Friday, August 26, 2011

What's Been Going On Lately?

It seems that as soon as everything is updated and running reasonably smooth along comes another wave of updates.  That's certainly the case with the GIS Hub.  Here's a brief listing of what has been going on lately and an even briefer preview of what's coming.

Recently the GIS Hub moved from using Esri's ArcGIS Server v.9.3.x to using v.10.x for delivery of data services.  For the most part, folks using the data services should see no big difference though some services appear to run a bit faster.  As with any software, a few things are broke in the newer version but an Esri service pack coming this fall should tidy those up and in general most users won't notice anything. 

During this ArcGIS Server upgrade the servers were upgraded to Windows 2008 and believe it or not, we are now using virtual servers.  Virtual servers have pros and cons compared to physical servers but in general using virtual servers should give us a number of advantages such as being able to more quickly add memory and processing power during peak usage.

In the oven but not quite ready to take out are the upgrades of the Hub Data Portal and the Hub Explorer.  The existing Hub Data Portal is based on Geonetwork Opensource. We have upgraded the Hub Data Portal to use the latest version of Geonetwork and are currently testing it.  This new version will have a new map interface based on OpenLayers. More information about this will be made at the North Dakota GIS Users Conference

 The Hub Explorer has been upgraded just once over the years.  It started out with Esri's ArcIMS-based JavaScript/HTML-based viewer and later on that was upgraded to an ArcIMS-based application using Latitude Geographic's Java Server Pages (JSP) viewer that we have today.  The current viewer is extremely powerful but the ArcIMS software that powers it and the JSP application that provides the navigation tools are both legacy technologies that are no longer developed by their respective vendors. 

The new Hub Explorer has gone back to its JavaScript/HTML roots but uses Esri's JavaScript API and it uses the GIS Hub's ArcGIS Server data services.  The new Hub Explorer is under development by Houston Engineering, Inc. who was selected from the State's Professional Services Contract Pool.  The majority of the functionality is in place but there are a substantial number of additional features that will be added over the next several months.  We believe you will like using this new tool because it has a clean interface and is fast. More information about this will be made at the North Dakota GIS Users Conference

So what's coming next?  We should soon be on a new data storage system that should provide increased performance and provide greater redundancy.  The data download services will undergo a major upgrade but we will continue using Safe Software's FME products.  At some point in the near future we hope to begin providing mobile data services, so stay tuned...

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

MAGIC GIS in North Dakota

Sharing, knowledge, promoting, collaboration, facilitating, communication, strengthening, communities. These are the words that describe the concepts that drive the organization known as the MidAmerica GIS Consortium (MAGIC). These aren't my original words but rather these are found on the MAGIC web site. However, it's been my experience that these words do in fact describe very well what goes on in MAGIC.

North Dakota has been a member of MAGIC for several years. During those years I've discovered that MAGIC has many important facets, four of which I've been involved with: conferences, facilitation of workshops, regional meetings, and networking.

Out of all of the conference opportunities that are available the MAGIC conference, known as the MAGIC Symposium, is one of the very best. It balances the "big picture" coordination and collaboration work that's so important with the technical aspect that keeps the data flowing. The every-other-year Symposium is a size large enough to bring in well-known speakers but without excluding high-quality local and regional talent. Workshops are part of the Symposium and add huge value to attendees. The next Symposium is April 2012. If you are a provider of GIS services or work with GIS in a city, county, state, federal, or tribal organization, be sure to check it out by visiting the MAGIC web site.

MAGIC sponsors workshops at regional and state levels. One of the most successful workshops entailed MAGIC obtaining a Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) Cooperative Agreements Program (CAP) grant which fueled metadata workshops amongst the MAGIC states. States paired up to conduct one-day workshops in each of the MAGIC states to describe and provide guidance on authoring and maintaining geospatial metadata. The two Dakota's paired up to hold the workshops in Fargo and Pierre. If you have a topic in mind that perhaps could be sponsored by MAGIC, please let me know!

The MAGIC State GIS Clearinghouse Summit meeting is worth every dime of the MAGIC membership fee. Oh wait, there is no MAGIC membership fee! The annual Clearinghouse meeting brings together those closely associated with each state's GIS clearinghouse, in our case the North Dakota GIS Hub. This includes technical people and coordination types from the MAGIC states and the USGS liaisons for those states. This meeting is typically less than two days in length and provides a detailed view of what each state is doing with respect to its GIS technology, interaction with multiple levels of government, challenges it faces, and lessons learned. Many of the MAGIC states have been dramatically impacted by tornadoes and flooding, making emergency management a hot topic at this year's meeting which was held in Des Moines, Iowa. Speaking of Iowa, the Clearinghouse meetings rotate between states. Next year's meeting will be in one of the Dakota's so stay tuned.

Membership in professional organizations and attending conferences doesn't always provide one with a feeling of ownership and connectivity. Not so with MAGIC. Involvement with the Symposium sets the stage for an excellent networking experience and is time and money very well spent. If one is also involved in the Clearinghouse meetings this expands the networking experience into friendships. Donating some of your energy and some of your (and your organizations') time to become a member of one of the committees or even just attending the monthly Steering Committee calls allows you to give something back and to help guide the direction and operations of MAGIC.

If you work with GIS in the great State of North Dakota or in one of the eight other MAGIC states, seriously consider checking out MAGIC. I think you'll be happy that you did.