Reduce Costs with Information Technology for a Modern Age
The use of modern information technologies can have a dramatic impact on GIS. The purpose of this article is to introduce information technology (IT) topics, share with users how Esri embraces these technologies, and explore how users can leverage them within their environments. The technologies and concepts covered in this article include virtualization, contemporary software deployment models, and computing architectures.
There are several trends in IT, but few tend to impact the overall business as significantly as virtualization. Virtualization optimizes the use of existing resources; simplifies infrastructure and software administration, maintenance, and deployment; and reduces hardware needs, resulting in less power consumption, less space required, and lower cooling costs.
Server Virtualization—Server virtualization gets a lot of attention from organizations because of the significant business benefits that are possible. IT departments realize an increase in productivity through faster provisioning times for new servers, which, in turn, results in faster availability of resources for users. Server virtualization enables hardware assets to become fully utilized, maximizing the amount of computing power available. Companies realize tremendous cost savings through reducing and eliminating the need for new hardware. Less hardware translates into lower energy costs and a reduction in floor/rack space. Besides being beneficial for the environment, this translates into improving the external image of a company as being socially responsible and green. Another advantage to virtualization is increased security. This is inherent in the architecture, since virtualization offers the isolation of environments, and isolation protects the overall system from malware.
Using Esri's server technologies in a virtualized environment means that users have more access to GIS processing capabilities with lower hardware and energy costs. If the system requires more processing power, the IT department can quickly provision a new virtualized server to help share the workload, including allocating off-site servers in case of an emergency. This results in a highly available configuration that provides consistent access to GIS information across the enterprise.
Desktop Virtualization—Desktop virtualization enables users to run multiple applications and operating systems on their computers at the same time. Desktop virtualization is extremely beneficial when users need access to software programs on a temporary basis or need to use software programs dependent on prerequisites either not installed on their systems or running on alternative operating systems or for companies that have limited IT resources. The virtual desktop environment provides users with a standard business desktop environment that is always ready to be used.
Esri ArcGIS Desktop software products support access to the software in a desktop virtualization environment. This means that multiple people in the organization can have instant access to creating, modifying, and deploying maps on the desktop without the need for IT to install and maintain the software application on each computer. Also, local and remote users have access to the latest software versions because they only need to access the virtual application. Esri desktop software, deployed in a virtual environment, still has access to online and hardware resources. Users can save and print maps and also import and export geoprocessing tasks into and out of the virtual environment for use in other desktop and Web applications.
Contemporary Software Deployment Models
Traditionally, organizations have managed and maintained computer systems using an on-site hosting model. This required a significant amount of resources from IT personnel. Today, there are several alternative software deployment methods available that can significantly reduce the amount of time, money, and resources required from the IT department.
Here are two of the more common approaches available today:
Software as a Service (SaaS)—SaaS (or on-demand) software is viewed as freedom for many in the IT industry. Managing and maintaining a business system or solution are no longer required, and commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) software procurement and local installation become superfluous, replaced by the browser of one's choice. As business challenges evolve, on-demand services mature and meet these challenges, with the potential to save the consumer significant resources.
One of Esri's SaaS offerings is Business Analyst Online, which allows the consumer to combine GIS technology with extensive demographic, consumer, and business data for the entire United States. This enables the delivery of on-demand analysis, boardroom-ready reports, and maps over the Web. Among other things, Business Analyst Online offers dynamic thematic mapping and flexible study-area definitions. In addition, Esri updates the data annually for access to the most current and accurate data. Because Business Analyst Online is hosted by Esri, consumers need not worry about managing data or technology updates.
Software plus Services (S+S)—Another technology delivery approach that is gaining traction is S+S, which combines hosted services with locally running software. S+S enables users to take advantage of the hosted information available through the Internet while still providing the rich experiences users obtain when running software on a local device.
Esri's ArcGIS Online provides products and services over the Internet using the S+S method. ArcGIS Online Services gives users immediate access to cartographically designed, seamless basemaps to which they can easily add their own data. In addition, ArcGIS users can subscribe to standard and premium services and instantly access ready-to-use 2D maps, 3D globes, and reference layers via the Web. A suite of Microsoft Virtual Earth map services is also available through ArcGIS Online, including high-resolution street maps, imagery, and hybrid maps.
The ArcGIS Online Content Sharing Program enables users' organizations to contribute geographic data content to be published and hosted by Esri. When users participate in the program, Esri will integrate their content with that from other providers. The data can be accessed by users throughout organizations and by other users with access to the Internet. Esri hosts the content and provides access 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This means a user's data will be accessible even if the primary site becomes unavailable. In the case of an emergency, having the data in a secondary location allows continuous, immediate access.
ArcGIS Online and Business Analyst Online use the latest software deployment methods available to provide GIS users with the tools and information they need over the intranet or Internet. These tools help GIS users become more productive and perform their jobs more efficiently while adding a comprehensive depth to their projects through the content and resources available.
Additional computing architectures have emerged and been embraced by the IT community to more effectively respond to business demands for increased agility and efficient means to access information.
Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA)—SOA is a method of building business applications that utilize common services to support business functions. It provides close affinity to business processes and makes business activities reusable while decoupling the clients from the services to eliminate any location dependencies. SOA is more than an architecture of services seen from a technology perspective. It is also the policies, practices, and frameworks by which users are ensured that the right services are provided and consumed.
The role of ArcGIS Desktop is in defining and authoring content that becomes the basis for common, reusable spatial services—content such as 2D maps, 3D globes, geoprocessing models, locators, and data management functions. ArcGIS Server is a complete and integrated Web-based GIS that delivers a standards-based platform that, together with ArcGIS Desktop, can easily produce geospatial content and capabilities for use across an enterprise.
Integrating GIS with other key business systems can extend the value of those systems by increasing accuracy, efficiency, and productivity. Esri delivers enterprise integration and interoperability by adhering to existing and emerging IT and GIS standards. Esri's ArcGIS platform and associated developer program, known as the Esri Developer Network (EDN), provides robust tooling capabilities for developers to create enterprise-class XML and Web services in support of geospatial SOA initiatives.
Cloud Computing—One cannot consider computing architectures without also discussing the model of cloud computing. The concept of cloud computing, or on-demand technology, emerged with new workflow paradigms attributable to the arrival of Web 2.0. Cloud computing is defined by research and advisory company Gartner, Inc., as “a style of computing where massively scalable IT-enabled capabilities are delivered as a service to external customers using Internet technologies,” while Forrester Research, Inc., often references it as the Platform as a Service (PaaS) market. The characteristics of cloud computing include leveraging economies of scale to reduce individual investments and, in essence, the renting of physical assets based on an organization's computing requirements. By eliminating the need to install and run the application on the customer's own computer, cloud computing alleviates the customer's burden of software maintenance, ongoing operation, and support. Typically, the resources that are used are owned and managed by a third party, and service offerings can range from data storage to Web applications to other focused services. Collaboration and open standards are two of the core drivers behind this trend. Additionally, when computing in the cloud, users pay only for the resources or computing capacity that is actually consumed.
With the potential for unlimited scalability, availability, and reliability that comes from taking advantage of cloud vendors, opportunities emerge. Projects and other initiatives can move off the table and into active development. Resources can be reorganized to provide direct value to customers and employees, securing a competitive difference instead of managing and maintaining IT infrastructure. The primary source of confidence with cloud vendors will be established through repeated successful experiences, testimonials, and proven reliability with respect to operating procedures and performance. As cloud computing continues to move farther away from the incubation stage, Esri will continue to stay close to this emerging trend as it garners additional support and momentum to become a convention in business.