Geospatial Technology Overview – 2008

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Industry News
Geospatial Technology Overview – 2008
By Susan Smith

This year the geospatial industry has seen some exciting new technologies come on the scene, in the area of geospatial data appliances, computing power, mashups, satellite products, and moving more geospatial content to more devices. Topics such as standardization, interoperability, volunteer geographic information and creating city models dotted the geospatial landscape.

All this growth has been tempered by the downturn in the economy, however, which has affected nearly all industry segments. CEO of Daratech, Inc. Charles Foundyller said that geospatial has enormous potential for providing more consumer related applications, yet in light of the economy, “consumers are pulling back…who is going to invest in consumer related applications?” Foundyller also said that with regard to all technology industries, “I haven’t seen anything more difficult to predict in the 20 years that I’ve been doing this.”

In spite of this view, Foundyller believes there will be growth in the industry, more than likely in the area of infrastructure, while municipal and corporate will likely go down.

Geospatial Data Appliances

Geospatial data appliances such as MarkLogic and Netezza came on the scene this year, responding to the industry demand for more server and data warehouse appliance power. MarkLogic Server, a leading XML Server, includes a unique set of capabilities to “store, manage, enrich, search, navigate, and dynamically deliver content.” Unlike relational database and search hybrid solutions, MarkLogic Server is able to deliver content applications, which meet a broad range of user requirements by fully leveraging the contents’ XML structure.

Netezza, known for its data warehouse appliance, announced Netezza Spatial, a software extension to their appliance which can deliver location-based information at the same blistering rates its business intelligence (BI) customers are accustomed to.

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A global re-insurance company uses location intelligence to enable clients to assess the risk associated with their insurance portfolios and identify sources of risk accumulation across those portfolios.
Data warehouse appliances are a somewhat new concept to the GIS market. What they do is the following: they integrate database software, storage and hardware that’s optimized for analytics, delivering performance that is 10, 20 to 100 times faster than general purpose databases at a price point that tends to be less than 50% for acquisition cost and administrative costs, according to Jonathan Shepherd, general manager of location-based solutions with Netezza.

Visual Fusion Server 3.0

Lansing, MI firm IDV Solutions 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.”

Cloud Computing

Computing power is greater this year than ever before. 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. When organizations own their own infrastructure, they need hardware and bandwidth that is not always being used, but they still have to pay for it. By using Amazon Cloud services, Microsoft Live Mesh or others, companies can effectively pay for what they use. If the company has a peak period where they need more machines for a set period of time, then automatically new computing resources are spun up just as part of the service that the cloud computing provider gives them and that’s what they pay for. But the rest of the time when the company has less bandwidth requirements and less processing, they only pay for the actual CPU, bandwidth and disk storage used.

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.

More Geospatial Content for More Devices

The increased computing power available spills over into the handheld market, with consumers demanding more services on their small portable devices. The ubiquity of the cell phone/email/GPS/iPod has vaulted location based technology to a lofty place in the world of platforms, whether it be desktop, handheld device, touch table or enterprise systems.

A flurry of partnerships have ensued, with Google and Microsoft linking arms with the likes of Digital Globe, GeoEye and SPOT Image and many others. Earlier this year, Google entered into an agreement with map maker Tele Atlas which gives Google the right to use the firm's map data on devices including cell phones and gadgets that are based on the Android operating system. The 5-year agreement states that Google will also continue to use Tele Atlas mapping data on Google services such as Google Maps and Google Earth.

Standardization and Volunteer Geographic Information

This trend is a natural lead in to a talk given by Michael Goodchild, PhD, professor of Geography at University of California, Santa Barbara at the GeoWeb 2008 Conference about “data acquisition and management” this summer, which led to a look at the importance of “volunteer geographic information.”

Goodchild said that perhaps what characterizes today’s approach to standardization is the lack of standardization. Goodchild said we are entering an age of “post standardization” where IT makes it possible for places to have alternative names, which allows us to collect a vast amount of information beyond simple names, what he calls “the world of Web 2.0 and the world of bottom up geographic data production.”

Today’s post standardization climate opens up the world of “volunteer geographic information,” volunteered by citizens, user generated content in the specific context of geographic information. Other names for this are collective intelligence and crowd sourcing. What is significant about this content is that it does not come from an authoritative source such as a government agency, but from millions of private citizens who have the capacity to be empowered, either at their desktop or by a handheld GPS or other device, who get no obvious reward and are virtually untrained in geographic information.

All of this has been enabled by search engines, which play an important role in supporting the GeoWeb, according to Goodchild. “They allow us to find things easily and they index an enormous amount of information. In the future I think they’re going to be more involved with indexing geospatial information.”

With this new move toward combining information from different sources to grow the GeoWeb, Goodchild concluded “it’s naïve to assume that geospatial data being handled by the public sector are somehow less trustworthy or accurate than government agencies. In fact, the evidence suggests there is no simple difference in that sense.”

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