Cloud computing is an interconnected group of powerful computers that collectively store data redundantly, host various services and provide security. To the geospatial community, the cloud acts as a password-protected hub that offers various services to companies of all sizes.
The cloud has already improved communication among all project team members and streamlined typical workflows that are critical for the construction, surveying and mapping industries.
The cloud and geospatial industries
Where does the cloud fit in the geospatial industry? Quite simply, it is the next technological step, the safe and secure ability to share information and project-related data in real time.
However, the cloud is not merely FTP (file transfer protocol) data sharing. The technological ability to send and share data files has been around for decades. Instead, a proven value of the cloud is owning and using a private cloud-based company account. By representing a company in the cloud, geo-referenced projects (future, current and completed) serve as containers for all related files. Because these projects are geo-referenced, they are easily plotted on top of a vivid satellite image that streams in from a separate cloud service. By adopting new cloud-based workflows, the groundwork is laid for a complete project management system that is secure and flexible, and that will grow.
Companies want to carve out a chunk of the cloud to own and use privately. Compared to private cloud-based company accounts, the open Internet can seem as loud and uncontrolled chaos filled with websites demanding attention, the threat of viruses and daily distractions. A company that secures and adopts a chunk of the cloud can look back after a year of implementation and see dramatic improvements in workflow and daily processes. A cloud-based business will be faster and more efficient at what it does.
The cloud is all about services that provide access and security for communication, office processes, centralized file storage, entertainment and more. For maintenance and reliability, the cloud features a cluster or hive of interconnected computers that provide true redundancy. Therefore, if one server goes down the others take over; a company’s data and archives are never at risk and are never lost.
No Longer a Novelty
The novelty of the cloud has faded and the expectation of readily available, ever-present services is the reality. Moving forward, the global society will expect the cloud and its services to be continuously available.
As with any innovation, fears will diminish as the need grows. Business thinking and planning will shift from terms of non-cloud tasks versus cloud-oriented tasks. Business owners and department managers looking to hire the next crop of employees will notice that current college graduates have not just become accustomed to cloud technology; they expect it.
With the cloud, there is the easy access and secure exchange of information between the common organization triangle of manager, office, and field staff for design changes and project updates. Before company accounts in the cloud were available, if there was a need to communicate information to the field (e.g., a design change), there were three options: send an email, deliver a thumb drive or make a phone call. Whatever method used took time, which eventually impacted the project’s productivity and overall profitability.
Cloud Surfing: The next big thing
Cloud surfing describes the option of connecting independent cloud services to each other. Direct data sharing to any project site is now instant and easy. Project data can flow in both directions, meaning office staff and field crews have access to upload and download project-related files. By having all project members use the same cloud-based project inbox, it serves as an instant backup as well.
Until recently, raw files were moved between the office and field via whatever means were available at the time. Now there is a virtual pipeline of information exchange to and from project sites. Managers can leverage cloud-based company accounts as a project coordination tool.
The value of a private cloud-based company account includes:
> Managers stay notified even while traveling;
> Private and instant intra-company chat messaging;
> Create and manage geo-referenced projects;
> Cloud surfing with no-cost AutoCAD 360 service;
> Quick activity reports for field jobs;
> Ability to manage crews on multiple sites and visualize locations of all crews at any time;
> Check weather forecasts;
> Verify time zone differences;
> Check project history to see if previous work has been completed nearby (a simple click on a project’s pushpin location on a map can reveal which project it was, client name, who worked on it, when it was completed and the quality of results); and
> Save time and money.
Access to a private cloud-based company account is accomplished through a secure login. An employee’s email and custom password function as a fingerprint for gaining access to the specific project he or she has been assigned. The parallel benefit of cloud systems is that all data is redundantly located in many places.
Predictions for cloud-based computing
- Three years from now, no one will be talking about the cloud. It will have become the new normal.
- There will be many clouds and companies. Users will be able to customize a personal cloud environment to fit precise, unique needs. There will not be cumbersome giant generic software applications intending to meet disparate needs of users all over the world.
- The question to qualify any software or services under consideration will be: “Is it cloud-enabled and does it have the flexibility to meet our particular needs?”
The future is closer than one might think. Now is the time to put one’s “head in the clouds.”