full one where you can run a whole bunch of transformations locally. But it will be set up to the mode where you will be able to develop and run locally so that you can ensure when you push it to the cloud it will work at no charge. Then you’ll be able to publsih these spatial ETL scripts to the
WeoGeo site and then run them there, as part of the cloud, as part of the WeoGeo website service. The plan is to have that by Q1 of next year.”

The current plan is that it would be a free download. This will make it easy for people to author their own transformations with the goal of pushing them to the cloud. “Then some users will decide they need FME on their desktop as well to run periodic jobs. For that scneario they would need to buy FME to run on the desktop.”

2) WeoGeo will work with Safe’s clients to deploy FME technology in the cloud.

From Safe’s standpoint, the company would like to focus just on the spatial ETL aspect as they have a lot going on with all the different platforms and web servers. By WeoGeo taking on this aspect of deploying their technology in the cloud, it benefits both companies.

Top News of the Week

Topics to be covered at this year’s ESRI User Conference may include GIS and the GeoWeb, and the rise of volunteered geographic information or “neo-geography.” Because the GeoWeb allows access to GIS for everyone and consequently the sharing the GIS data over a broader user base, more geospatial information will be available to more people to use for mashups, search and discovery. Jack Dangermond said that the next five years of web based mapping will be “revolutionary” as people transition from simple mapping and geospatial services to full geoservices on the Web (or GeoWeb).

Along the same lines, look for director of Software Products Clint Brown’s Technology Keynote entitled “Framework for Implementing GIS on the Web.”

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-- Susan Smith, Managing Editor.


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