Western states look to solve GIS storage woes in the cloud

Regional approach could cut processing and storage costs for massive, and growing, amounts of data

A consortium of Western states is looking to store geographic information system data in a commercial cloud computing environment to cut storage costs and improve efficiency, according to Utah CIO Stephen Fletcher.

Officials of the states of Colorado, Montana, Oregon and Utah will eventually issue a request for proposals for a commercial cloud storage provider after assessing industry input submitted through a request for information issued last November.  Recommendations based on that input are due to the state CIOs this week.

"Any subsequent procurement would be issued through an RFP leading to a contract between the procurement lead state for the [Western States Contracting Alliance] and potentially, for all 51 members of the [National Association of State Procurement Officials] Cooperative,” the RFI states. The contract would allow any state to avail itself of the cloud services.

“Basically, it is our GIS folks who are saying storage is expensive” and want to find cheaper methods of storing GIS data, Fletcher said. The District of Columbia is also interested in joining the consortium, he said.


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Montana led the RFI effort with active participation from the other states, which are members of the Western States Contracting Alliance. WSCA, for NASPO, issued the request to assess the technical and financial feasibility of public hosting of GIS data and services now supported by the individual states.

The states have three primary objectives for considering GIS cloud services: cost efficiencies, flexibility and scalability, and reduction in staff support time.

Most states’ IT infrastructure is designed around transaction processing, and the high-availability and recoverability requirements of those types of applications might not be applicable to the full breadth of GIS processing, the RFI states. As a result, this environment could drive up GIS processing and data storage costs. The use of properly tailored cloud services could avoid unnecessary processes and improve cost efficiency.

Cloud computing provides on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.

Geographic information systems or geospatial information systems capture, store, analyze, manage and present data that is linked to locations.

GIS is used everywhere, for natural resources, public safety, redistricting of political boundaries, drawing school district lines, taxing entities and managing transportation, said Fletcher.

“It is used many different ways and, as a result, there are hundreds of layers of data that is put on top of initial data and it is tied to specific points of geography,” Fletcher said, adding that such systems require massive amounts of data to be stored.

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