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Designing Electrical Networks in the Cloud

Thursday, September 26th 2013
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Summary:
Is it time to take electric design work into the field and into the cloud? GeoSpatial Innovations, Inc. is tapping Microsoft’s Windows Azure to do just that.

GeoSpatial Innovations, Inc. delivers to utilities GPS-enabled field software that integrates with GIS technologies. Earlier this month, the company released a new SaaS model of its designer software that will allow the solution to scale for any size utility. Directions Magazine interviewed Carl Livingood, president of GeoSpatial Innovations, Inc., to learn more about the new offering.
 
Directions Magazine (DM): Your current product, GSI Designer, lets workers plan and design overhead or underground electric lines while in the field using hand-held devices. How will the workflow change when the solution is offered as a cloud service (Software as a Service) built on Windows Azure?
Carl Livingood (CL): Existing customers that are already benefitting from our Designer software won’t see much change to their day-to-day workflow.  They will have the benefit of greater ease in importing data and a significant decrease in IT requirements.  In fact, now that Designer is on the cloud and the database is maintained through Windows Azure there will really be little to no internal IT resources needed.
 
New customers will be impacted greatly by our move to an SaaS model.The elimination of many of the IT requirements makes Designer much more accessible and affordable to cooperatives, municipalities and investor-owned utilities.  Implementing Designer cuts many of the manual steps out of the traditional design workflow, resulting in big savings in efficiency.
DM: Why is it better to do the design in the field than in the office using maps and other resources?
CL: There are a number of advantages to designing in the field versus the office that make the whole design process more efficient, saving utilities a significant amount of money over time.  Using our Designer software, coupled with modern GPS technology, designers are able to collect accurate data and design around difficult terrain and obstacles that would not typically be visible on a map from the GIS.  From the field, designers can add compatible units to points and stake the design while they are on site, saving time and mileage by avoiding multiple trips.  Our software also collects elevation data that can be used in conjunction with in-office job design tools to paint a much clearer picture of the actual material needs for the project.
Manual electric line design versus using GPS technologies through difficult terrain
 
DM: What are the advantages for utilities of using the SaaS version versus the existing data collection and design software solution?
CL: The traditional software model requires server maintenance, software updates and IT resources which are typically very expensive and are an involved process to implement.
 
An SaaS model alleviates the need for these costs and allows us to continually push out updates without the need to involve IT resources.  This allows smaller utilities and co-ops to take advantage of high end software solutions that were once only attainable by Investor Owned Utilities with larger budgets and the manpower to support them.  It also gives Investor Owned Utilities easy access to software updates without any of the IT issues and red tape along with a much quicker path to implementation.
 
The SaaS model has the added benefit for all utilities of making it easy to test the software through a pilot program in a very low risk, low cost environment.
DM: What were the major hurdles in porting the solution to the cloud? Why did you select Windows Azure over other cloud platforms?
CL: Thankfully, we had been planning this move for quite a while so our developers were able to avoid most of the hurdles along the way. Moving to the cloud from our traditional model has been a relatively smooth transition.
 
Windows Azure was chosen as our cloud platform due to its strong security.  We realize that security is a major concern of utilities so we wanted to make that our focus.  It is a platform as a service as opposed to infrastructure as a service.  This basically means that Azure manages the server, publishes and makes the workflow smoother.
 
When it’s all said and done, Windows Azure allows us to provide reliable, robust and secure service at a competitive cost.
GSI Designer running on a rugged mobile device: Trimble GeoXH 6000 series
 
DM: Does the use of a cloud-based design tool in the field require a mobile or Wi-Fi connection? Is that sort of connectivity now available in enough areas in the U.S.? Can the solution work “off-line” should a connection not be found?
CL: A benefit of this type of system is that Internet connectivity isn’t a requirement for use in the field.  Designer was created with off-line use in mind as constant connectivity isn’t always an option, especially for rural users.  The software is built in a way that would allow a user to run it for days without a connection if necessary.  
 
Data is collected in the field and temporarily stored to the device’s own internal database.  When an Internet connection becomes available the device is synched to the cloud and the data becomes available for use in the office.

GSI Designer running on a desktop in the office

 
 

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