ESRI UC: Technical Keynotes

By Adena Schutzberg

A Framework for Implementing GIS on the Web

Clint Brown's technical keynote, "A Framework for Implementing GIS on the Web," was very full for 8:30 am. Convention Center folks even brought in extra chairs. Brown's goal: to outline how to make information available and usable on the Web. The role of the geospatial professional, he noted, is to build and share authoritative data sets and services, something quite different from "volunteered geographic information" (VGI) and some consumer offerings. He agreed that expectations of online map and GIS users have changed, based on tools like Virtual Earth and Google Maps. Therefore, the geospatial community needs to build solutions to meet or exceed those expectations.

There are four things that make up the framework for Web GIS:
  1. A GIS application
  2. A digital base map - background data (perhaps multiple layers fused)
  3. Operational layers - the data of interest to the user, with which the user will interact, typically "on top of" the base map, could be local or served from anywhere
  4. Tasks and tools - the navigation, query and other buttons and options
How do you build a Web GIS app? Brown reviewed 10 steps in differing amounts of detail:
  1. Identify the audience.
  2. Identify key information products.
  3. Choose an application - that is, develop or use a client (ArcGIS desktop/Engine, JavaScript/Flex, Web mapping, ArcGIS Mobile, Consumer Web Apps, ArcGIS Explorer). If you don't know which, Brown suggests trying JavaScript/Flex with its simple programming, and nothing required on the server.
  4. Build a base map - that's essentially one map for each map scale of interest. A base map may be a group layer in ArcMap, and it's typically the one that's "on the bottom" of your Web app layers.
  5. Determine coordinate system and tiling. You'll need to match other systems if you plan to mash up with Google Maps/Virtual Earth, etc. Also, plan for a locator of some kind (allow finding by keying in place name).
  6. Define and add operational map layers. These are the target layers for identify/edit, sensor data, query results, results of analytical models, etc.
  7. Add tools to work with operational information. These include tasks like navigation, identification, or might be a bit more complex - like running a job on the server.
  8. Plan a hosting strategy.
  9. Test and refine.
  10. Develop a plan to maintain and update the website and content.


Q: What if you can't host your own data?
A: We still need work here, he noted, but the cloud, Amazon E3 for example, might be an answer, or a state or other government group might host your data and services. Advice: Work with organizations that are currently capable and learn from them and bring in smaller organizations. ESRI is working on hosting data and service in ArcGIS Online. There are also plans for, and templates (parcels, soils, census, hydro, topo....) into which you can, "pour" your data.

Q: How do you pick which programming environment?
A: WebADF is a complex programming model (Java or .NET), for stateful apps (like complex editing). If you can "get away with it" use Flex and JavaScript. To buffer, for example, you can use any of them.

Q: Can you use any type of geodatabase for GIS mapping?
A: Yes, use any one you like.

Q: The distinction between base map and operational layers doesn't really work in environmental. What are you actually caching?
A: Right - some data layers could be "both" - part of the base and operational layers. The cached data are basically little pictures, they are pre-computed and ready to use.

Q: How do you figure out size of storage, nature of server, etc.?
A: Have a test server before going into production.

My Take

The presentation seemed very basic at one level, but provided a valuable "step by step" way of thinking about Web GIS. It also identified many resources for those tackling the move to a different or new Web GIS. That said, there was a question about what a map cache was, which, as I suggested in earlier coverage, may indicate some in this community are indeed "catching up." Things seem slow based on the pace ESRI typically keeps, a fellow attendee noted to me in the coffee line. But things are much simpler, he went on. He suggested what Google et al. have offered has forced ESRI to provide a simpler framework, and I agree. The big difference: ESRI offers options for serving both maps and GIS, and a clear focus on authoritative data.

ArcGIS 9.4, the Road Ahead

This is the release ESRI is working on now, session leader Damian Spangrud stated. It's still very early, and even though the discussion below suggests all of these features will be included, ESRI can't promise that.

Currently, via a show of hands, there were few in the room on platforms before 9.2. More on 9.2. Some on 9.3. ESRI is now focused on service packs (about 3-4 per year) with each release being cumulative (service pack 2 includes everything from service pack 1). Service pack 1 for 9.3 is due tentatively in Q4 2008 and service pack 2 is due tentatively for Q1 2009. Service packs include bug fixes and new functionality.

What's Shaping What ESRI Builds in 9.4?
  1. An increasingly connected world
  2. Collaboration
  3. Search is how we organize/learn
  4. Patterns of use have not changed (individual, group, enterprise, Web sharing, Web GIS)
  5. Hardware advances continue
The goals of 9.4 are to update and expand ArcGIS, making it easier, more scalable, more connected. The software should be both iterative (make existing things better, maintain compatibility, better experience) and innovative (new workflow, new science, expansive across the Web). It's very early in the process, Spangrud reminded us, but details on the schedule may appear by the end of year, or early next year.

Desktop is the Driver for 9.4

At 9.4, there's a plan to be able to offload work to an engine service. Remember ArcGIS is built on ArcGIS Engine. Sending complex analysis to the engine means that while something is running "in the background," users can do other things in ArcMap or ArcCatalog, etc. ESRI wants to make more space available for the map, such as making the TOC "shy away" (hide itself when you mouse over). There'll be a preview of where windows will dock when moved. A dialog box provides "warnings" when trying to publish a map to a service to prevent errors.

ESRI is working on a new way to draw dynamic data fast and remove unnecessary redraws. Search will be an integral part of the app. There will be chart and graph enhancements. KML layers will be supported in 2D in ArcMap. 3D Virtual City support is coming, as well as 3D charts and graphs. ESRI is working on a common 3D navigation tool across all products (now there are different ones in ArcGIS Explorer, ArcScene, etc.). Editing simplification is coming - "as easy as drawing on a map" was how it was summarized in the opening session. 3D editing support will appear in ArcGlobe and ArcScene, along with 3D analysis. There'll be a "sketching" option, new snapping model and simpler attribute creation/editing.

ArcCatalog will stay, but will be streamlined with ArcMap (remove duplicate tools, for example) and will include searching. ArcCatalog metadata editing will be overhauled. The geodatabase will include searching and the "add data" dialog will be quicker and simpler. The personal geodatabase will be updated to Access 2007 technology. There'll be new tools for network datasets and geometric networks. The file geodatabase will have enhanced large object storage and improved SQL query functionality. One goal is release interoperability (backward compatibility).

Authoring is being enhanced including symbol management, attribute presentation and the ability to use scripting for map creation and layout. Model authoring will include improved usability and publishing/sharing options. Cartographic optimization includes generalization, locating and clarification of symbols (making them "more clear" on screen or layout).

ArcToolbox can have so many tools that they need management, so finding, creating, executing and viewing results will be streamlined. Sharing data from ArcMap includes packaging/preparation steps, sending it (via e-mail) and/or publishing it. There will be tools to find and use other people's resources, as well.

Setup, install and licensing are also on the list for enhancements, such as increased speed, rollbacks and uninstalls, automatic updates and the ability to "borrow" a license. There'll be a Linux version of the license manager at 9.4.

ArcEngine will continue support for .NET, JAVA and C++, and receive enhancement for dynamic data and simpler installs.

ArcGIS Server 9.4

Recall that in ArcGIS Server 9.3 there was more data support (like PostGIS), more functionality (Image Services) and opportunities to exploit other applications (Google Earth).

Server at 9.4 is an incremental release and will see improvements in those same areas. In the meantime, there will be service packs that will focus on quality and Rich Internet Application environments (like Flex, which are really Web design tools, not programming tools).

Core GIS service enhancements include the tool noted above to "check on" GIS data before they are published as a service. Those data should benefit from an enhanced rendering engine, one that's faster, with higher quality maps and updated documentation (like best practices for ArcGIS Server). There will be enhancements to caching and its documentations. There'll be a new service for editing; it will have a common toolbar no matter what the client. Search is a new core service for indexing data and uploading new data. It'll be paired with a new catalog service.

ArcGIS Mobile will run on tablets. The SDK will be enhanced, along with an improved data model that includes related tables and multi-media support.

ArcGIS Online

This is a young product that users can help shape. The discussion was mostly about what ArcGIS Online is now and how it's used. This conference is clearly a coming out party for ArcGIS Online: per a show of hands poll, four people were using it on the desktop and two were using it on server. Templates will be provided to help users create and publish their own services. ESRI is looking at hosting user-created services standalone or as part of other ArcGIS Online Services. There will be more locator services (there's a beta one for a geocoding now), including place finders, address finders and route finders.

ArcGIS Explorer

ArcExplorer 500 is expected in August. It will include support for Virtual Earth data. Version 600 adds 2D/3D options and ribbon interface and is due next year.

Platform Changes

9.4 media will be DVD only. Only one person in the room said he didn't have a DVD drive. There will be no CDs shipped from here on.

No longer supported: Windows 2000, VB 6; VS 2005 is up in the air. Many in the session are still using it now; few plan to use it in the next year, however.

ArcInfo Workstation: No longer supported on Windows 2000, HP-UX PA RISC, no further DBI feature support (database integrator will still be around, but won't be enhanced; it will retire).

ArcGIS Server: No longer supporting: OS Windows 2000, Windows 2000 Server, Browser: IE 6

ArcSDE 9.3: No longer supported on SQL Server 2000, HP-UX PA RISC, no longer supports several DBMSs including Oracle 9i. Product features: CAD Client, server side geocoding (SDE geocoding, not ArcGIS locator) will no longer be available. ESRI is no longer recommending SDE SDK (C and Java APIs) because they return simple features, not geodatabase features.


Q: What's the status of MapObjects?
A: MapObjects continues to exist, but no development is planned in the future. ESRI is looking at an ArcGIS lightweight development option.

Q: What about 64 bit support?
A: On Windows ArcGIS runs as a 32 bit app. ArcSDE will be 64 bit at service pack 1. VBA is still supported; the latest release from Microsoft is in 9.3. And, it'll stay in 9.4 but won't be enhanced. ESRI encourages development in a full development environment, like Visual Studio.

My Take

ESRI seems to be walking a careful line between catching users up and pushing ahead. The idea of building on the familiar, but not radically changing things popped up a lot. ESRI is perhaps planning for the 9.4 to be a "not very painful" upgrade, much as 9.3 is playing out.

One attendee wondered why ESRI was going to 9.4 since in past release cycles, after x.3, a new full release was often launched. I think that it goes back to letting users catch up. Look for new features to appear in ArcGIS desktop first and interfaces change to appear in ArcGIS Explorer first.

Published Friday, August 8th, 2008

Written by Adena Schutzberg

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