Is migrating your enterprise ArcGIS systems to the Cloud the right choice?

October 16, 2017 Gordon Plunkett

Your organization currently has a successful deployment of ArcGIS for managing and supporting its diverse business operations. However, like all good managers, you are always looking for ways to reduce costs plus improve the agility, scalability and flexibility of your ArcGIS services. Is now the time to consider migrating your ArcGIS deployment to the cloud?

At some point in the development of your enterprise ArcGIS system, you are going to be faced with a management dilemma which is: Keeping in view our budget, infrastructure, human resources, big data, hardware and growing GIS use, do we need to upgrade our GIS capabilities?

While there is nothing wrong with getting more budget, hiring more people, buying more hardware and obtaining additional bandwidth; do not ignore other options to deliver your enterprise GIS solutions. For example, one option you should consider is migrating some or all of your GIS services to the cloud.

Cloud infrastructures provide ubiquitous access to shared computing resources such as networks, servers, storage, applications and services, all over the Internet. ArcGIS Online is an example of a popular GIS application running in the cloud. As it turns out, the ArcGIS software stack has been designed to be very cloud-friendly, thus allowing ArcGIS users to operate their familiar ArcGIS applications in the less costly, higher performance cloud environment.

So, how do you determine if migrating to the Cloud is right for your organization? Let’s find out more.

There are many benefits of moving some of your GIS operations to the cloud such as easy access, efficient application development, improved user experience, scalable computing power provisioning, paying only for resources actually used, gigantic data stores, streamlined application stacks and improved support for unpredictable usage levels.

However, some organizations have reservations about migrating to the cloud. They are worried about potential loss of data security, sovereignty and control; high expenses; performance issues; and reduced uptime. First time cloud users are skeptical about service providers and potential loss of existing IT staff. Many even wonder if they can go back to the old ways of doing things, in case cloud computing doesn’t work for them. These are all genuine concerns and must be investigated before signing up for any new service. However, a little bit of research and education can help you discover best practices to overcome any migration problems in implementing cloud-based services for your organization.

How do you determine if you have a robust cloud migration strategy?

In many ways, migrating your organization to the cloud is akin to buying a new car. You begin by assessing your car’s current and future suitability to your needs. If you decide to invest in a new car, then you explore the types of cars in the market and their respective costs. Thirdly, you select a model and strike a deal with the car dealer. Finally, you take possession of your vehicle, tailor it to your needs, program the navigation system, set your radio presets and enjoy the new ride.

 Using the same analogy, here’s how you can build your cloud migration strategy:

1. Needs and requirements identification - Determine what issues you are currently experiencing and/or what issues you foresee with your current ArcGIS deployment.

2. Market Awareness – Look at the various ArcGIS cloud deployment options and architectures that align with your users’ requirements, existing applications and existing infrastructures. Speak to a few cloud service providers to get a sense of the market

3. Purchase – The next order of business is to speak with your Esri Canada account manager about licensing ArcGIS for the cloud. Also speak with your cloud service provider. When you are satisfied with the options you’ve chosen, then submit your purchase orders as needed.

4. Implementation and operation – Once the software and services have been provisioned, you must complete the installation, testing, training, application migration, data uploads and the security regimens. Now your cloud service is ready to release to your users.

Esri has produced a white paper entitled “Architecting the ArcGIS Platform: Best Practices”. This document provides an excellent high-level review of how to design and build your ArcGIS for a cloud infrastructure deployment. Topics in the white paper include:

1. Application Implementation Strategy

2. Apply IT Governance

3. Distributed GIS

4. Automation

5. Enterprise Integration: Application Patterns

6. Environment Isolation

7. Essential Patterns of a Location Strategy

8. High Availability

9. Infrastructure

10. Load Balancing

11. Managing Identities

12. Project Prioritization

13. Publication Strategy: Geospatial Content Delivery

14. Real-time GIS Strategy

15. Security

16. Workforce Development

17. Workload Separation

The ArcGIS infrastructure is a core technology implementation deployed on a set of standard IT infrastructure components, which could be in the cloud. The server side’s infrastructure component includes the hardware, software, services and data repositories that are the foundation of the ArcGIS platform.

So, investigating and moving your applications and workflows to the cloud requires creating a solid plan and sticking with it. We are working closely with many clients who are moving to the cloud and the process requires preparation and patience. However, the efficiency of the resulting cloud-based systems will make you wonder why you didn’t migrate earlier.

Purchasing a new car can be a demanding process that you may do every few years. The good news about migrating to the cloud is that you only need to do it once. But once your ArcGIS cloud deployment is operational; the financial, performance, storage and functionality gains will please your clients and help your enterprise drive innovation through geography.

About the Author

Gordon Plunkett

Gordon Plunkett is the Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI) Director at Esri Canada. He has more than 30 years of experience in GIS and Remote Sensing in both the public and private sectors. He currently sits as a member of the Community Map of Canada Steering Committee, GeoAlliance Canada Interim Board of Directors, the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) Technical Committee, the Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB) Committee on Geomatics, the University of Laval Convergence Network Advisory Committee and the Advisory Board to the Carleton University Geomatics and Cartographic Research Centre. During his career, Gordon has worked on projects in more than 20 countries and has contributed to numerous scientific conferences and publications. At Esri Canada, he is responsible for developing and supporting the company’s SDI vision, initiatives and outreach, including producing content for the SDI blog.

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