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How much do you know about platform-as-a-service? Do you know anything about Cloud Foundry?

If your answer is no to both questions, it time to get reading. In this article we will discuss the quiet revolution that is happening right under our noses. A software revolution which is centered on light-weight, modular, and focused.

GIS has a long history. A history of complexity. A history dominated by large entrenched organizations. Much of what we see today is about to be radically altered. Why would I make such a confident assertion?

Because a quiet software revolution is underway which is changing our software landscape.

What is platform-as-a-service?

According to Wikipedia:

“Platform-as-a-service (PaaS) is a category of cloud computing services that provides a platform allowing customers to develop, run, and manage applications without the complexity of building and maintaining the infrastructure typically associated with developing and launching an app”

That’s not super helpful. How about an image:

The three-tier Cloud computing pyramid

Infrastructure as a service (IaaS) supports Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), which in turn supports Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). Stay with me here. In simple terms we mean:

SaaS –  A cloud based service like ArcGIS Online

PaaS – Only the geospatial services you need, when you need them

IaaS – Virtualized network devices (we will not focus here for now)

The stack shown above will slowly replace existing bundled proprietary platforms.

Okay I hear you asking what does all this mean in English, and why should you care?

Spatial-as-a-Service

Let me ask you this question: Do you know the difference between a mapping platform and a GIS? Why might you choose Mapbox* over ArcGIS* for example. For many that is a hard question to answer. Esri offer one basket of spatial goodies, while Mapbox offer something similar but different. Suppose you want both the beautiful custom basemaps offered by Mapbox with the site selection tools offered by Esri, does that mean you need to buy two baskets of goodies?

In a word YES

Too many questions I know. But let’s pull everything together: Imagine you only want a site selection app with beautiful custom basemaps. Instead of needing to subscribe to two separate platformsPaaS offers you the ability to get exactly what you need, when you need it. In the geospatial world, for now let’s call this Spatial-as-a-Service.

  • Note, we use Mapbox and ArcGIS here just for illustration. WebMapSolutions today build solutions using both of these excellent technologies.

Modularity meets modularity

We have many times in this blog discussed COTS+ apps. These are flexible modular apps built using widgets.

GeoAppSmart for Work Orders

But our COTS+ apps still rely on a traditional proprietary spatial platform filled with a multitude of useful (to you) and not so useful (to you) services and tools. Suppose our simple, flexible, affordable COTS+ solution used a simple, flexible, affordable PaaS solution? That would mean flexibility on both the app side and cloud-services side. That translates to you getting (and paying for) what you need, when you need it. 

The cost structure of PaaS is fundamentally based on a usage model. That means you only pay for what you want and use. PaaS provides a very competitive model, that will help drive usage prices down, resulting in big savings for customers. It also means services can easily be mixed. So no more concerns about trying to integrate the Hexagon mapping platform with SAP for example.  Two light-weight services will provide your GIS and BI needs without the expense of a full SAP or Hexagon license.

What about Location-as-a-Service?

Location-as-a-service (LaaS) is a location data delivery model. That means one access point for data from multiple sources. Think IoT. Mapbe mapping data from sensors measuring the temperature of important equipment, or communicating with your IoT household devices. LaaS will complement Spatial-as-a-Service.

Final thoughts

PaaS is being adopted by an increasing number of large organizations, as illustrated by the 4000 developers who recently attended the Pivotal SpringOne event in San Francisco. A major banks web site has been built using 257 focused cloud based PaaS services. In the GIS and mapping industry PaaS will break the ‘buy into one platform’ model. Providers will need to break up their offerings and charge based on usage. For customers that means potentially big cost savings.

Exciting disruptive times are ahead. Spatial-as-a-Service is about to revolutionize the world of location technology.

Contact me directly at [email protected] or call 801.410.2532.

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