Friday, May 21, 2010

Users to Data Providers, 'Let go! And deploy more WMS ...'

I was at USGIF Tech Days this week - lots of leading folks in the geospatial community in one crowd. It was good to see old and new friends. As with most industry get-togethers, I had scheduled meetings and plenty of impromptu meet-ups - all of which were awesome.

One thing hit me hard at Tech Days this year, something in the crowd was different. I'm usually the one evangelizing standards-based online services like WMS, WFS, GeoRSS etc (hard to believe, I know ;-). But that wasn't the case this time. One Army officer said to me that access to data via WMS, WFS, GeoRSS, KML is vital - and that people need to 'let go' and do more in this area. Other folks said that 'without standards, there's chaos'. Still others wanted more apps to use online geospatial services.

What's changed? I think recent events like Haiti have given users a taste of the power and flexibility of being able to choose which WMS/WFS map and feature layers they need, which GeoRSS feeds to use, and the KML links that benefit them most - regardless of the system or vendor that provides it. Of course, many of the forward-leaning providers are already doing this.

What's next? I'd say users will want even more 'on-demand' interoperable geospatial services. In addition, seamless integration between partners, civilian, federal and international agencies are capabilities users will likely want more of - as well as the ability to contribute and validate crowd-sourced updates from many users into many different services. It's also likely they'll benefit from the speed and power of new services like WMTS - the open standard for fast web mapping.

One thing is certain - you can learn a lot when you listen in the crowd.

- Jeff

Friday, May 14, 2010

SDI as a Service

We are entering a new era of information technology, when the network will be the computer. And significant computing tasks will be done somewhere in the network 'cloud'. Just a short time ago that may have sounded farfetched. The IT environment familiar to most readers was based on desktop/laptop computers, and the enterprise-wide deployment of information to those systems. The notion of an enterprise having to depend on the availability and responsiveness of some amorphous network of distributed data resources was challenging.

Some readers may argue that it's far easier to create a controlled, predictable IT environment by buying the hardware, the software, and even the data, and integrating them. This makes the system completely self sufficient. Arguably, this position was once the only option. But now we've experienced significant changes in technology. The Internet is just one. It started with a browser that pointed to web pages, reports, or documents. It is now extending into databases and collaboration services. As a result, a lot of us have come to depend on the internet for much of the information we consume. Thanks to Web 2.0 applications the world is embracing internet-based social networking and wiki worlds which have highlighted a generational shift in the way that we manage and access information.

In order to cope with all this increased internet activity, other technology has evolved. The introduction of broadband internet has improved the user experience significantly. Internet consumers – in some countries – are already experiencing very little difference whether they access resources internal or external to their organization. With the introduction of fiber to the home in North America, Australia, Europe, Asia and other regions, a vast majority of households will experience unencumbered access to remote resources. The availability of high speed broadband will change the way that we do a whole lot of things.

However, there's more to this than just having mountains of remote distributed resources. The development of Service Oriented Architectures (SOA) support the concept of web services that allow programs or web applications to integrate these remote services and data. The development of SOA meant that applications developers could easily ‘cobble’ together any number of remote resources. An army of developers is working to build web-based and desktop ‘mashups’ that integrate any number of these remote services via web services. This trend is only in its infancy. As we become more comfortable with it, its usage will proliferate.

So we already have the fundamental infrastructure to broaden our use of information beyond the boundary of the enterprise. For the Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI) community what is now needed is the growth of remote services that can be harnessed in this manner. We need more distributed services that are exposed on the internet, and that can be discovered and accessed via standards-based web services. This Information as a Service (IAAS) model is a trend that is gaining a momentum of its own – initially in controlled intranet/extranet environments – but increasingly on Internet "cloud" as well.

We'll explore some specific examples in future parts of this series.

- Jeff and Brad

Thursday, May 13, 2010

NEO Web Service - Tracking changes around the world just got easier!

It's not often an online resource comes along and makes me say, "Wow!", but the NEO - NASA Earth Observations - web map service is just that kind of resource. NEO's mission is to help you picture climate and environmental changes happening on our home planet. To open up the NEO collection to all users they provide a WMS - giving anyone the ability to access maps from any application using a standardized programming interface. Just plug the service descriptions for NEO into Gaia to access it and start tracking changes around the world.
- Jeff

Friday, May 07, 2010

Web services provide access to Hawaii infrastructure info

During a recent "10 minutes with NSDI Web Services" talk at AAG I discussed some new web feature services (WFS) from PDC. I was impressed with the services (good data, easy access) and see them as another great example of geospatial services oriented architecture (GSOA) advancing on the Internet.

The WFS are provided by Pacific Disaster Center and come in several flavors, each supporting a different theme. Two of my favorites are Infrastructure and Emergency Services. Just plug the service descriptions for each of these into Gaia to access them. Hint - a trick I use to add services is just clicking on the "Gaia" icon in the GOS Dashboard, your service list in Gaia will be automatically updated. The example above shows the PDC WFS for Emergency Services accessed using this technique through the open source GOS Dashboard for Windows 7/Vista and free Gaia from The Carbon Project. Enjoy!

- Jeff and Mark