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Geospatial Information Systems and the Cloud

Spatial Big Data (SBD) is at the core of the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) that use location-indexed geographic data to solve problems in many fields, including retail, banking, healthcare, agriculture, and the environmental field to name just a few.

SBD aligns with the three fundamental “V”s associated with big data: variety, volume, and velocity. SBD is diverse, comprising raster data, such as satellite or drone images, vector data such as GPS data, and graph data, such as electric grids or road networks. And with the advent of IoT sensors as well as open-source—even crowdsourced—SBD repositories, the quantity and the speed at which SPD are generated are accelerating dramatically.

Legacy GIS tools deployed in on-premises data centers can be both expensive and difficult to scale to meet accelerated SBD storage, mobility, and analysis demands. Thus, GIS has begun its journey to cloud infrastructures, driven by a number of value propositions such as cloud scalability and economics, better team collaboration, more efficient workflows, shared open data that is both accessible and secure, and greater public engagement.

This blog post discusses the challenges of cloud-based GIS and shows how Cloud Volumes ONTAP helps meet those challenges, including a hands-on case study.

Geospatial Information Systems: Cloud Challenges

What are Geographic Information Systems?

A Geographic Information System captures, stores, manipulates, manages, and analyzes geospatial information, i.e., geographic data that are indexed by location and often by timestamp as well. The results of GIS queries and analyses are typically visualized as maps. GIS has many problem-solving and decision-making applications, from choosing optimal new store locations to modeling climate change and identifying crime patterns.

The Challenges of GIS Data and GIS Applications

Despite the emergence of next-generation cloud-native GIS applications—including GIS-as-a- Service offerings such as cloud-based online mapping tools—the most common uses of the cloud for GIS are still cloud file sharing and data storage. However, the volume, variety and velocity of SBD as described above create a whole new set of GIS cloud challenges:

  • Performance: Mandatory in GIS for customer experience, with many concurrent users accessing large amounts of data.
  • File Shares: File services supporting NAS protocols, with shared access to large amounts of data for many clients.
  • High availability and business continuity: In some fields, such as GPS navigation, GIS plays a critical real time role. In these cases, GIS cloud architectures must meet uncompromising high availability and business continuity requirements. GPS providers need to maintain the shortest possible recovery time objectives (RTOs) because an outage can seriously impact for users who are out on the road.
  • Data protection: SBD data sets are huge. Therefore, it can be costly to implement the secondary backups and DR sites necessary to effectively protect SBD repositories.
  • Data mobility: Cloud-based GIS poses several data mobility challenges. With more and more SBD being distributed or generated by IoT devices, reliable and efficient solutions must be found for all of this edge data to make its way to central repositories. And then there is the challenge of moving these massive data sets into analytics platforms in order to extract value from the data.
  • Data security and compliance: Cloud infrastructures make large, collaborative, open GIS applications feasible, including national and global frameworks that are, by definition, highly distributed and serve many types of users. Ensuring that only the right users have access to the right data becomes a significant challenge.

Cloud Volumes ONTAP Geospatial Information Systems Case Study

NetApp’s Cloud Volumes ONTAP is an enterprise-grade software-defined data storage management system that runs on the AWS, Azure, and Google public clouds. Let’s see how one company was able to use Cloud Volumes ONTAP in their GIS deployment.

This company wanted to use a cloud drive to save the output files from a Geospatial Information System, where each query results in hundreds of output files, some of which can be 25+ GB. They were faced with three major challenges:

  1. 1. Performance: They needed to save hundreds of large files and for customers to have an excellent experience using the service.
  2. 2. File shares: Since their workloads were on Windows servers, they needed SMB protocol access for cloud resources on AWS and they needed shared storage that supports multiple users’ access.
  3. 3. Lower costs: To avoid straining their IT budget, they needed a way to control storage costs in the cloud.

Running Cloud Volumes ONTAP as an instance on AWS, the customer was able to implement a robust and cost-effective cloud file-sharing solution. Here are the highlights:

  • Cloud Volumes ONTAP performance benefits and scalability gave them a way to meet their users’ demands on the service.
  • The high availability configuration supports non-disruptive operations and business continuity that ensured an RTO of less than 60 seconds.
  • Multiprotocol functionality allowed them to serve data over SMB or any other protocol, including NFS or iSCSI.
  • NetApp’s efficient Snapshot™ technology gave them a way to create incremental, point-in-time, read-only snapshots for reliable backups.
  • With Cloud Volumes ONTAP they were able to spend less on storage by tiering data to less-expensive Amazon S3 object storage.
  • SnapMirror® leverages snapshots for automated data replication and can also play a role in achieving disaster recovery objectives and lower costs.
  • They dramatically reduced storage costs using Cloud Volumes ONTAP’s built-in storage efficiencies such as data compression, deduplication, thin provisioning.

Navigate the Cloud with Cloud Volumes ONTAP

Cloud Volumes ONTAP has strong value propositions for any application that deals with big data, and that includes Geospatial Information Systems. Cloud Volumes ONTAP users significantly reduce their cloud spend with highly efficient data storage while maintaining uncompromising levels of data protection and business continuity. No matter how complex the company’s infrastructure, Cloud Volumes ONTAP provides a centralized point of data storage visibility and control.

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Yuval Kalderon, Cloud Solution Architect

Cloud Solution Architect