Autodesk ISD in 2006 and the Launch of Autodesk Map 3D 2007

By Adena Schutzberg

Autodesk is doing things a bit differently in its product roll out this year. The press can see and talk about the 2007 product line now (apparently we have been able to since March 1); but the products won't release until "this spring," nor will we see the official press materials on them, until today.

With that in mind, here's some of what Autodesk wants you to know, based on a conference call and Web demo held the week of March 6.

Last Year in ISD
First off, Infrastructure Solutions Division Vice President Chris Bradshaw reiterated that Autodesk had a great year last year. The Infrastructure Solutions Division (ISD) had 20% revenue growth over the previous year, fueled in large part by Autodesk Civil 3D, which is the fastest growing Autodesk product – ever – in terms of revenue. That surprised me, but I suppose if the company only sold a few in the first year, and a few more the second, and finally more than a few, those numbers would increase quickly.

The announcement of MapGuide Open Source and the company's participation in the Open Source Geospatial Foundation was, and is, a big deal to ISD. Autodesk GIS users in the states know and hear little about TOPOBASE, the product acquired along with the Swiss company C-Plan, but we can expect to hear more later in the year. Quite a lot of research and development is underway to internationalize and integrate the product with Map3D and other technologies.

Finally, Autodesk is working hard to get "the right kind" of channel, to not only deliver, but also support the new wave of ISD products. The two-pronged approach includes finding existing shops such as system integrators to sign on as new partners, as well as growing expertise in existing partners. Autodesk has found the transition from having a reseller channel that focused more on volume and less on service to a more services-oriented one, challenging. At this point in the growth of the industry, I suspect good resellers should call the shots with vendors.

The State of Infrastructure in the World
Boiled down and simplified, Bradshaw argued that there's lots of infrastructure to be built, both in the developed and the developing world. But, we are short of engineers, to the tune of an 800 person deficit per year since 1998 in the United States. That pressure causes more interest in outsourcing of government and private work, both to U.S. companies and those overseas. It also pushes consolidation since an easy way to "staff up" with engineers is to acquire an existing engineering firm. To "plug the hole," organizations need to up productivity, which is where Autodesk steps in. In short, there will continue to be a need for what ISD has to offer, from the creation/editing side to the long term data management/maintenance side.

Autodesk Map 3D 2007
After seeing a few short demos I drew the conclusion that this release of Map 3D, unlike some recent ones, is not "all about changes to the underlying AutoCAD" code. Instead, it's all about what the geospatial users want/need. That's a nice change and reflects both the maturity of the product and the focus of the development team.

In addition to the "old" data connections to Oracle and ArcSDE, Map 3D 2007 adds on access to SQL Server and MySQL. The former is Autodesk's homegrown way to store spatial data in SQL Server (Microsoft doesn't yet offer one). The latter uses the existing MySQL way to do it, an open source parallel to Oracle Spatial. The good news is that Autodesk has turned, or will soon turn, the FDO (feature data object) code over to the Open Source Geospatial Foundation. Ideally, anyone can create any sort of client they like to read these spatial datasets. Map 3D 2007 also provides access to OpenGIS Web Map and Web Feature Service servers.

The "even better" news about the added data connections is a user friendly way to create and manage them (no more command lines). Moreover, the data connections are direct access solutions, which means they are considerably faster than past implementations.

In the data visualization department, things are looking up as well. New tools for theming are more flexible and faster. Labeling tools are a far cry from the old "dtext" and "mtext" labels of old. Labeling tools prevent overposting and support fancy artistic forms such as ghosting.

The 3D part of Map has grown. Grids and DEMs are supported. Images can be draped over them. It's possible to change the viewing angle and "fly around" the surfaces (Figure 1). You can even create vector contour lines! In short, all the 3D goodies I loved in Envision are now in Map3D.

Part of Mt. St. Helen, themed on elevation. Image Courtesy: Autodesk. (Click for larger image)

Editing has come a long way from its "tile-based" locking (that was in Landmark, from which Map evolved). That's still in place for file-based systems, but for any editing against a database, such as Oracle or MySQL, there is row-level locking to prevent more than one person from moving the same feature at one time. Editing and creation is also enhanced with "constraints" so that a 2" pipe can't be attached to an 8" pipe, for example.

And, since Autodesk Map 3D is strictly aimed at data creation and editing, it turns publishing on the Web over to its sibling, MapGuide Open Source or Enterprise. Map 3D 2007 users can publish maps to either server, maintaining their symbology. Thus, Autodesk Map 3D could be used as a "client" to publish to MapGuide. Those without the need for "create/edit" will likely be happier with the simpler, less expensive MapGuide Studio for that sort of work. (MapGuide Enterprise, Autodesk's "productized" version of MapGuide Open Source, is expected this summer.)

I have to say I'm impressed with Autodesk Map's growth from its roots as "AutoCAD with a few more menus" to where it is today. Perha[s the highest complement I can offer is to say that it looks like a desktop GIS, not like AutoCAD (Figure 2). In fact, it looks a lot like Intergraph's GeoMedia. And based on the features mentioned above, it includes functionality a lot like ESRI's ArcEditor.
Land use for the City of Redding, California. Image Courtesy: Autodesk. (Click for larger image)

Published Thursday, March 30th, 2006

Written by Adena Schutzberg

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