July 11, 2005
Help is on the Way for Spatial Database Users
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Susan Smith - Managing Editor

by Susan Smith - Managing Editor
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Message from the Editor -

Welcome to GISWeekly! Help, in the form of Safe Software's Feature Manipulation Engine (FME) Suite 2005, is on the way for users of spatial databases such as Oracle Spatial. A lot has been written about the benefits of Oracle Spatial, but far less is written or said about how you import and export data from the database. Read about this and FME's support of GML 3.1.1 which was just released at the end of April, 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.

GISWeekly welcomes letters and feedback from readers, so let us know what you think. Send your comments to me at

Best wishes,

Susan Smith, Managing Editor

Industry News

Help is on the Way for Spatial Database Users

By Susan Smith

Help, in the form of Safe Software's Feature Manipulation Engine (FME) Suite 2005, is on the way for users of spatial databases such as Oracle Spatial. A lot has been written about the benefits of Oracle Spatial, but far less is written or said about how you import and export data from the database.

This week I spoke with the founders of Safe Software, Don Murray and Dale Lutz about the new release of FME and what it brings to the table. The enhancements to FME Suite 2005 represent a year of development work. “We now have a fairly large engineering team of 30 people, that's why this release has such a significant number of additions to it.”

Everything is interoperable with Oracle, say the vendors, and “for certain applications it certainly is once you get the data in there,” added Murray. “With databases, the trick is getting the data in. We use this analogy - if the database is a jet plane then the data is the fuel. So if you can't get the fuel into it then you're not going to be able to watch it perform.”

Support of Oracle Spatial in the specific way mentioned above is one of the top features of this new product, but in addition, FME now manages raster formats as well. “That's a significant new direction for us,” noted Murray. “We've always steered clear of raster formats over the years, but now people are looking at the database systems to manage imagery as well as vector. We've been approached by enough customers that we realize we need to do the same for raster as we do for vector.”

FME supports both Oracle Spatial and ArcSDE on the raster side.

Another new area of support for FME is the support of open source free software such as MySQL, MySQL Spatial, and PostGIS.

Moving away from the database, FME now supports GML 3.1.1 which was just released at the end of April, and a Swedish government format that is based on GML 3. Safe Software is now working on supporting the GML of Germany which is called the (NDF) National Data Format for Germany.

“Many people end up using FME to load fairly complex government GML formats into database systems like Oracle Spatial or ArcSDE, and often they will be loading up the base map for all of England,” said Lutz. “They need to do that in a timely way and that's a big chunk of our business.”

Action on the Raster Side

“In the future you can expect to see us do what we've done in the vector side -- add more raster formats and more raster transformers to allow people to do interesting things with rasters,” said Murray.

Although the popularity of Google Maps and Google Earth, Yahoo Maps, and Microsoft MSN Earth, demonstrates that vector will continue to be important, database users have provided a strong impetus for FME to embrace raster as well. Customers want to take advantage of the raster capabilities in products such as Oracle Spatial.

”We're also being asked to go the other way,” said Murray. “Once the rasters are all loaded up nicely and made into a seamless image inside a database, some folks want to be able to say 'Cut that chunk out for me, so I can sell it to somebody, or let me have a local copy.'”

“Our next version of SpatialDirect, which is based on FME technology, will allow users to use our SpatialDirect product, but also to distribute raster imagery, not just vector, as it does now.”

The product will allow you to browse an area of interest on a website, then have both vector and raster delivered to your desktop.

“We're working closely with a state government that provides spatial data download capabilities on their website. They want the ability to distribute both raster imagery as well as vector data. By early fall, this will be operational,” Murray said.


Besides MySQL and PostGIS, FME now supports Autodesk DWF and Excel. The work Safe Software does with OGC and GML work is “massive,” and they license that technology to quite a number of the GIS vendors. “Tied directly in with that is our Web Feature Server Client. A lot of people talk about putting up Web Features Services but WFSs are only as interesting as the clients out there that actually use them,” explained Murray. “We are very pleased that our client software is one of the better ones around and does plug into a number of the other vendors' products as well. We feel that our client software for WFS has greatly improved the usability of the WFS servers
that are popping up. We tested it with all the major vendors' WFSs, so it works with Intergraph , MapInfo, Ionic, ESRI -- it works with all of them.”

Safe Software has been very involved with the GML Relays and the GML Plugfest, which strove to get vendors' technologies to work together. “That was really instrumental in making our WFS support so good because we were able to get really good technical contacts within all these companies,” said Murray. “In terms of our own FME users, many only regularly use four or five formats -- so while I'm really excited about GML and WFS, some users will care and other users will not. Our challenge is, how do we keep such a diverse audience entertained?”


One of the most important features of FME is Workbench, which is used by all users regardless of which formats they are working with. “Workbench lets people set up the translations graphically,” explained Lutz. “In Workbench we did a number of things to help people deal with very large and complicated transformations. We have some users in Germany who use 1500 different kinds of building blocks chained together in a web to perform a data migration very key to their business. If you have 1500 dots on your drawing, that's very difficult to deal with and manage, as well as reading it in and writing it out, so we did a bunch of work on our performance in these large
situations. We introduced two ideas into Workbench to help people manage complexity:

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