Aerial Imagery User Prospective of ESRI UC 2011

From an aerial imagery prospective, this year’s annual 2011 ESRI User Conference in San Diego, California was all about expanding distribution methods via new and improved software offerings. As an imagery user, how does this effect how we work with our data?

ArcGIS Online takes center stage to distribute imagery and data

Key to the discussion was the event’s emphasis on the expansion of ArcGIS Online. Think of ArcGIS online as the center of the galaxy and all of the other products ESRI offers are in its orbit. This is the gravity of what ESRI is trying to create. Jack Dangermond says, “A new GIS pattern is emerging making GIS accessible to everyone.” This central hub will create accessibility and open the flood gates of making user created maps available to anyone.  It is made possible through a number of services ESRI is offering. These include the ability to create webmaps from ArcGIS for Desktop and/or ArcGIS Online, connect external image services and OGC Services added to your maps, and provides read-only access to published webmaps for mobile devices. With up to 2GB of storage space for free, you create a map to quickly and easily put online for anyone to use.

Esri International User Conference - 2011 - San Diego, California
Jack Dangermond announced many developments at 2011 ESRI International User Conference which applies to users of aerial imagery and remote sensing within ESRI’s ecosystem. (Courtesy ESRI/Flickr)

In Aerial Services experience, clients want aerial imagery provided to them in one of three ways. The first is to put all of the uncompressed data on a hard drive and send it to the client. Second, clients want us to compress the data to SID, ECW, or JPG and again send it on a hard drive. The third method is to create a service of their imagery and serve it over the web.

ArcGIS for Server remains most robust GIS and imagery solution

When wanting a service, there are several methods for hosting imagery; open source (new, intriguing, and free [as in free speech]), but programming is not included), ArcIMS (dinosaur technology), ArcGIS for Server (local), or these new cloud based options of ArcGIS for Server on Amazon EC2 or ArcGIS for Server with Cloud Infrastructure.  Using ArcGIS for Server is an attractive option, but comes with a giant price tag (software and hardware), whether local or on the cloud.

Either implementation of ArcGIS for Server offers several Managed Services.  These include map caching and image processing. Map caching is an interesting concept but it is not a new one.  It is very similar to its open source counterpart (using tiled mapping services).  The idea is to draw the entire map at several different scales and store copies of the map images.  The server can then distribute these images whenever someone asks for a map.  It’s much quicker for ArcGIS for Server to hand out a cached image than to draw the map each time someone requests it.

Further, the image processing capabilities have been greatly enhanced and are arguably better than ERDAS image processing now. However, there are still image processing software that has superior functionality.  None the less, some of the improvements include using raster catalogs, raster datasets, and mosaic datasets.  This makes using ArcGIS for Server much more useful.

ArcGIS Online delivers an easier, cheaper webmapping-centric tool

If you can pay for it, the ArcGIS for Server locally or in the cloud sounds great, but now the “new” ArcGIS Online might provide a light-weight stop-gap for individuals looking to do online distribution without such cost.

At the Conference there was an interesting demo of ArcGIS Online for Organizations (currently in beta) and its hosting of the City of Louisville.  ArcGIS Online for Organizations is their cloud-based subscription service provides the capability to turn organizational data into web-accessible services.  The site is customizable for their own look and feel.  ESRI’s service will host all off the city of Louisville’s data.

ESRI is also offering APIs for web application development on various platforms.  You can develop custom web maps using the following JavaScript, Flex, Silverlight, .NET,  and Java (ArcGIS Web Mapping, Mobile API, Tools for Java, and Tools for .NET).  Some of these applications have viewers already built and ready to go or develop on top of.

New focus web for the ESRI applications we sometimes dislike, but end up liking

Making webmaps in ESRI’s ecosystem has started a new chapter.  They are becoming easier to create.  There still will be programming involved and some design work, but the sharing of data is definitely simplified with the additions to ArcGIS for Server and ArcGIS Online.

As far as imagery and hosting, it looks like ESRI may be getting an edge over other options.  Open source may be affordable and flexible, but the functionality that ArcGIS for Server gives you is immense.  It seems that as much as we try to get away from ESRI it keeps pulling us back with something new and better.  And with the addition of ArcGIS Online to complement ArcGIS for Desktop and Server, whatever software, server, or application you are making maps seems to eventually gravitate you back to ESRI.

About Kevin Fowkes

Kevin Fowkes, Aerial Services’ GIS & ADS Manager, attended the 2011 ESRI User Conference on behalf of Aerial Services.  Kevin has over 10 years of mapping experience in the aerial imagery profession and recently became a Certified Photogrammetrist, one of five now at Aerial Services.

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