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May 5th, 2015
How has cloud computing added friction in the geospatial software space?

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As cloud computing is increasingly becoming the platform for software delivery, accompanied by software subscriptions and software as a service models, users are finding their options forced. Instead of the prior model, where users could pick and choose the tools for the task, the increasingly capable platforms with their associated data and services make the work easier, but also create an all-in adoption.

To be fair, there have always been different levels of geospatial software needs based on the size and complexity of an organization. Enterprise buy-in has been around for a long time, where large companies that have been using any one GIS platform for decades wouldn’t think of switching given their investment and the pain of making a change. What’s new about the all-encompassing cloud-based platform is the ongoing software cost and the decline of choices.

Smaller Users

There are a good number of users who provide consulting services to small municipalities or smaller companies that run just a few software seats. These smaller players are being forced out of some of the software platforms given an increasing cost of software maintenance. Many of these small users feel they can’t sustain the costs given their smaller client base, and the emphasis that these costs place on the value of the tool versus the expertise that they bring. 

This friction is causing some to make an open source choice with software that they have a greater degree of control on its customization as well as more of a handle on the cost of the software. This control versus cost has always been an impetus for the choice of open source software, but the pressure is increasing as greater functionality and costs are hard to justify for the smaller user.

Costs and Closed

With a fully online experience, users have access anytime and anywhere to their experience, regardless of device. This ease of functionality may be enough for some, but it also comes at a cost of wresting the ability to install the software and own it outright from the start. The change is the pay once and use as long as one likes versus paying continually and only being able to use the software if you have connectivity and are up to date on your payments.

In contrast, open source software is free, and the user has complete freedom in terms of the number of machines that they install it upon. There are additional trade offs though as open source software has the burden of data creation or acquisition, and there are fewer analysis functions. Another factor is the cost of hardware as the cloud can eliminate the cost of servers.

Non-integrating Clouds

As more and more specialized capabilities become separate cloud offerings, there is an increasing ambiguity about software integration. If you subscribe to a number of cloud offerings, and then want to integrate data between and among them, it can often be difficult to export or to integrate your data.

Individual organizations may have a cloud for GIS data, a cloud for 3D data, and perhaps even a cloud for maintenance functions. While players do have cooperative arrangements there are often needs to migrate data between cloud storage services.

The cloud and its infinite computing capacity has made huge inroads in functionality and has ushered in a new era of accessing your information anywhere on any device. There are issues arising around pricing, functionality and freedom that won’t be going away anytime soon, and instead of resolving the differences between proprietary and open source software, the cloud further entrenches these two camps of users for a less inclusive geospatial community.

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