Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Esri’s Move to the Cloud Enables Intelligent Web Maps

by Matt Ball 

Esri’s founder Jack Dangermond took to the stage at yesterday’s Where 2.0 Conference for a talk on Living Maps. Dangermond started by outlining the converging trends that are changing our GIS systems, including greater computing power with faster networks to enable the cloud, increased data capture and measurements, sensor networks and crowdsourcing as means for more real-time inputs, with software that has become easier to use with more analytical capabilities, the maturation of GI Science that gives us a better understanding of how our world works, and the growing trend to more government transparency and open data. Together these trends bring a whole new capability for maps to become more pervasive.
Esri’s move to the cloud is about connections from the enterprise to the web, mobile, and desktop clients. It’s also about enabling dynamic maps and allowing users to author a map in a desktop, host it in the cloud, turn it into raster cache or feature services, and serve it back to other users, without having to buy a server. Jack put it succinctly as, “Blending cloud stuff with enterprise stuff.”
Central to this move is the new medium of intelligent Web maps that blend together data, services and analytics in a format that is easily sharable and editable. Intelligent maps go anywhere from Apple’s iPhone and iPad, to Android devices, to Windows mobile devices, and can be easily embedded in blogs and other media online. They are further made dynamic with social media to blend these real-time feeds.
In the demo portion of the presentation, we saw examples of this new level of intelligent maps with several case studies presented. A map of last year’s Gulf oil spill was animated with temporal data to illustrate how the event evolved. The map integrated social media, hitting directly to the Twitter API for a map that tells a real-time story.

Maps of Census information provided deep levels of the demographic picture for the nation, including a new Three-way Map Viewer that allows the user to compare different views of the map at the same time. Each map is dynamically linked so that zooming into one area on one of the maps is replicated across the other two maps – staying together across space and scale.
The speed of today’s networks was also on display as dynamic connections to background information are drawn quickly on the screen. This new level of connectivity allows for very quick access and creation of maps online at ArcGIS.com, where templates and data stores are draw upon, with symbols and drawing tools allowing for creation, storage and sharing of maps online. One compelling and massively time saving aspect of this new online environment was the ability to simply drag a CSV file on the desktop over the Webmap to have the points automatically plotted.
Esri indicated that they will have a cloud hosting service available by this Summer. The service will be of interest to all of Esri’s 350,000 user organizations as well as to developers with open APIs, templates and tools for them to use.

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