Spatial ASP - Internet GIS Is Here - Part 1

By Anthony J. Quartararo III

Advances in global fiber and wireless communications networks provide the infrastructure necessary to develop and deploy complex, robust geospatial applications to a variety of industries.These applications can provide specific solutions to vertical and horizontal markets in the geospatial industry and be delivered in a highly reliable, cost-effective manner.This paper discusses the Application Service Provider business model, its role in the geospatial industry, and specific applications in the telecommunications industry.The major initiatives from GIS software vendors will be presented, along with specific examples of applications and delivery of spatial data over the internet using GIS technology.The key issues regarding Service Level Agreement, Quality of Service, Security and Total Cost of Ownership will also be presented.While the ASP model is continuing to mature, the infrastructure capacity and emerging technologies demonstrate that this technology and content delivery model has considerable value in the geospatial industry.


With the availability of broadband communications, a new delivery model for spatial solutions has arrived.By packaging and integrating comprehensive location-based services, organizations can deliver the power of GIS over the internet.These services benefit consumers with a lower cost and a highly focused application suite for a variety of industries and markets.This paper focuses on the Application Service Provider (ASP) model for delivery of location-based solutions and discusses the various issues surrounding ASPs as well as future trends.


The ASP Industry Consortium, the leading international organization on the Application Service Provision model, defines an ASP in this manner:
"An ASP deploys, hosts and manages access to a packaged application to multiple parties from a centrally managed facility.The applications are delivered over networks on a subscription basis."
The ASP model can assume many different forms and range from simple to complex.Perhaps one of the best -known examples of an ASP is MSN Hotmail.This application is fast, effective, easy to learn, operate and most of all, it is free of charge.Another, more complex and demanding example of an ASP would be, the web-based version of the popular Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software from SAP AG.While many corporations have implemented this class of solutions, the effort and expense of implementing an ASP solution as complex as an ERP should not be underestimated.

This concept of remote access to applications and information is not new however.As many would recall the early days of mainframe corporate networks and "time-share" systems that allowed the optimal use of a companies computing power.The difference with the current business model is that an ASP can deliver solutions to a wider range of consumers over a much more cost-effective "network" - the internet.


The spatial ASP model is a reality because of the growth and expansion of global telecommunications infrastructure over the past several years.Most regions of the world have seen a dramatic increase in the quantity and quality of the fiber cable and internet data center infrastructure.
In particular, the United States, Europe and Asia have seen the highest concentration of telecom projects, particularly with fiber infrastructure and optical switching technologies.In fact, in India and China alone, over the past several years, over 1.56 million route kilometers of fiber optic cable have been installed .

This available broadband capacity provides a robust network through which a spatial ASP can deliver the complex and data-intensive spatial applications that are common to GIS.Network performance and latency are comparable in many cases to traditional internal LAN client/server operations.As networking and optical technology continues to advance, the cost and performance of delivering spatial solutions through an ASP model will continue to improve.

In the wireless environment, areas outside of the United States continue to advance 3G technology, and there is now a 4G wireless test bed in Bangalore, India.These broadband wireless frequencies allow sufficient bandwidth so that delivering useful location-based services is becoming more of a reality.It seems that wireless appliance manufacturers are behind consumer demand in providing adequate devices to handle the robust nature of the applications and data content available.

Data Centers
The expansion of internet data centers and collocation facilities around the world has also increased significantly.AT&T, PSINet, Exodus Communications and others have continued to build state-of-the-art hosting facilities in strategic cities.These regional Points Of Presence (POP) can allow a spatial ASP solution to be deployed virtually anywhere without succumbing to network performance degradation.At the same time, the abundance of available network and storage space means a more cost-effective solution to the local customer.

The data centers offer robust capabilities to service any ASP solution and provide fail-safe backup for power, data archive, storage, and network security.These data centers are a key component to a successful spatial ASP offering, considering the importance of corporate information that is to be stored and managed by the technical staff operating the data centers.


The ASP model can be applied to the GIS industry in a very effective manner.The development of new web-based technologies from leading GIS vendors as well as third-party thin-client computing platforms such as MetaFrameXP & NFuse from Citrix and Tarantella Enterprise 3: ASP Edition from Tarantella makes the spatial ASP a feasible solution.

These new technologies, combined with growing availability of broadband telecommunications capacity, enable robust solutions to be delivered to a variety of industries.In fact, there are already many examples of successfully deployed spatial ASP solutions in the consumer market, most notably, National Geographic's MapMachine & these applications may not necessarily be a GIS, they do provide valuable spatial information, and are delivered via the public domain internet.

There are more complex examples of spatial ASP deployments, especially in the telecommunications industry.Several in the United States are using traditional GIS client/server and desktop applications under a thin-client computing platform to deploy various customized solutions to geographically dispersed offices and field engineers.This allows for a distributed workforce and a centrally controlled software maintenance operation.Each time the GIS application is updated or customized, deployment is much faster, less costly and IT managers are able to ensure license compliance from a single location.Spatial data is maintained in a similar fashion, which prevents conflicting and "unauthorized" versions from being unintentionally integrated with the master data set.


There are many facets of the telecommunications industry, ranging from 3G broadband wireless to Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) technology on existing copper wire networks.The specific area within the telecommunications industry is not critical to the application of the spatial ASP, for the content and delivery is conceptually identical.
Disaster Prevention
One specific example of leveraging the spatial ASP in the telecommunications industry is that of disaster prevention.It is all too common with terrestrial networks to have a disruption of service due to an accidental cut in a cable somewhere along the network.In the United States, each State has a responsible organization that is a clearinghouse of information, with the intent to minimize these disruptions in service.These "Call Before You Dig" services operate on the simple principle that, prior to any construction activities, the Contractor must inform the clearinghouse and obtain "clearance" prior to digging in the area.The clearinghouse has access to each utility's records for the particular area in question, and conducts an analysis to determine whether it is safe to proceed with the construction.

Many of these clearinghouses employ GIS technology to allow them to respond more accurately and in a timely manner.However, each clearinghouse must maintain an internal GIS operation, staff, software, and call center.It is also likely that the various utility networks are not integrated into a single GIS and so this means maintaining multiple sets of data, which often generates conflicting information.This is costly to the utilities, especially for those spanning multiple states, because the utilities "subscribe" to the clearinghouse service in order to keep their respective facilities free from damage.

By leveraging the ASP model for this particular segment of the telecommunications industry, the utilities can lower the overall cost for each "call" into the clearinghouse.Likewise, the clearinghouse can also leverage the ASP model to reduce its costs of maintenance and operation of an internal GIS and increase its response times to calls, as well as the accuracy of the response.

In this way, it becomes unnecessary for each state to maintain individual clearinghouses, but leads the way to a regional clearinghouse with a spatial ASP as a key component and strategic partner for delivering location-services.

Mobile Access
Another specific example for the spatial ASP model in the telecommunications industry is the issue of mobile field data access.

Telecommunications technicians spend a considerable amount of time in the field performing a variety of activities.Much of that time involves traveling to and from the central office for maps and supplies for repairs.This is a costly and inefficient method of operation.By developing field-work procedures that support the delivery of relevant geographic information to the user, in the field, on-demand in real-time, several considerable advantages are realized.A typical field engineer could save as much as 260 hours per year in transportation costs alone with a mobile spatial ASP solution, by allowing for fewer trips from field operations to field office and equipment yards.

Similarly, by providing real-time, focused spatial ASP solutions to technicians in the field, routing times for emergency repairs and service calls can be significantly reduced.The technician will also have the most current, accurate information necessary to complete the service call on-site, without the need for return trips or involvement of non-field personnel.This not only increases customer satisfaction but also decreases the cost of each service call considerably.

There are several applications that have been developed for both the Palm and Windows Pocket PC operating systems for PDA implementation.These applications continue to be refined and with the added functionality of GPS and wireless communications, a multitude of new solutions in a mobile environment will be developed.


This section highlights five major Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) and their respective ASP initiatives.There are many other software vendors providing technology for spatial ASPs and the readers are encouraged to conduct their own analyses.While this is not an exhaustive compilation of each ISV's spatial ASP products, it does validate the importance placed on the ASP model by the leading GIS vendors.
Autodesk has recently launched their Location Services division with three core areas that are relevant to the spatial ASP model; Autodesk MapGuide Commerce, Autodesk OnSite and Autodesk LocationLogic.These three products are designed for delivering spatial technology through the ASP model, in a traditional WAN architecture as well as a wireless network to a variety of industries.
ESRI has been one of the leaders in the GIS industry and this continues to hold true with the spatial ASP model.Perhaps the best know product for the ASP model is the Internet Map Server (IMS).This product enables organizations and vendors to create and customize specific applications and then deliver them over the public domain internet, private extranets or internal LANs.
GE Smallworld
The spatial ASP product solutions from GE Smallworld take form in an innovative approach called the Internet Application Server (IAS).This product is designed to enable existing GE Smallworld desktop products such as to be deployed in a spatial ASP, to a variety of users and a variety of internet appliances.
A strong leader in AM/FM/GIS and mapping, Intergraph has continued to develop products that are suited for deployment in an ASP environment.Most notably are the GeoMedia products and associated services as well as IntelliWhere, the new business unit focused on wireless location services.
As one of the premier telecommunications and business intelligence solutions providers, MapInfo continues to deliver cutting-edge solutions with their MapXtreme application.This product is designed to be deployed in an internet environment and to deliver spatial ASP technology to a wide array of organizations.

Next week we'll look at some industry examples and the total cost of ownership.

Published Friday, January 25th, 2002

Written by Anthony J. Quartararo III

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