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Susan Smith, Managing Editor
Performance Enhancements Power Safe Software’s FME 2009 Release
By Susan Smith
This week, Dale Lutz, co-founder and vice president of Development of Safe Software and Don Murray, president and co-founder, talked about FME 2009, Safe Software’s new release in an interview with GISWeekly.
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The new version includes releases of FME Desktop and FME Server, based on Safe’s spatial ETL (extract, transform and load) technology, and focuses on foundational changes that address performance, memory and making use of computers’ resources. In keeping with the goals of many software and hardware companies today, Safe is all about boosting performance, evidenced in the new release, which runs 20% faster across their entire suite of tests. Actual customer cases reported 20 times faster performance in some conversions with the new releases as well.
“We’ve launched this foundational team that fully looks at performance for every release, so our mandate now is to make every release faster than the previous release,” explained Lutz. “Not only is 2009 the first release to have that, in over about 4,000 tests it’s about 20% faster and there’s still more work to be done. In fact, we also looked at as many previous releases as we could, and this is the fastest release of the last four.”
Murray concurred that vendors typically focus on new features; and as a product matures, those features tend to be important to fewer people. “We try to find those things that will matter to all our users, not just the super advanced users or those doing new things. Performance is something everyone cares about, if you can take a job that used to take eight hours and finish it in six hours, that enables users to work with larger data sets and that’s what we’re seeing. The amount of data organizations want to work with is increasing.”
The increase in the demand for improved data interoperability also drives FME releases, as the numbers of popular and widely used formats increases, and more non-traditional GIS users join the ranks of users of spatial data. Geographically referenced data has also become more popular and has led to larger data sets from sources such as Google Earth and Virtual Earth.
The authoring environment for FME, Workbench, has also undergone user interface enhancements. Workbench is where most organizations create their spatial ETL workflows, according to Murray.
Jason Birch outlines what he thinks are three of the best enhancements to the new user interface in his blog:
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“First, they created a really intuitive “default settings” interface. As far as I can remember, previous releases didn’t even have default settings for transformers, and dataset defaults were set through a dialog box hidden in the configuration UI. It was so much trouble to use that I don’t imagine many people were setting default values unless they had something that really annoyed them:
The second feature that I really like about the new UI is Quick Connect. Mark describes this over at the FME Evangelist blog better than I ever could… make sure to watch his cheesy movie for some time-saving tips.
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The final feature that I really like is the ability to edit source feature attributes. Now normally, source feature attributes don’t change, and even if they do FME provides an effective wizard that allows you to refresh the source feature definitions from their original source without manual intervention. Where this really comes in handy is when you use the optional SELECT Statement parameter to join to a secondary table:”
For the full blog, visit the website
Lutz noted that Safe Software continues to push on into the 3D and BIM format realm, believing those areas will become even more important as time goes on. “Just as now people expect to see their data in globes, a few years from now, people will expect more immersive views of their data -- the whole 3D and BIM is key to that,” Lutz predicted. “We have support in this release for Autodesk 3ds MAX and CityGML and we continue to improve our 3D support.”
Another format that FME 2009 supports is OBJ, a visualization format that originated with the company Alias Wavefront. There is currently no reference application for Wavefront, however, many people use it and there are many applications that want to read the format in different ways.
For 2009, Safe has also added support for Adobe Geospatial PDF, which allows users to share mapping data with users using only Acrobat Reader, on FME Desktop or FME Server. Adobe added geospatial capabilities into their PDF technology so that when users open a geospatially enabled PDF, they can find locations, measure distances, add location markers, and copy coordinates to the clipboard to use with a web mapping service. Both professionals and consumers can use this tool.
Safe also added “significant” XML technology inside the FME core, in the form of XQuery. XQuery, used by many, is an XML language that according to Wikipedia, is designed to query collections of XML data. It allows you to pull stuff apart, put it back together and reformat in XML. A partner commented that one of the most amazing attributes of FME 2009 was the ability to do such things with XQuery from within the FME Workbench environment.
Safe is making sure their technology works well with Autodesk’s LandXplorer, derived from the acquisition of 3DGeo. LandXplorer is one of the few products today that reads and understands CityGML very fully. According to Lutz, users can use FME which offers full support, to produce CityGML.
The same engine that is part of FME Desktop is part of the newer product, FME Server. Once users upgrade to FME Server 2009 they immediately get the 20% performance boost.
When looking at the FME graph, it continues to be a “straight line” since 1997. There are about 225 formats supported so far which Safe produces, ships and maintains. Because third parties are allowed to plug into the Safe FME framework without needing to register as users, any user can read a format. Murray said that there are dozens of other formats companies have made to suit their own internal needs and sell commercially.
Newly supported formats include Adobe Geospatial PDF, Autodesk 3ds, CityGML, IBM Informix Spatial, OpenStreetMap (OSM) XML and more.
A lot has been said about performance, and part of getting a performance boost is being able to process large datasets. This means changes on the platform side, in this case, in the form of support for 64-bit technology. FME 2009 is the first release of the product that includes support at an “engine level” for 64-bit. This runs on a 64-bit operating system such as Windows 64-bit or Linux 64-bit. Servers are now also available on Windows 64-bit, Linux 64-bit and Solaris 64-bit. The process of making this happen has taken over two years, according to Murray. He also noted that not all formats that Safe supports on 32-bit Windows platforms are available, because sometimes certain formats don’t get to the other platforms. Safe is working on putting together a definitive list of what formats are available on what platforms.