Esri uses the cloud today in several different ways. The currently available options include the following:
- The ability to deploy ArcGIS Server on Amazon Web Services.
- ArcGIS.com, a Web site offering tools and shared data for GIS applications.
- ArcLogistics, a cloud application for optimizing routing, such as for delivery vehicles.
- Business Analyst Online, a cloud application for geographic analysis of demographic, consumer, business, and other data.
These examples illustrate how cloud computing can make life better for GIS developers and users. Each one is worth a closer look.
ARCGIS SERVER ON AMAZON EC2
Today, customers typically deploy ArcGIS Server on a computer running in their own data center. It’s also possible, however, to deploy ArcGIS Server in the cloud using AWS. As Figure 3 shows, ArcGIS Server itself can run in an EC2 VM running Windows, while a relational database holding GIS data runs in a second VM.
Deploying ArcGIS Server on AWS provides an alternative to deploying it solely in your own data center. But why would anybody do this? What are the advantages of choosing this option? There are several possible answers, including the following:
- Easier deployment: Esri provides a preconfigured AMI containing ArcGIS Server. Rather than install and configure the product on a machine in your data center, you can just create an EC2 VM from this AMI.
- Faster deployment: In many organizations, making a server machine available to run new software requires following a multi-step process, one that can take weeks or more. With AWS, by contrast, anybody with a valid credit card can get an EC2 VM deployed in a few minutes. If getting ArcGIS Server—and the application that uses it—up and running quickly is important, using the AWS option can make sense.
- Lower cost: As mentioned earlier, AWS charges customers for each hour a VM is running. Depending on usage and costs in your own data center, running ArcGIS Server on AWS might be a less expensive option. This is especially true for applications with elastic (i.e., widely varying) demand. If, say, an application typically uses a single instance of ArcGIS Server, but needs ten instances for occasional peak loads, the AWS pay-as-you-go model lets you pay for this higher usage only when you need it.
- Broad availability: Because software running on AWS can be accessed by anybody with an Internet connection, GIS services exposed by ArcGIS Server in an EC2 VM can be broadly available. While this raises the security bar, it can be an attractive approach for providing some kinds of information.
- Better performance: ArcGIS Server allows running various kinds of analysis on GIS data. If you’re creating an application that performs complex data analysis, you might choose to deploy multiple instances of ArcGIS Server in multiple EC2 VMs, then use all of them in parallel to work on the same data. Applications running on AWS also have access to large amounts of bandwidth, which can significantly improve performance in some cases.
- Simpler development and testing: Because the AWS environment can be essentially identical to an on-premises Windows environment, a development team can build and test an ArcGIS Server application in the cloud, then deploy it either in the cloud or on premises. Given that creating (and paying for) EC2 VMs can be more flexible than creating the same environment in your own data center, this can make the development process easier.
Running ArcGIS Server in the cloud isn’t always the right solution, of course. In many organizations, for instance, storing sensitive information outside the firewall is frowned upon. Still, this alternative deployment approach can sometimes be the best option.
Using the cloud to share GIS data and applications is an attractive idea. ArcGIS.com, run by Esri, provides a good example of this. Figure 4 shows the site’s home screen.
As this screen shot suggests, ArcGIS.com provides a number of services, including the following:
- Storage of publicly available maps and other GIS information. (Esri provides some of this data, including things such as layers and basemaps, but users of the site also contribute.)
- Esri-created applications for examining and working with the site’s information, such as tools for creating maps.
- A central site for finding and accessing GIS applications that use the data on ArcGIS.com, including applications that run on computers in non-Esri data centers.