Conference Reinforces GIS–IT Connection

19 Nov, 2007 By: Kenneth Wong

Oracle Open World reveals the database titan forging partnerships to handle the present and future need for GIS data management.

Last week, CIOs and IT managers streamed into San Francisco’s Moscone Center for Oracle Open World, described by the organizers as “an event dedicated to helping enterprises understand and harness the power of information.” With hundreds of exhibit booths divided between Moscone West and Moscone South, finding one’s way to a meeting destination within the four-block radius that constituted the conference became an expedition unto itself. Computer terminals were linked to a searchable exhibitor list and booth numbers, but most attendees headed straight for the old-fashioned visual -- the maps mounted next to the exhibit halls -- for guidance.

At some point, Oracle came to recognize the importance of the spatial aspect of information technology. Now, when purchasing an Oracle Database edition, the customer gets Oracle Locator, described as a collection of features “to location-enable many business applications.” Furthermore, the customer can also get Oracle Spatial, an option that “includes full 3D and Web services support to manage all geospatial data including vector and raster data, topology, and network models.”

When a database giant like Oracle takes a decisive step toward the geospatial market, IT and GIS inch closer toward each other.

A Brief Spatial History
Seven was the lucky number. That was the Oracle Database release where Oracle Spatial’s incubation began. According to the presentation materials on Oracle Spatial Technologies compiled by senior integration manager Dan Geringer and senior development manager Siva Ravada, both from Oracle’s New England Development Center, point-recognition debuted in Oracle 7.1.6 (1995). In Oracle 7.3.3 (1997), the Spatial Data Option expanded to include points, lines, and polygons. In subsequent releases of Oracle (8i and 9i ), object data types, circles, arcs, topology/distance operators, coordinate transformation, linear referencing, and other elements were added to the Oracle Spatial option. The 2005 release of Oracle 10g boasted raster-data management, topology and networking, and spatial analysis and mining.

In its data sheet for Oracle Spatial 11g, Oracle reveals it’s adding native support for 3D geometries, surfaces, triangulated irregular networks (TINs), point clouds, support for geospatial Web services, network data model (on-demand data loading for large networks), and routing engine enhancements, among others.

The Markets Collide
Oracle Open World has always been an IT event, and it will probably remain so for the foreseeable future. But GIS vendors are now joining the information merchants. Inside Moscone South, Autodesk occupied a spot opposite Actuate, a company that develops collaborative reporting architecture, and Optimum Solutions, an Oracle systems integrator. Inside Moscone West, DigitalGlobe huddled under the Intel-sponsored Inside Innovation zone, a few steps away from the Business Intelligence Consulting Group, which specializes in the deployments of Oracle’s prebuilt analytics applications. On the other end of the hall stood ESRI’s booth, one door away from Data Mirror, an IBM company specializing in data integration and data protection.

Jim Beckley, director of business development at DigitalGlobe, was demonstrating how Oracle Database 11g users can access the high-resolution DigitalGlobe earth imageries using the Java-powered Oracle MapViewer (part of Oracle Database 11g Standard Edition or Enterprise Edition) or Oracle Spatial 11g.

In an October 18 announcement, DigitalGlobe wrote, “Via Oracle Spatial, DigitalGlobe will provide real-time access to its extensive image library for applications such as logistics, supply chain, mobile field services, business intelligence, and asset management.”

Beckley observed, “These days, with the growth of [map] portals and the general consumer’s consumption of spatial information, you can see the technology penetrating the enterprise market. Oracle, with their presence in the enterprise software market, is uniquely positioned for global reach.”

The one area that GIS vendors are betting heavily on is “asset management,” Beckley pointed out. By putting assets on the map, businesses can better study, for instance, “what assets they have, where those assets are, whether they’re being utilized effectively, and, if not, whether they can be sold,” he added.

Database-Driven Simulation
Geoff Zeiss, director of technology at Autodesk, put in an appearance at Autodesk’s booth. He stood next to a PC loaded with iMOUT (for military operations on urban terrain), an Autodesk solution targeted at the government sector. Using visualization technology from Autodesk’s media and entertainment divisions, the application instantaneously creates a 360-degree virtual environment based on archived GIS data and architectural models.

“There’s no technical reason why you can’t create an entire 3D city [for iMOUT simulation exercises],” he explained. “But saving the entire city as a file just doesn’t make sense. First of all, it’s too much. At any given moment, you’d want to look at just a particular part of the city. If you’re a policeman, for example, you’re only interested in what’s visible from a particular window [for a sniper’s line of sight].”

Because of the fragmented nature of spatial query (most of the time, a user is only interested in a portion of the entire dataset), Zeiss pointed out, it makes much more sense to let applications like iMOUT be driven by the data stored in a sophisticated database management system like Oracle or something comparable.

As geospatial applications become integrated with large datasets for realistic simulation (such as Autodesk iMOUT, shown here), database technologies like Oracle's will have a critical role to play in driving geospatial data visualization. Click image for larger view.

This opens new doors for GIS vendors and geospatial data providers. They can now market business-centric mapping solutions as add-ons to Oracle database users. But with each new release of Oracle Spatial, the company provides more sophisticated features. When the technology is mature enough to rival GIS vendors’ own products, the current partnership between Oracle and leading GIS vendors could become an odd mix of cooperation and competition.

About the Author: Kenneth Wong

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