Ionic Software: Compliant, not Complacent

By Joe Francica

Ionic Software promotes their RedSpiderWeb products as the "first truly OGC-compliant" location technology for creating web services and other solutions that are faithful to the mantra of interoperability standards.Direction's Editor-in-Chief, Joe Francica (JF), spoke with Ionic's president, Chris Tucker (CT), regarding its technology and adherence to OGC's philosophy.

Joe Francica (JF): Can you give a brief background on IONIC? How it was formed and the evolution of product development?

Chris Tucker (CT): Most people become familiar with IONIC and our RedSpider product line through our leadership in ISO and the Open GIS Consortium (OGC). IONIC is fundamentally committed to developing products that enable our customers to implement powerful, interoperable location-based services, web mapping, distributed geo-processing and "g-commerce" solutions. IONIC began in Europe as a company focused on R&D in the field of geospatial interoperability, but soon our success in developing massively scalable OpenGIS web services created a demand for a product version of our Java components.

Since then, IONIC has consistently been first-to-market with a product line that implements the OpenGIS specification baseline. And, IONIC has led the way for customers interested in implementing interoperable spatial data infrastructures at the local, national and international level, within enterprises, and across communities of interest. Now we have a mature, easy-to-use and configurable product line under the RedSpider brand that is available for customers who want to implement a powerful and fully interoperable web mapping infrastructure. And, IONIC has become a global brand with operations in both Europe and the United States, and customers on 5 continents.

JF: Can you provide some specifics about how Red Spider was conceived and how is it evolved from technology to a product?

CT: RedSpider Web 3.0 and Studio 3.0 are based on 5 years of development, deployment and customer feedback within demanding production environments. The code-base for this product line was originally created to enable solution developers to leverage, simultaneously, the power of J2EE, XML (incl.SVG), Oracle Spatial, and OpenGIS interfaces. The powerful Java API at the core of this product has been continuously extended to support additional spatial engines, such as ArcSDE, PostgreSQL/PostGIS, and more. And, it continues to be extended to support the entire evolving OpenGIS specification baseline including WMS-SLD, WFS-T, WCS, WTS, WRS, and ISO19115.

The name RedSpider began as an internal development codename that was extended to the entire IONIC product line during the development of its 3.0 product release. RedSpider Web 3.0 was released in Spring 2003. RedSpider Catalog 2.0 will be released in early Fall 2003. RedSpider Studio 3.0 will be released mid-Fall 2003. And, the 3.0 version of IONIC's enterprise (EJB) product will be released before the Winter Holidays.

JF: The product is marketed as the first truly OGC product available. To what extent does it follow the OGC specifications and how is it interoperable with other products, databases, or proprietary formats offered in the GIS marketplace?

CT: RedSpider follows OGC specifications very closely, with full support for:

  • The Web Map Service interface with support for Style Layer Descriptor requests (WMS-SLD), with the additional ability to proxy (or cascade) "n" remote WMS resources
  • The transactional Web Feature Service (WFS-T) interface, with support for the Geography Markup Language (GML) 2.0 and 3.0 (base)
  • The draft Web Terrain Service (WTS) interface, enabling the pitch, yaw, roll, and AOV navigation of 3D scenes, and
  • ISO19115 metadata management
RedSpider Web 3.0 is optimized for WFS (feature) support for Oracle Spatial, but also supports ArcSDE (on Oracle or SQL Server), PostgreSQL/PostGIS, ODBC/JDBC sources, Shapefiles, and more. And, RedSpider Web 3.0 dynamically publishes large file system archives imagery, including GeoTIFF - enabling massive scalability without compression.

We use the term "interoperability" a lot in describing our products. ANY vendor's client (thick or thin) is capable of accessing RedSpider Web 3.0 servlet interfaces, as long as they adhere to OpenGIS specifications. Some examples are ESRI's Arc4Java, Intergraph's GeoMedia, MapInfo's MIPro 7.5, as well as open source toolkits such as GeoTools. For the ability to build massively scalable WFS/GML applications and to take advantage of the WMS Context specification, developers should consider using IONIC's RedSpider Studio 3.0 product, which is a one of a kind Java OpenGIS developer's kit and remote API.

JF: Why was it important for IONIC to offer technology/products that were compliant with open standards? What did you see occurring in the marketplace that led you to promote this as a unique differentiator?

CT: Beginning in the late 1990s, there was a confluence of growing user discontent over proprietary GIS stovepipes and increasing momentum for an OpenGIS web mapping architecture that leveraged web technology. As such, there was a need for scalable product offerings capable of opening up legacy GIS with OpenGIS interfaces - enabling enterprises to spatially enable their business systems - rather than continuing to replicate their business data and shove it into GIS systems. There was also a need for products that could dynamically draw on the emerging worldwide network of interoperable spatial web services.

IONIC was founded to address this market opportunity. IONIC's strategy is to implement the entire OpenGIS architecture in a coherent (RedSpider) product line while also contributing, through R&D and evangelism, to the OpenGIS Consortium's specification baseline - which anyone is free to implement.

JF: Red Spider handles large amounts of geospatial raster data and you have contracts with ESA, NASA and various other US Government Agencies. Can you provide some examples of the applications you have delivered?

CT: As an early customer of IONIC Software (Europe), ESA has for several years demonstrated the power of interoperability through its public site, where the latest Envisat MERIS global mosaic can now be viewed. This site accesses remote OpenGIS ® Web Map Service and Web Feature Service resources from many organizations across several countries (Italy, Netherlands, US, Canada, Belgium, etc.), many of which are sister earth observation organizations. The site has been featured in numerous publications, and by the Committee on Earth Observation Satellites ( as the future of interoperable, distributed, web mapping for earth observation. The MERIS global mosaic is available as a remote OpenGIS WMS resource that can be utilized by any client implementing the OpenGIS WMS interface.

JF: You mentioned that you were targeting nine key domains in which Red Spider would be an effective solution.Can you choose the top 3 or 4 that have shown the most interest and how do you see Red Spider being deployed as enterprise solutions in these markets.

CT: IONIC has had enormous success in location based services (LBS), e-Government, earth observation, and homeland security - though we continue to grow in a variety of other areas where RedSpider Web is proving effective. Consumers seeking to leverage, simultaneously, the power of J2EE, XML (SVG), Oracle Spatial and OpenGIS are discovering that our RedSpider product line is a superior choice.

Whether it is being used for e-business integration, for building interoperable spatial communities, for deploying spatial applications with sophisticated portrayal, or simply for powerful and scalable web mapping solutions - our RedSpider product line is proving to be of great value for customers.

JF: Where is GML going and will it be an effective development platform.

CT: There is a lot of myth and propaganda around GML. As with any technology, its viability is determined by successful implementations. GML is only an encoding specification. It is only useful in conjunction with the Web Feature Service specification, which is the feature service interface that can express GML feature collection responses to queries. IONIC is the leading provider of products offering the Web Feature Service interface, and we believe in it as a development platform. IONIC products have been successfully deployed over multi-terabyte Oracle Spatial implementations, offering GML/WFS based applications that serve thousands of concurrent users.

JF: How do you see Red Spider being deployed at a local or state government organization where an established vendor may already be delivering visualization technology.

CT: States and localities are expressing a lot of interest in RedSpider Web 3.0 because of their need to collaborate within and across city, state or county governmental organizations. The interoperability needs of Homeland Security are looming particularly large in people's minds. So now, the implementation of OpenGIS solutions is being justified by state and local organizations not only by powerful ROI arguments but also by 'good citizen' and 'enlightened self-interest' arguments - in case an emergency strikes their geography.

JF: How do you define web services? There are many concepts and business models offered by many companies.I am interested in your view of how you think IONIC and other OGC members and organizations that conform to the interoperability specifications of OGC will be able to deploy data, functionality or other technology to fully deliver on the potential of web services.

CT: In the world of GIS, OpenGIS web service specifications are the only meaningful implementation of web services. In general IT parlance, anyone using the Web Service Description Language (WSDL), the Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP), or ebXML are implementing web services. However, the world of interoperable web mapping requires self-describing web services that enable run-time binding. This means that applications must be able to dynamically negotiate a connection to a remote web service simply by accessing (via URL) the standard ISO19119 XML capabilities document. SOAP, WSDL, and ebXML do not accomplish this alone. OpenGIS interfaces do, and are harmonizing with SOAP, WSDL and ebXML through liaison relationships with their respective standards organizations

Remember, the OpenGIS Consortium has over 250 member organizations from all over the world including all of the major players in GIS and web services such as IONIC, Intergraph, MapInfo, Autodesk, ESRI, Oracle, PCI Geomatics, IBM, Microsoft, SUN; major system integrators such as SAIC, Lockheed Martin, BAE, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, etc; nearly every US federal agency; and government and NGO agencies from 6 different continents. In this context, the notion that adhering to any single vendor's proprietary 'web services' interfaces will solve consumers' business problems is absurd.

Editor's Note:
Dr.Christopher Tucker is President and CEO of IONIC Enterprise, a world leader in interoperable location-based services, Web mapping, and distributed geo-processing. Dr.Tucker is a recognized thought leader and speaker on interoperability and geospatial Web services, and has served on the board of the Open GIS Consortium. At IONIC, Dr.Tucker provides software architectural consultation and expertise for IONIC Enterprise clients in C4ISR, Earth Observation, Homeland Security, e-Government and other vertical sectors, and serves on numerous technical committees developing interoperability and other standards for geospatial software products.

Published Friday, September 12th, 2003

Written by Joe Francica

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