Businesses look at the cloud in one of two ways. There are those that see the cloud as a useful tool that can be used to streamline the work that the business needs to get done. Other businesses see the cloud as a nebulous concept that is difficult to understand and therefore unnecessary. For the latter group, it is enough to have a server on premises that is functioning. Little thought is given to what would happen if and when that server fails to function.
It is understandable that business owners, especially those with small to medium size enterprises, would be reluctant to invest in a new technology if they did not fully understand the benefits. However, businesses that publish GIS maps should take a second look at the cloud. In doing this they should take the time to compare between common hosting providers and those that offer a premium service. This could lead to unparalleled benefits for their business as well as the customers they are generating maps for.
Options for Web Mapping Platforms
Option 1: On Premise GIS platforms that are on premise are installed on the organization’s servers. These direct host web traffic to web maps that are stored locally.
Option 2: Cloud-based GIS platforms will be hosted on the server of the vendor. Access to them is gained via a browser.
When an enterprise uses a cloud-based system, they will usually need to pay for an annual or a monthly subscription. Conversely, on premise installations require a major investment of capital. This initial investment is followed up with continued maintenance costs and licensing or software expenses.
One of the issues that often comes up is why GIS platforms don’t store their data on regular hosting providers that are optimized for web applications. The problem with such an approach is performance, VPS or web application servers cannot handle thousands of server requests.
Opting for the cloud means a lower initial investment. This is a primary reason why many organizations have moved their GIS platforms to the cloud. Let’s look at some of the other benefits cloud GIS has when compared to onsite deployments.
- Increased Reliability
With time, on premise servers require maintenance and attention. A hard disk failure, the failure of a UPS, or an accident that damages the server can all remove the server from action permanently or for an extended period of time. These things happen. It’s just life.
It is simple to see minor failures in on premise servers as an irritation until a major catastrophe happens. When this takes place, a business and their IT team find themselves struggling to restore backups, changing out dead hard drives, or struggling to get their server back online.
This impacts the reputation of a business. Online mapping is designed to be a resource that customers can turn to when they need assistance. However, if your on-site servers are constantly down, your customers will eventually turn elsewhere for your service.
Cloud-based GIS is a more reliable option than on premise server systems.
- Reduced Maintenance Expenses
An on premise server can only be as reliable as the maintenance it receives. As anyone knows who has servers on premise, they require a heavy amount of attention and service to continue running properly. Expenses include things like replacing components that have failed and purchasing upgrades or patches for issues with the server. Each fix requires time and money.
The maintenance is not limited to just the server. The applications on the server will also need to be maintained and kept up-to-date. Creating custom applications using SDKs seems like a great way to provide your customers with customized applications that do exactly what is needed. Then the SDK will be revised, and time and energy will be needed to re-code. Or there could be an issue with the API being depreciated. This is going to take months of coding to make it current.
When creating online mapping apps, it is key to stay up-to-date with the latest technology. When using Cloud GIS, server maintenance disappears. It is the responsibility of the vendor. This allows a business to focus on keeping their data up-to-date, creating attractive web maps, and taking steps to make their product user-friendly.
- Cloud GIS Is Less Expensive
When you use the cloud, the money that would have been dedicated to acquiring and deploying servers can be redirected elsewhere. Since cloud platforms mean no infrastructure, they also mean no infrastructure costs.
Since you do not have a team maintaining or acquiring servers, labor costs are also reduced. In addition to the upfront costs, there are the utility expenses connected to running server. Servers can consume up to 7,000 kWh a year. Add on to that the expense of air conditioning to keep your servers running, the maintenance of the air conditioner, replacing the air conditioner, replacing the servers, and software licenses and it becomes clear that Cloud GIS is drastically cheaper than on-site servers.
- Cloud GIS Is Easy to Keep Current
With cloud GIS, you are focused solely on keeping your data current. You do not worry about keeping the infrastructure up-to-date. You are able to easily do high temporal updates with the cloud. On the cloud, you can easily link documents to locations on the map. The cloud offers a number of simple yet formidable features that make it easier for you to manage and map records on the cloud.
- The Cloud Offers Increased Accessibility for Users
Remember, your enterprise is building maps for customers. They could be governments, ordinary people in the community, or those looking to build or expand their business. What’s nice is that the majority of your customers interact with online maps on a daily basis thanks to businesses like Google Maps or Waze. They have an idea of how an online map should work.
Customers expect a level of simplicity and functionality that one would not expect from using a specialized desktop application. They don’t want to learn a new application or install or update plug-ins. They just want things to work. This is what makes web-based GIS platforms so powerful. They use HTML 5. This is a standard that works for everyone, everywhere, even on their mobile devices.
Embracing Cloud GIS is a wise choice. Once you are able to filter through the hype and the confusion, you will find a service that allows you to give your customers a stellar product for a fraction of the cost and energy that you are currently expending.
We would love to hear from you. What has been your experience using legacy technology as opposed to cloud GIS? Let us know in the comments section below.
Gary Stevens is a full-time front-end developer and part-time blockchain geek. He currently lives in Toronto, Canada with his 2 boys.