A Closer Look at Autodesk's New FDO Providers

7 Oct, 2008 By: Kenneth Wong

One is to remain in Autodesk's custody; another is destined for the open-source community.

Last week at the Free and Open-source Software for Geospatial Conference 2008 (FOSS4G 2008, Cape Town, South Africa, September 29 to October 4) Autodesk announced the availability of two new providers for Feature Data Object (FDO), an open data access technology.

FDO data access technology facilitates a process by which different geospatial data types — for example, property data from an Oracle database, utility data in Spatial Data Format (SDF), ownership data from a Microsoft SQL server, zoning info from an ESRI application, and aerial photos — can be accessed without conversion, thus minimizing the possibility of data loss. Originally developed by Autodesk, FDO is currently an open-source technology in the custody of the Open-source Geospatial Foundation, an industry consortium founded with Autodesk's help.

According to FMEpedia, spatial technology developer Safe Software's user-contributed online resource, "With FDO, the term provider is commonly used instead of format." The two new providers, or formats, introduced at the FOSS4G are Autodesk FDO Provider for GE Smallworld and Autodesk FDO Provider for Microsoft SQL Server 2008. Whereas the former will remain indefinitely in Autodesk's care, the latter will become part of the OSGeo's open-source archive.

FDO Provider for GE Smallworld
According to Autodesk, the FDO provider for GE Smallworld was "built in collaboration with Spatial Business Systems (SBS) and it "offers read-only access to GE Smallworld's Version Managed Data Store (VMDS)." This provider is available via Autodesk Subscription only.

With FDO for GE Smallworld, users of AutoCAD Map 3D, Autodesk MapGuide Enterprise, Autodesk Utility Design, and Autodesk Topobase may access live geospatial data from their GE Smallworld corporate repository. The read-only access will limit the usage scenarios to data display, query, and analysis. This provider in its present incarnation will not allow users to create or update data in the GE Smallworld environment.

Autodesk press office clarified, "This provider is currently not an open-source provider. It's unlikely that it will become open-source, as the provider has a dependency on a connectivity solution from SBS — the SWConnector API for Smallworld. The provider for Smallworld is read-only for two main reasons: (a) Many Smallworld customers do not want third-party applications to update data in their very proprietary systems; (b) Smallworld data structures, or schemas, do not all 'map' easily to the normalized FDO schema structure, complicating any update workflow. Autodesk will consider adding the update capability for this FDO provider based on future customer requirements."

FDO provider for Microsoft SQL Server
By contrast, the FDO provider for Microsoft SQL Server 2008 supports full read-write operations. It "allows customers to take advantage of Microsoft SQL Server 2008's native support for spatial data by providing direct access (read and write) to spatial data within the SQL Server 2008 database," Autodesk explains.

This provider is available through both the Autodesk subscription center and OSGeo. According to the Autodesk press office, "The latest provider for Microsoft SQL Server 2008 from Autodesk Subscription Center supports the released version of SQL Server 2008. The provider currently delivered through OSGeo will be refreshed within the next few weeks to match what's available through Autodesk Subscription Center."

Autodesk, FDO, and the Open-source Commune
Many Autodesk products — including AutoCAD Map 3D, AutoCAD Civil 3D, and Autodesk MapGuide Enterprise — employ open-source technology. This, Autodesk points out, "[enables] you to extend FDO Data Access Technology with third-party and open-source FDO providers for data stores not currently supported by Autodesk." FDO providers developed by the open-source community include the ones for IBM Informix, Google Earth's KML, and PostGIS, all available through OSGeo or third-party vendors.

FOSS4G is an event that "gathers developers and users of open-source geospatial software from around the world to discuss new directions, exciting implementations, and growing business opportunities in the field of open-source geospatial software," the organizers explain. The annual gathering is presented by the OSGeo.

For more on the FDO Provider for GE Smallworld, go to Autodesk's dedicated Smallworld page.

For more on the FDO provider for Microsoft SQL Server 2008, go to Autodesk's dedicated SQL Server page or visit OSGeo's dedicated page.