Welcome to GISWeekly! Recently, the question of what GIS is today and what its role is has been raised on many GIS listserves. If GIS data is mostly "spatial," as many feel, then GIS has a greater value as the underpinning of many emerging technologies and will continue to be useful for spatial analysis in many traditional applications. To many, GIS encompasses any geographically generated function, including mapping, analysis, geocoding, location, etc. To Xavier Lopez, Director of Spatial and Location Technologies, Oracle Corporation, rich spatial functionality that exists in GIS systems has now becoming a native feature of core IT platforms. Explore this viewpoint in this week's Industry News.
GISWeekly examines select top news each week, picks out worthwhile reading from around the web, and special interest items you might not find elsewhere. This issue will feature Industry News, Acquisitions/Alliances/Agreements, Announcements, Appointments, New Products, Around the Web and Upcoming Events.
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Susan Smith, Managing Editor
Innovation in IT Impacts GIS
by Susan Smith
Xavier Lopez, Ph.D.
Director of Spatial Technologies
Recently, the question of what GIS is today and what its role is has been raised on many GIS listserves. If GIS data is mostly "spatial," as many feel, then GIS has a greater value as the underpinning of many emerging technologies and will continue to be useful for spatial analysis in many traditional applications. To many, GIS encompasses any geographically generated function, including mapping, analysis, geocoding, location, etc. To Xavier Lopez, Director of Spatial and Location Technologies, Oracle Corporation, rich spatial functionality that exists in GIS systems has now becoming a native feature of core IT platforms. Organizations now look to deploy enterprise-class spatial systems using a combination of Oracle databases, application servers, and best of breed spatial components or tools.
"GIS is a relatively mature technology with a knowledgeable and dedicated user community," explained Lopez. "This sector has generated an extraordinary community of talented and passionate GIS technologists, a dynamic vendor community, a variety of user groups, meaningful standards activities, and informative industry magazines and events. I believe these activities have served our community well and will continue to serve us into the future. This community now faces an exciting opportunity as innovators begin to apply underlying GIS technologies "outside the box" of what are traditionally considered GIS applications."
Innovation is what drives advances in information technology. And innovations in IT are having profound effect on how all GIS and location based services are being developed. "It's not a stretch to predict that in 10 years, location-enabled technologies will be embedded into the everyday computing infrastructure of business applications and consumer devices. These capabilities should be ubiquitous, transparent, and must seamlessly integrate with a broader IT and wireless infrastructure. They will build upon a new generation of geoprocessing platforms, tools and content - very different than what is currently being offered in the market place," Lopez said, continuing, "For example, in the supply chain and package tracking business we are already witnessing the rapid adoption of RFID, GPS and sensor computing to track location of inventory across space - a warehouse, a city, the oceans - as well as interactions that package has with other elements of a tracking network. Every month we hear of newer and more interesting types of location-enabled technologies and services. Retail websites already offer some kind of 'locator' service allowing consumers to locate a nearest retail outlet using a simple geocoding and point in polygon analysis. Wireless carriers are embedding positioning capability into their mobile networks and phones to support emergency calling and deliver a range of location-enhanced services. They are even marketing wearable tracking devices for our children and pets! In the life sciences, technology previously developed to remotely observe the earth from space is being used to image and model proteins and molecules. Network data models originally designed and tested for faultless use in transportation and utility applications are now being applied manage biological pathway analysis, semantic web, and social network analysis. In short, there is an extraordinary amount of innovation currently underway to extend and apply the underlying geoprocessing algorithms, tools, and concepts into existing new application areas."
"Where will these types of location technologies be in 10 years? Which of these will evolve into its own industry sub-sector and which will simply be part of the broader IT sector? The opportunities for innovators seem to lie in creating new forms of location technologies and/or embedding mature location technologies into more mainstream applications, devices, and services."
Vendors such as Acquis whom we covered in last week's GISWeekly, eSpatial, and Ionic are all creating innovation in tools and related applications that break new ground for the delivery of spatially enabled solutions. More established players like Autodesk, Intergraph, Laser Scan, Leica, MapInfo, PCI Geomatics among others, are also embracing this shift to IT-centric geoprocessing platforms.
From Back End to Platform
How did this begin? Ten years ago, a key focus at Oracle was to provide the spatial data management back end for enterprise GIS systems, which put the company in good stead with all the GIS vendors. "But as the technology matured and new application opportunities emerged we realized the market needed an open, scaleable and reliable spatial platform," concluded Lopez. "Our work to date has been to build this platform with which application developers can extend best of breed GIS and spatial components as they deploy whole new categories of enterprise GIS and location based services. This change in direction has paid off as Oracle Spatial has since become the industry standard for these types of enterprise solutions. The functionality in this spatial platform is extended with each release, as partner and customer requirements are generated. "We want to be riding that innovation curve, providing the foundational platform driving these new location enabled services."
Oracle 10g Spatial has been labeled by some in the GIS industry as a "disruptive" technology. "While the product can deliver more geoprocessing capability than many GIS products," said Lopez. "this product has different origins and is headed in a uniquely different business direction. Rather than trying to recreate what is now a mature GIS technology stack, we have defined and built the foundation for a whole new class of enterprise GIS and location-enabled business applications, and web services. It offers much of the core geoprocessing capabilities of GIS (spatial indexing, spatial functions and operators, spatial and network analysis, raster data management, geocoding, and topology management, etc.), but is designed to be extended by our partner's applications and tools running inside standard application servers. What this means is that the data management tier of a geospatial solution is much richer and more capable, eliminating the need for a proprietary storage approach. It also allows our partners to leave the spatial data management to Oracle, while they focus on developing best of breed tools."
A spatial database is usually combined with an application server (e.g. Oracle10g Application Server) that provides the essential services J2EE containers, load balancing, application integration, caching, web services interfaces, business intelligence, wireless, and collaboration features. It is in the application server tier where much of the business logic, cartographic rendering, analysis, and modeling operations of third party tools are executed. The third party tools and application processes (map rendering, routing, modeling) are inherent in the native scalability, reliability and security features of both the spatial database and application server. The spatial database carries out much of the generic spatial processing (indexing, spatial operations), while the application server runs the specific third party map rendering, routing, or spatial analysis code. The efficient tiering of spatial processes at database and application server tier is a hallmark of Internet computing platforms. This architecture is faster, more scalable, flexible and secure than stand-alone client/server GIS platforms. Moreover it is inherently open, since its adoption is premised on integration with third party tools via standard interfaces like SQL, XML, Java.