February 2010
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ESRI moving to the cloud/ArcGIS 10.0


I was on the closing panel at the end of the recent ESRI Regional User Group in Redlands, and had a chance afterward to meet with Jack Dangermond and some of the product managers about the next releases of their client and server software.  It was an extremely informative discussion, and I came away impressed with the scope of what ESRI is trying to do – I thought I would pass my thoughts along.

A couple of major changes are underway that I think will impact GIS managers and practitioners, and may reduce overall cost structures for GIS.

  1. ESRI is planning on a cloud computing platform for its server capabilities, scheduled for June/July release this year.  The key is that it may provide an additional cost savings for GIS, since the requirement for acquisition, maintenance, disaster recovery, and systems administration for a GIS environment within an organization may be reduced.  Specifically, the proposed build-out of a GIS infrastructure may not require as much hardware acquisition as previously required.
  2. The next release (version 10) of the GIS thick client software (ArcGIS Desktop) is also slated for release summer 2010.  It has been designed to move many of the functions of the current client (GIS data creation, editing, etc) from the client to a distributed web-based framework.  This has the potential of reducing ongoing licensing costs, but just a critical, it may make a distributed editing environment possible, so that framework GIS base layers (Streets, Addresses, Facilities, etc) can be edited by non-GIS experts in different locations inside and outside of the County (for example, a city being able to edit address data through the web, eliminating the need for the County to duplicate the effort), reducing the maintenance costs for data layers that cut across multiple jurisdictions.

My primary caution is that ESRI will not want to cannibalize its existing revenue structures, so cost savings  may not be dramatic.  As well, ESRI has not had the best track record at initial releases – it generally takes an update cycle or two before their software becomes stable and bug-free.  However, the possible cost savings and reduced need for in-house and contract maintenance support  offered by these two changes is something that will definitely be worth watching.

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