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Cloud for GIS Systems

GIS Cloud is seen as a perfect tool to upgrade conventional GIS applications and provide a broad spectrum of services to users across the globe.

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Cloud computing is similar to the concept of a utility in which an organisation can “plug-in” to a virtual environment and use the computing resources available on an as-required basis. Applications running on such a platform can be accessed via Web clients, while the application software and data are kept at the (virtual) server side. A scenario is that component of an application, which is dynamically selected from a pool of services and the coordination and computation carried out at the client side, in the cloud, or both. Cloud computing has five key characteristics (on-demand self-service; rapid elasticity; location-independent resource pooling; ubiquitous network access; and pay-per-use), three delivery models (SaaS — software as a service, PaaS — platform as a service, and IaaS — infrastructure as a service) and four deployment models (private, public, community, and hybrid).

Cloud computing has a global approach and encompasses the entire computing stack. It provides a variety of services, ranging from the end-users hosting their personal data on the Internet to enterprises outsourcing their entire IT infrastructure to external data centres. Service Level Agreements (SLAs), which include Quality of Service (QoS) requirements, are set up between customers and cloud providers. An SLA lays down the details of the service deliverables agreed upon by all parties, and penalties for defaults. SLAs serve as a warranty for users, who are open to the idea of moving their business to the cloud. Enterprises can considerably cut down maintenance and administrative costs and effort by hiring their IT infrastructure from cloud vendors. Users leverage the cloud not only for acquiring their personal data from any part of the world, but also for carrying out activities without buying exorbitant software and hardware.

Cloud computing unveils challenges for system and application developers, engineers, system administrators, and service providers. Virtualisation enables consolidation of servers for hosting one or more services. A major concern when moving to a cloud is ensuring security, privacy and trust. Security in particular affects the entire cloud computing stack. Cloud computing involves use of third party services and infrastructures to host important data or to perform critical operations. Therefore, the trust towards providers is fundamental to ensure the desired level of privacy for data and applications hosted.

Cloud as a platform
The computing industry is leaning towards providing cloud platform as PaaS and SaaS for consumers and enterprises to access on demand, regardless of time and location. There will be an increase in the number of cloud platforms available. Recently, several academic and industrial organisations have started investigating and refining technologies and infrastructure for cloud computing. Academic efforts include Virtual Workspaces and Open Nebula. The leading six representative cloud platforms with industrial linkages are given in Figure 1.

cloud computing
A broad overview of the scenario envisioned by Cloud computing (Figure 1)

Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) (Figure 1) delivers a virtual computing environment that helps user to run Linux-based applications. Users have the liberty to create a new Amazon Machine Image (AMI) that contains the applications, data, libraries and associated configuration settings, or select from a library of globally available AMIs. The user are then required to upload the created or selected AMIs to Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3), before they can start, stop, and monitor instances of the uploaded AMIs. Amazon EC2 charges the user for the time when the instance is alive while Amazon S3 charges for any data transfer.

Google App Engine allows a user to run web applications written using the Python programming language. Other than supporting the Python standard library, Google App Engine also supports Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) for the datastore, Google Accounts, URL fetch, image manipulation, and email services. The Google App Engine also provides a Webbased Administration Console for the user to easily manage web applications. Presently, the Google App Engine offers up to 500MB of storage and around 5 million page views per month. Microsoft Live Mesh focuses on providing a centralised location for a user to store data that can be accessed across required devices (such as computers and mobile phones) from anywhere in the world. The user is able to access uploaded applications and data through a Webbased Live Desktop or his own devices with Live Mesh software. Each user’s Live Mesh is protected by a pass code and authenticated via his Windows Live Login, while all file transfers are protected using Secure Socket Layers (SSL).

ArcGIS Cloud computing
Cloud Computing Reference Model (Figure 2)

Sun network.com permits the user to run Java, C, C++, Solaris OS, and FORTRAN based applications. The user has to build and debug his applications and runtime scripts in a local development environment that is designed to be similar to that on the Sun Grid. The user then needs to create a bundled zip archive (including all the related scripts, libraries, executable binaries and input data) and upload it to Sun Grid. Finally, he can execute and monitor the application using the Sun Grid Web portal or API. Once the user has completed the application, he will be required to download the execution results to his local development environment for reviewing.

GRIDS lab Aneka, which is being commercialised through Manjrasoft, is a .NET-based service-oriented platform for constructing enterprise Grids. It is designed to help numerous application models, ingenuity and security arrangements such that the favored selection can be changed whenever without influencing a current Aneka environment. To create an enterprise gGrid, the service provider only needs to start an instance of the configurable Aneka container hosting required services on each selected desktop computer. The purpose of the Aneka container is to initialise services and it acts as a single point of interaction with the rest of the enterprise Grid. Aneka provides SLA support so that the user can specify QoS requirements such as deadline (maximum time period which the application needs to be completed in) and budget (maximum cost that the user is willing to pay for meeting the deadline). The user can access the Aneka Enterprise Grid remotely through the Gridbus Broker. The Gridbus Broker additionally empowers the client to arrange and concur upon the Qos necessities to be given by the administration supplier.

Cloud computing reference model
This scenario (Figure 2) identifies a reference model into which all the key components are organised and classified. The most reduced level of the stack is portrayed by the physical assets, which constitute the establishments of the cloud. These assets can be of diverse nature — groups, server farms, and desktop machines. On top of these, the IT infrastructure is deployed and managed. Commercial cloud deployments are more likely to be constituted by data centres hosting hundreds or thousands of machines, while private clouds can provide a more heterogeneous environment, in which even the idle CPU cycles of desktop computers are used to leverage the compute workload.

The physical base is overseen by the centre middleware whose destinations are to give a suitable runtime environment to applications and to use the physical assets. Virtualisation technologies provide features such as application isolation, QoS, and sandboxing. Among the different solutions for virtualisation, hardware-level virtualisation and programming language- level virtualisation are the most popular. Hardware-level virtualisation guarantees complete isolation of applications and a partitioning of the physical resources, such as memory and CPU, by means of virtual machines. Programming-level virtualisation gives sandboxing and managed executions to applications created with a programming dialect or particular engineering.

Virtualisation technologies help in creating an environment in which expert and business services are integrated. These include negotiation of the QoS, admission control, execution management and monitoring, accounting, and billing. Physical infrastructure and core middleware represent the platform where applications are deployed. This platform is made available through a user-level middleware, which provides environments and tools simplifying the development and the deployment of applications in the cloud. They are Web 2.0 interfaces, command line tools, libraries, and programming languages. The user-level middleware constitutes the access point of applications to the cloud. At the top level, different types of applications take advantage of the offerings provided by the cloud computing reference model. Independent Software Vendors (ISV) can depend on the cloud to oversee new applications and administrations. Enterprises can leverage the cloud for providing services to their customers. Other opportunities can be found in the education sector, social computing, scientific computing, and Content Delivery Networks.

Emerging trends in cloud computing

Cloud computing developments which would be of importance in the future are as under:

  • Hybrid Clouds: The debate over public cloud versus private cloud architecture in enterprise IT may finally end with the creation of hybrid clouds — architectures that combines the security of private clouds with the powerful, scalable, and cost-effective benefits of public clouds. This should encourage many businesses to adopt a cloud-based infrastructure. Hybrid clouds open up a range of customisable provisions for IT leaders, while keeping both security and big data advocates happy.
  • The industrial Internet takes off: The Industrial Internet (a.k.a. the Internet of Things) should start transforming operations in 2014, as solutions combining intelligent machines, Big Data analytics and end-user applications begin to roll out across major industries. Cloud computing platforms will play a big role in creating the next generation of intelligent, software-defined machines that are operable and controllable entirely from centralised, remote locations.
  • Web-Powered Apps: If scalability and efficiency are among the key benefits of cloud computing, then developing cloud-based applications that are platform-agnostic is essential. With efforts like famo.us giving new life to HTML5 through JavaScript, the web will become a major platform for cloud-based applications.
  • BYOD and the personal cloud in enterprise IT: The BYOD movement is already hitting enterprise environments and is expected to expand in 2014. As end-users put more of their own data into personal cloud services for syncing, streaming, and storage, IT executives are finding ways to incorporate personal cloud services in the enterprise environment through techniques such as mobile device management.
  • PaaS continue to Grow: More companies will be looking to adopt PaaS solutions in the upcoming years. PaaS allows businesses to lower IT costs while speeding up application development through more efficient testing and deployment. According to analyst firm IDC, the PaaS market is expected to grow from USD 3.8 billion to USD 14 billion by 2017.
  • Graphics as a Service: Running high-end graphics applications typically requires massive hardware infrastructure, but cloud computing is changing that. With emerging cloud-based graphics technologies by companies like AMD and NVIDIA, end-users will run graphically intensive applications using nothing more than an HTML5 Web browser.
  • Identity Management in the Cloud: Cloud services offer accessibility, convenience, high-power, and redundancy, but with cloud-based applications taking over businesses, there is a need to rethink security policies. Look for identity management solutions to bring new paradigms of security to the cloud in 2014.

GIS cloud as a concept
GIS is an integrated system of computer hardware, software and spatial data (topographic, demographic, tabular, graphic image, digitally summarised), which performs manipulative and analytical operations on this data to produce reports, graphics and statistics and controls geographic data processing workflows. GIS cloud has been a suggestive approach to upgrade the conventional GIS applications in order to provide a broad spectrum of services to users across the globe. The extensive use of GIS over the decades has been put to a question mark whether to shift it to more superior alternative i.e., cloud computing paradigm. GIS applications have been moving into the cloud with increased drive; global organisations like Esri, GIS Cloud Ltd etc have already taken the quantum leap and taken a technological shift to Cloud Computing Paradigm and are committed to provide on-demand services to their users. World’s largest GIS Cloud infrastructure providers are Amazon (Amazon EC2 & S3), Microsoft (Microsoft Windows Azure, Windows Server Hyper-V), and IBM (IBM Cloud) which provide reliable and secure cloud IT infrastructure to the customers on-demand.

The need for GIS cloud
GIS cloud provides authoritative tools which can help many businesses, especially, when optimisation and cost reduction are critical. Some basic principles which characterise GIS cloud to be accepted as the serious contender for next generation GIS computing paradigm are:

  • Giving Application Infrastructure: GIS cloud provides the dedicated framework for geo-enabling business data and systems. For organisations previously invested in GIS, GIS cloud resources can be exploited to increase the assistance, making the organisations, business and geographic data easier to be analysed, authored, and managed. GIS cloud provides Web-services and application hosting for the organisations to make the organisational geographic data to be easily accessed, published and consumed.
  • Help Technology Infrastructure: GIS cloud as a computing paradigm for geographical data enables subscribers’ to leverage virtual sophisticated hardware and software resources and provides full access to data creation, analysis, editing and visualisation. Simple collaborative utilities further enhance the spread of GIS across an office or across the globe.
  • Plummeting Support and Maintenance: Implementation of in-house GIS within an organisation requires people with specialised skills and elevated technical capabilities. GIS cloud eliminates the need for in-house GIS potential for basic geo-information access capabilities. For organisations that already have GIS capability, it will be complementary for highly skilled in-house staff from having to take care of basic information requirements, and letting them deal with more complex responsibilities and services. For customers, this means no bigger straight implementation investments and significant ongoing reductions in their in-house IT support and maintenance burden.
  • Diminishing usage cost: GIS cloud has tremendous capability of providing its consumers the advanced geo-technology infrastructure, the services and the geospatial data. There is no huge initial investment in time and cost, or partial maintenance. This is most significant because the cost to fan enterprise GIS can be quite large, which is one of the main reasons why many organisations don’t provide any GIS solutions to customers. With GIS cloud, that threshold to entry is eliminated to a large extent.
  • Leveraging Data Command: The essence of GIS is to provide imagery and topographic mapping, which acts as a foundation against which other spatial data are encrusted. For GIS application providers it costs a considerable amount of money to obtain and process from a spatial data vendor. The GIS cloud has capabilities to provide the underlying data as component of the core services made available through standard Internet- enabled devices. The rapid elastic nature of GIS cloud makes it sure that users can increase or decrease capacity at will. GIS cloud provides the users capabilities to input, analyse and manipulate spatial information. In addition to that GIS cloud advanced services for storage and management of spatial information prove to be supportive for users.
  • Location Independent Resource Pooling: GIS cloud has the tremendous capability of providing location– independent resource pooling. Processing and storage demands are balanced across a common infrastructure with no particular resource assigned to any individual user. The pay-per-use property of GIS cloud ensures that consumers are charged based on their usage of a combination of computing power, bandwidth use and/or storage.
  • Data Conversion and Presentation: A data conversion service implies the transformation and importing from one format into a new database. For any GIS it is of utmost importance and requires dedicated in-house technical resources which include infrastructure, software services and skilled manpower. GIS cloud provides spatial data conversion services without any requirement of in-house resource capabilities. The advanced features like 3D presentation of spatial information in GIS cloud eliminates the traditional “pancake perspective” that flatten all of the interesting facts into force-fitted plane geometry.

Cloud architecture for GIS

Some providers look at cloud computing as way to provide compute or storage capacity as a service, provisioned from a parallel, on-demand processing platform that leverages economies of scale. Others may equate cloud computing with software as a service, a delivery model for making applications available over the Internet. IT pioneers view cloud computing from the perspective of variable pricing without long-term commitments and massive elastic scaling of services. IT leaders view cloud as an infrastructure architecture alternative that can reduce costs. End users, the media and financial analysts have still other perspectives on what cloud computing represents. For GIS applications, the GIS cloud can prove to be an approach to provide compute or storage capacity as a service, provisioned from a parallel, on-demand processing platform that leverages economies of scale to varied shade of users and organisations requiring GIS application services.

Cloud architecture for GIS
Cloud architecture for GIS (Figure 3)

Having said much about the GIS cloud capabilities, it is crucial to understand the different layers of GIS cloud system. Figure 3 shows proposed GIS cloud architecture which can be followed to develop a consolidated, elastic pool of compute and storage system to gather, manipulate, analyse, and display spatial data. We have followed a multi-tiered architecture approach which separates different logical components of GIS cloud system to exploit the capabilities of each component at its best. The given system will be capable of providing flexible solution, heterogeneous platform, scalable (horizontally and vertically) infrastructure, secure and personalised environment, extensive business intelligent system and elastic platform to the GIS users. The proposed GIS cloud architecture can be broadly divided into two parts which are GIS Cloud Web Interface & GIS Server.

GIS cloud Web interface: The idea behind GIS cloud Web interface is to give adaptable, robust and cost-effective web-based interface to the clients by taking the help of Web 2.0 and related technologies. The GIS cloud web interface will be one of the vital components of GIS cloud which will be actually a zero downtime web-application with real-time content updates. The main aim will be to provide users a better experience by downloading it in less than 10 seconds.

▶ Allow user personalisation and complete interactivity.

▶ Make content available using varied technologies like broadband, mobile, RSS etc. and enhance employee productivity by creating a CMS which executes the workflow (from accessing raw content and delivering the processed copy) for publishing content in 3-5 minutes in routine situations and have exceptions to the process to take care of emergency scenarios.

▶ Allow the GIS team to analyse user behavior and all online properties like online map production to chart out a more robust future growth roadmap and allow users to view, edit and integrate maps in the system.

▶ Integrate all elements, which allows interlinking of geospatial information in terms of text /audio /video/ maps etc. with each other across the spectrum.

GIS server: The idea behind the GIS server is to have scalable computing resources for GIS cloud that manages shared resources such as, configuration, server logic, server side utilities, communication interfaces, databases and high powered processing infrastructure. The proposed GIS cloud server will comprise of following five tiers:

  • GIS Cloud Communication Layer: GIS cloud communication layer will be a communication interface of the GIS server composed of logical components {Module 1, Module 2 … Module (n) and Service 1, Service 2 … Service (n)}. This layer will be responsible for managing and controlling all the communication processes within the GIS Cloud System (Inter-Layer Communication) and communication between GIS cloud system and the outside world. Figure 3 shows that the in-house computer systems located at the GIS-service provider organisations will communicate with the GIS cloud system via GIS cloud communication layer. There will be dedicated logical modules ranging from {Module1-Module (n)} which will serve for all the requirements for GIS service provider organisations, mainly for paradigm shift (adoption of cloud technology). The dedicated logical modules will be responsible for providing enhanced capabilities to the GIS service provider organisations like creating and importing spatial, non-spatial and temporal (the evolution of both spatial and non-spatial data over time) data into the GIS cloud system. The authentication and authorisation mechanisms will also be handled at the same level to enforce data security and privacy constraints. There will also be present a standardised XML service oriented messaging system for manageable approach to distributed computing, broad interoperability, and direct support for service orientation in the form of Web-Services {Sevice1-Service (n)} at the GIS cloud communication layer. The GIS cloud Web interface will consume these services based upon the user requirements so that enterprises can integrate spatial, non-spatial and temporal data and business processes with the GIS cloud system utilising GIS cloud Web interface.
  • GIS Cloud Utilities Layer: This layer will be a collection of software utilities to support the optimisation and seamless functioning of the GIS cloud system as a whole. The utilities will include system profilers, schedulers, system logging, data conversion, data compression and other focused GIS utilities for address lookup, mapping, routing, reverse geocoding, and navigation.
  • GIS Cloud Logic Layer: This layer will act as the ‘Heart’ of GIS cloud system and will contain all the logic forming the basis of the system. This layer will contain logic for complex processing tasks, presentation logic, business logic and data access logic of GIS cloud system.
  • GIS Cloud Repository Layer: This layer will be an API based data repository layer which unify the communication between a GIS cloud system and the spatial DBMS used for the system such as DB2, PostGIS, Oracle Spatial, SQL Server etc for maintaining spatial databases in the system. This will govern all the processes, mechanisms and procedures used to store and access of spatial, non-spatial data in the GIS cloud system. This layer will also hold spatial metadata which should be stored as part of the spatial databases, and treated as decision aid to assist data users.
  • GIS Cloud Configuration Layer: This will be a system configuration management and storage component of the GIS cloud system. Any change in the GIS cloud framework will result to a change in the configuration of the system as a whole and the GIS cloud configuration layer will maintain the system configuration in terms of its consistency and performance. There will be threadbased logical modules which will be monitoring the system performance, consistency and change of state. The above discussed GIS cloud system can be placed on any of the reliable and secure cloud infrastructure like Amazon EC2 & S3, Microsoft Windows Azure, Windows Server Hyper-V and IBM Cloud etc. Since one of the major attributes of cloud computing is universal system access i.e., accessing cloud services through standard Internet-enabled devices eliminating the bottlenecks for information access, the GIS cloud system will be accessed either by GIS cloud Web interface or by the in-house computer systems located at the GIS service provider organisations.
  • ArcGIS in the Cloud: The basics of cloud engineering (Figure 4) are not hard to understand. Yet independent from anyone else, this technology has no use — the worth originates from how it is utilised. GIS services are available in the cloud so that ArcGIS users and developers can access ready-to-use maps including imagery, topography maps, and street base maps as well as task services such as routing and geocoding. The ArcGIS Server in the cloud. Esri uses the cloud today in several different ways. ArcGIS Server can be deployed in the cloud via the Amazon EC2 so that organisations and developers can publish and quickly deploy custom GIS mapping applications within minutes.
  • ArcLogistics, Business Analyst Online (BAO), or Community Analyst: GIS Software as a Service provides focused, cloud-based clients and applications that easily solve complex business problems using GIS tools and data but don’t require GIS expertise to use.
  • ArcGIS Mobile: More mobile GIS services are coming to the cloud soon so that an organisation’s field staff, business professionals, and consumers can access GIS capabilities and data using nearly any mobile device. With ArcPad, users can send edits back to the enterprise geodatabase directly from the field. Edits from ArcPad can be enabled on top of the ArcGIS Server on Amazon EC2.

ArcGIS in the cloud
ArcGIS in the cloud

Esri has been providing Software plus Services (S+S) for some time, allowing customers to leverage their on-premises solutions with on-demand services. Esri’s ArcGIS Online map and GIS services provide S+S users with immediate access to cartographically designed, seamless basemaps to which they can easily add their own data in an Esri on-premises product. As a community cloud, the ArcGIS Online Content Sharing Program enables users and organisations to contribute geographic data content. Leveraging Amazon’s EC2 and Simple Storage Service (S3) compute and storage services allows Esri to host the content and provide access 24/7. ArcGIS Explorer users can consume ready-to-use basemaps and layers from ArcGIS Online services in the S+S model. Arclogistics allocates software and access to online services that help you make ideal vehicle courses and schedules

The 21st century demands better data computing speeds, support for ongoing IT applications and techniques, deal with access spikes, and provide more reliable and scalable services. The emergence of cloud computing provides potential for solutions with an elastic on demand computing. It has become a platform to integrate observation systems, data processing, analytical visualisation and decision support. Somehow, GIS applications are suitable for the cloud in light of the fact that they depend on voluminous changing information sets, putting both the information and apparatuses to work in the cloud.

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d) Rajkumar Buyya, Chee Shin Yeo, and Srikumar Venugopal, “Market-Oriented Cloud Computing: Vision, Hype, and Reality for Delivering IT Services as Computing Utilities,” Keynote Paper, Proceedings of the 10th IEEE International Conference on High Performance Computing and Communications (HPCC 2008, IEEE CS Press, Los Alamitos, CA, USA), Sept. 25-27, 2008, Dalian, China.

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f) Victoria kouyoumjian,”The New Age of Cloud Computing and GIS” Esri IT strategy architecture, Esri Arc Watch Jan2010

g) Suhas Sreedhar “Seven Cloud computing Trends 2014” sungard ASvoice”www.forbes. com

h) Executives Guide to Cloud computing a book by Eric A Marks and Bob Lozano

i) VOGELS, W., 2008, “A Head in the Clouds – The Power of Infrastructure as a Service,” In First workshop on Cloud Computing and in Applications (CCA ‘08) (October 2008).

j) Large Scale Network-Centric Distributed Systems, edited by Hamid Sarbazi-Azad, Albert Y. Zomaya

k) Cloud Computing, Nariman Mirzaei, Fall 2008

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