Don't let geospatial data get lost in the cloud

Standards are essential to cloud computing, especially when it comes to maintaining location data

Steven Ramage is executive director of marketing and communications at the Open Geospatial Consortium, a nonprofit organization that is leading the development of standards for geospatial and location-based services.

Organizations that seek to realize the benefits of cloud computing need to be aware that the cloud model can come with unintended consequences.

One area of particular concern is geospatial information, which is part and parcel of many government applications that are candidates for moving to the cloud. The problem is that the flexibility of the cloud computing model has the potential to disrupt geospatial services.

Cloud computing lends itself to rapid configuration and reconfiguration of value chains. Customers and providers can mix and match services of all kinds: platform as a service, infrastructure as a service and software as a service. That freedom to choose and switch on short notice is one of the cloud’s biggest attractions.

The types of services bought and sold in complex and dynamic cloud value chains include ones that handle location information. Location services can be simple, such as "where I am" in a tweet, or complex, such as "which satellite can scan this flood zone soonest, and will the airport be accessible by 09:00 hours?" But even the location parameters in messaging can be passed in different and incompatible ways. If services can't exchange location information, the cloud service value chain breaks.

Many decisions depend on the location, motion and proximity of people, places, things and phenomena, such as temperature, so designers of cloud services need to think about the standard interfaces, codes and best practices that enable "where" information to pass among systems.

In the field of information and communication technology, we see an oft-repeated drama unfold as customers seek freedom and vendors seek lock-in. The heroes in the story are usually information and communication technology standards, such as TCP/IP, HTTP and HTML. Invariably, clever vendors embrace standards in their products and applications to better position themselves for the larger market penetration enabled by standards.

On that new standards platform, vendors innovate and offer new products and services that give customers new capabilities and choices. That cycle results in progress, but customers need to exercise vigilance. Technology vendors often say, "If you want this capability, you must also buy this widget." The moral of the story is that customers should think strategically about their standards requirements — including location technology standards — and be explicit about those requirements in procurements.

In cloud computing, standards play a particularly important role. They provide flexibility to do business with a cloud provider without excessive effort or cost, they enable multiple cloud providers to work together, and they enable a cloud provider to more easily meet the different needs of different customers. Security, virtualization and service-level agreements are some of the areas in which interoperability is essential. Location is another.

The location standards developed by the Open Geospatial Consortium, often in coordination with other standards organizations, let location information fly through clouds. Geoprocessing is increasingly service-based, and those services can communicate with other services through open standard interfaces.

We’ve moved beyond the old notion of geospatial work being the exclusive domain of geographic information systems experts or the notion of a geographic information system being a box in an enterprise architecture diagram. Geographic information has become another information type that moves freely through enterprise and consumer information environments — one that is obviously a key factor in providing cloud resources that support real-world decisions.

Location standards continue to progress in the world of sensor webs, as sensors of all kinds are configured to include location information with their data. In addition, important work is being done with 3-D city models that bind indoor and outdoor locations. Collaborative work in those areas and others — such as location semantics, workflow, grid computing, data quality and data fusion — are all part of an exciting worldwide effort to build “where” into the service standards framework that cloud computing depends on.

We encourage you to visit to learn more about maximizing the value of your location data and cloud computing solutions.


About the Author

Steven Ramage is executive director for marketing and communications at the Open Geospatial Consortium, a nonprofit organization that is leading the development of standards for geospatial and location based services.


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