Spatial Web Site Architecture by wuzhenguang



             Bottom Line Pricing in the Land of Oz
             Spatial Web Site Architecture
             Jonathan W. Lowe

     F       ive years ago, interactive spa-
             tial Web sites were rare. A few
             daring municipalities launched
     their assessors’ parcel map sites with
     great fanfare while the majority wist-
                                                 Who’s the host with the most? Setting up a
                                                 spatial Web site requires assembling pieces of
                                                 the puzzle and an investment of time, money —
     fully watched and waited. A few             or both.
     hours surfing today’s Web, however,
     suggests the tide has turned — the          Web sites need an IP address, network            expensive if you’re willing to share. In
     current crop of spatial Web sites is        connectivity, a CPU, data storage                any metropolitan area, there is at least
     both plentiful and sophisticated. Over      space, Web server software, map                  one company paying the high monthly
     time, the question has shifted from         server software, and a customization             charges for both a collection of IP
     “Should we do it?” to “How do we            language (plus your spatial data, of             addresses and “thick pipes” to the
     do it and at what price?” This column       course). Setting up each of these com-           Internet. These companies survive,
     attempts to answer that second ques-        ponents of the spatial Web site infra-           even prosper, when multiple cus-
     tion by explaining the basic require-       structure requires an investment of              tomers colocate their computers at
     ments for putting interactive spatial       either time, money, or both, and may             this one point of connectivity, each
     Web pages online, and comparing the         not be interchangeable. We’ll look at            borrowing one or more IP addresses,
     costs and services of several Web host-     each in turn.                                    each benefiting from the fast connec-
     ing companies that cater to spatial            Hanging your shingle. For an adoring          tion, and each paying about $150 per
     customers. The (wide) range of annual       public to find and view your Web site,           month for the privilege. On the down
     costs, depending on the architecture        it must have an IP address and be con-           side, if any one Web site in the group
     you choose, is between $300 and             nected to the Internet. These two ele-           suddenly gets swamped with hits,
     $30,000. We’re not in Kansas any-           ments, though almost too obvious to              everyone else’s Web sites will also
     more — choose wisely!                       merit mention, can pose the largest              become sluggish. But if the hosting
                                                 expense of the overall                                         facility’s managers moni-
     First ruby slippered steps                  infrastructure. Unless,                                        tor traffic carefully, this
     An interactive spatial Web site is an
     online map that users can pan, zoom,
                                                 that is, you are willing
                                                 to cooperate with other
                                                                               Glossary                         (rare) problem is avoid-
                                                                                                                able or can be mitigated
     and query with any Web browser. If          people.                       ASP: Application service         shortly after it begins.
     your organization decides to begin             Because of their           provider                            Stocking your shelves.
     building an interactive spatial Web         graphics-heavy nature,        CPU: Central processing          Colocation requires
     site today, the first step will be assem-   the typical spatial Web       unit                             hardware with one or
     bling the necessary puzzle pieces. At       site requires a fast          DNS: Domain name server          more CPUs and enough
     bare minimum, interactive spatial           Internet connection. A                                         disk storage space for
                                                                               DSL: Digital subscriber line
                                                 T-1 connection costs                                           operating system soft-
                                                 more than $1,000 per          IIS: Internet information        ware and spatial data.
                      Net Results colum-                                       server
                                                 month, not including                                           Though fast computers
                      nist Jonathan W.                                         IP: Internet protocol
                                                 the expense of running                                         with preinstalled operat-
                      Lowe covers the
                      role of emerging           the lines to your facil-      ISP: Internet service            ing systems and vast
                      technologies in the        ity. Even if this is not      provider                         reserves of disk space are
                      exchange of spatial        cost-prohibitive for          OS: Operating system             gloriously inexpensive
                      information. Lowe          your organization, con- SQL: Structured query                  these days (just $500
     is the owner of Local Knowledge
                                                 sider that even faster        language                         buys a powerful box),
     Consulting (Berkeley, California),
     where he designs and implements             connectivity, such as a                                        maintaining that system
                                                                               XML: Extensible markup
     spatial Web sites. He can be con-           42–100 megabit con-                                            for online service is not
     tacted at              nection, is much less                                          so cheap. Maintenance
46   Geospatial Solutions   May 2003                                                         

includes ongoing tasks such as conduct-       needs. So, with the introduction of a spa-   the Web server. All but UMN’s free
ing security checks, monitoring uptime,       tial component, the list of available Web    MapServer cost between $1,500 and
and performing upgrades — a time-sink         hosts shrinks dramatically.                  $4,500 per CPU. There is also the cost in
draining $200 or more per month.                  Before covering some representatives     time of installation: the process of uniting
   Still sound too expensive? Don’t           of the spatial Web hosting business, it’s    the two software packages (Web server
worry, no need to get off that sharing        worth understanding the software behind      and map server, for any of these five
train yet. Extending the colocation busi-     interactive spatial Web pages. All Web       offerings) is notoriously challenging,
ness model to those unable to buy hard-       sites rely on Web server software, the       requiring a breadth of knowledge about
ware or uninterested in administering sys-    most popular of which is the free, open-     networks, Web servers, and programming
tems, many Web hosting companies also         source product, Apache (www.apache.          languages that is often new territory for
provide shared access to their own colo-      org), with a 53 percent market share.        the average spatial professional.
cated computers. In this arrangement,         Microsoft’s ( IIS (at          Stamping your trademark. Wait a minute!
multiple users each pay a low monthly fee     $270) holds second place with approx-        What’s this about programming lan-
in exchange for a limited portion of disk     imately 30 percent of the market. As your    guages? Map serving software usually
space on the same colocated machine.          site’s traffic cop, a Web server receives    comes with a template or wizards that
The monthly fee also pays an administra-      requests for Web pages, locates the re-      create a rudimentary interactive spatial
tor to keep the system secure and perfor-     quested data on disk, and returns a copy     Web site with any collection of spatial
mant. These so-called “shared access          of that data to the requesting browser.      data. Once the software is installed, users
plans” usually include Web-based email,           In concert, Web servers and browsers     can quickly establish a page with pan,
FTP access, a secure shell, and a public      know how to exchange and interpret           zoom, and identify tools, all without pro-
Web site, and are the standard for many       text, images, audio, video, and a growing    gramming a single line of code. Inevitab-
small businesses desiring a simple Web        list of other formats such as XML. But       ly, though, a template is inadequate. Typi-
presence.                                     reading and drawing spatial data for-        cal projects require at least three custom
   The monthly charges for this arrange-      mats, such as shapefiles, is not currently   functions. For instance, the specification
ment vary (considerably), usually based       supported. Instead, Internet map server      may demand address geocoding or point-
on the amount of disk storage space and       software makers provide two strategies       in-polygon functionality. Or the contents
the data-exchange volumes. For example,       — home-cooking or browser-beef-up.           of the map may link to the contents of the
a site with 100 static Web pages might fill       The home-cookers enhance the Web         surrounding Web page’s text.
25 MB of disk. Each time someone visits       server with map server software that             Each different map server product has
a page, the site’s computer sends that        draws images on demand and embeds            a different customization strategy, all
page’s text and images across the Internet    them into Web pages. Each browser            involving some sort of programming or
to the requesting browser. If the average     request for a new zoomed or panned map       scripting language(s) — from Javascript
page contains 100 KB of text and image        view is actually just a bounding box and     to Perl, to Visual Basic, all free except for
data, then 10 page hits will meter one        click location that the map server soft-     Visual Basic ($450–$699 per license). In
megabyte of data-exchange. Over the           ware interprets, converts to a snapshot,     the flow of a request, the Web server calls
course of a month at a large and/or popu-     and returns as a GIF, JPEG, or PNG file.     a program (written in, say, Java) that tells
lar site, data exchange can swell to giga-        The browser-beef-up strategy is the      the map server to generate an image,
byte levels. Shared access plans slice and    same as home-cooking, but adds plug-in       which the Java program then rolls into a
dice both disk access and data-exchange       functionality to the browser. The plug-in    Web page it creates on the fly. Other pro-
volumes with the aim of balancing their       interprets streams of coordinates, trans-    grams such as Macromedia’s (www.
users-per-computer ratios (and turning a      forming the browser into a desktop GIS Cold Fusion or Micro-
profit).                                      tool with increased functionality over       soft’s Active Server Pages might also be
   Who’s behind the counter? Because so       pure image-based solutions. For instance,    part of the software mixture (and expense
many businesses now have their own            browsers enhanced with spatial plug-ins      accounting).
Web sites, plenty of companies offer          let users highlight groups of features or
shared access plans, templates for build-     pan without refreshing the page.             Scarecrow, Tinman, Lion
ing new Web sites, and easy migration             Autodesk’s MapGuide (www.                If your desire to create an interactive spa-
paths to handle increased demand. Spa-, ESRI’s ArcIMS (www.           tial Web site now teeters in a precarious
tial Web sites, however, do not fit neatly, Intergraph’s GeoMedia Web         balance with your limited budget or fear
into the mainstream Web site business         Map (, Map-           of complexity, don’t despair quite yet.
that feeds large providers. That’s because    Info’s miAware (, and        Though you might begin alone on the
interactive spatial Web sites require spe-    University of Minnesota’s (UMN’s)            yellow brick road to a spatial Web site,
cial map serving software; without con-       MapServer ( all        an eclectic collection of travelers will
siderable demand for the capability, large    generally fit one or both of the above       soon burst from the wilderness to join
hosts don’t want to support the spatial       models, serving maps in partnership with     you. Following that road as an experi-                                                                     Geospatial Solutions   May 2003      47

mental user myself, I found four friendly                                                                             on customer satisfac-
Web hosts that cater specifically to spatial                                                                          tion and affordability
customers. Each has a different philoso-                                                                              (including discounts
phy, business model, and pricing struc-                                                                               to local nonprofit
ture, but all are small, responsive, and                                                                              organizations). LMI.
eager to succeed.                                                                                                     net is well-suited to
   If I only had a brain. Some organizations                                                                          Berkeley’s culture,
have the data and the application require-                                                                            openly encouraging
ments, but lack requisite in-house skills                                                                             local patrons to
(or possibly budget) to produce a spatial                                                                             “Eschew corporate
Web site. Latitude Geographics Group,                                                                                 globalization!” by
Ltd. (, a company          FIGURE 1 The Whistler Corridor Land and Resource Information hosting with a small
of 12 full-time spatial gurus for hire in      Server is an example of an online GIS application powered by           local provider.
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, of-        Geocortex.                                                                Also like most
fers a service called Geocortex Internet                                                                              ISPs, the majority of
Mapping for just this need. Their depth        arrangement for a monthly fee. Those  ’s customers are small- and
of experience in spatial technology was        comfortable with remote hosting can             medium-sized businesses with nonspatial
immediately clear during an interview          use Web browsers both to alter the appli-       Web sites. Unlike most ISP’s however,
with Steven Myhill-Jones, Latitude Geo-        cation interface, and even to edit their offers users secure shell access to
graphics’ president and CEO. As unas-          data online, using Geocortex’s Internet         their accounts. This means users can
suming as L. Frank Baum’s brainy scare-        Mapping Framework software.                     write, compile, and run programs, mod-
crow, Myhill-Jones seems in eternal               Pricing is determined on an ad hoc           ify their Web sites directly, and, in short,
pursuit of the next interesting Internet-      basis depending on each customer’s              do anything (within the bounds of secu-
enabled capability. (Geocortex’s latest        unique requirements. Generally, projects        rity) that the UNIX command line allows.
advance, for instance, is browser-based        range between $300 and $800 per                    For a $50 one-time setup charge and
3D terrain modeling.) Though “organi-          month, with the most popular package            $25 per month hosting fee, customers get
cally driven by customer need,” said           costing $495 per month, including 24/7          25 MB of storage space and 2 GB per
Myhill-Jones, Geocortex’s current cus-         support. To date, Latitude Geographics          month of data exchange over their high-
tomers all use ESRI’s ArcIMSsoftware.          has not reported any security breaches.         speed connection. Spatially,’s
   Latitude Geographics has grown as an        A list of Internet reference sites using the    shell access allowed me to install (for
ASP for the past three years by expanding      Geocortex service appears at www.               free) UMN’s Mapserver in conjunction
its offering to pivot on services and trans- (see Figure 1).           with a customization module called Perl
ferring knowledge to clients. “People are         If I only had a heart. The sentimental tin-  Mapscript. Not a full-fledged GIS, but
uncomfortable with hosting on an instin-       man of spatial Web hosting,             adequate and speedy enough for most
ctual level,” said Myhill-Jones. “Thanks       (, a company of 12 full-            interactive mapping needs, Mapserver
to debacles like WorldCOM, there are           times people in Berkeley, California,           proved itself well at mapping the crime
concerns with keeping valuable data else-      brings a kinder, gentler approach to tech-      density in (where else?) the City of Berke-
where, and trusting entirely in specialists    nology. In addition to the usual ISP tech-      ley, all with self-digitized or free data (see
rather than being self-reliant.” Further-      nical offerings, focuses heavily        Figure 2).
more, many of Geocortex’s customers in                                                                               Though does
state and local government have policies                                                                          not intend to be a spatial
forbidding extended use of ASPs.                                                                                  services provider, they
   As a result, the Geocortex service has                                                                         are prepared to assist
no long-term contract requirements,                                                                               other developers with
often hosting only initially, during the                                                                          the installation of their
development and knowledge transfer                                                                                own Mapserver/Map-
phases of spatial Web site projects. In                                                                           script-enabled account.
addition to full hosting, customers can                                                                           They prove the point
also deliver a computer and data to Lati-                                                                         that any Web host can
tude Geographics for software installa-                                                                           become a spatial Web
tion and application development, then                                                                            host if willing to install
                                               FIGURE 2 Though spatial websites are not their core
collaborate online to develop the site.        business,’s hosting architecture is extensible with        map server software.
When the work meets with satisfaction,         UMN’s Mapserver and Perl Mapscript, as demonstrated by               If I only had the nerve!
the customer can migrate their machine         this City of Berkeley crime mapping application at                Fearful about hanging
in-house, or continue the cohabitation                               your valuable data out
48        Geospatial Solutions   May 2003                                                       

                                                 Internet services on their network. Conse-       into the database. As detailed in the
                                                 quently, to provide site-selection services      Geospatial Solutions, June 2002, Net
                                                 to their branches without violating cor-         Results, “Spatial on a Shoestring,” the
                                                 porate policy, Metroedge, a Chicago-             PostGIS-enabled database supports many
                                                 based bank, uses Metropolis as its spatial       analytic functions for use within SQL
                                                 Web host. Another of Metropolis’ well            statements. Supported functions include
                                                 known customers is David Rumsey,                 aggregation, querying data for intersec-
                                                 whose public map collection is online at         tion, nearest neighbors, and distance
                                                                    between multiple features.
                                                                                                     pgHoster derives its name from the
                                                                                                  free, open-source database, PostgreSQL
                                                                                                  ( One year after
                                                                                                  opening its doors to customers requiring
FIGURE 3 Metropolis New Media                                                                     online access to an industrial-strength
installs their customers’ systems in                                                              database, pgHoster has acquired close to
this Northern California data center.                                                             1,000 accounts that generate a support
                                                                                                  load of 35 requests per day on average.
to dry? Courage! The anything-but-                                                                Thanks to the fact that its operating sys-
cowardly lion of spatial Web host-                                                                tem (Linux), database, Web server, and
ing, Metropolis New Media (www.                                                                   map server software are free, pgHoster, is ready                                                                 can focus on system administration and
to help. A company of two full-time FIGURE 4 pgHoster’s online mapping                            security, while passing along 100 Mb
and three part-time people based in application, demonstrated at www.pgHoster.                    Internet connectivity at substantial sav-
                                           com/gis, introduces an affordable, analytic,
San Jose, California, Metropolis’                                                                 ings to their customers. Though not
                                           online spatial database.
number one concern is security. In                                                                exclusively oriented toward spatial Web
fact, secure hosting is Metropolis’ only             And Toto, too. At first glance, it would     hosting, pgHoster gives traditional GIS
concern, as they refer all spatial services       be easy to mistake the shockingly inex-         vendors a tough act to follow in our
requests to their business partners. For          pensive, enthusiastic Toto of spatial Web       increasingly IT-centric spatial industry.
$1,000 per month, Metropolis scrubs a             hosting for a too-good-to-be-true prank.
system with various OS-level cleansing            But to dismiss pgHoster (www.pghoster.          No place like home?
utilities, installs all required Web and          com), a consulting and Web hosting com-         Who knows why Dorothy Gale went
map server software, including ESRI’s             pany employing three full-time people in        home to Kansas instead of trying to bring
ArcIMS, and colocates the system in a             Austin, Texas, would be like ending the         Auntie Em and Uncle Henry to Oz —
high-speed facility. (see Figure 3). After        Wizard of Oz as Elvira Gulch bicycles           after all, that Kansas farm was poverty
that, building the Web site is up to you          away with Toto trapped in her basket.           stricken and the Emerald City was boom-
(or your hired help).                             No way, the story’s just beginning! In          ing! Psychologically, hosting your interac-
    To protect their clients’ sites, Metropo-     fact, pgHoster may be the spatial commu-        tive spatial Web site “from home” may
lis analyzes network traffic for any of the       nity’s very first glimpse of an affordable,     feel right. It may even be company policy.
thousands of known attacks (such as               analytic, online spatial database.              But the monetary bottom line — ultimate
spoofed IP headers), drops suspicious                For a one-time setup fee of $45 plus         ruler of most companies — increasingly
traffic in real-time if necessary, and alerts     a $10 per month hosting charge, pgHos-          favors Web hosting solutions. As this col-
appropriate personnel. Unlike a firewall          ter’s spatial customers get an unlimited        umn went to press in April, Intergraph
security system where a port is either            number of PostgreSQL databases, 300             announced its acquisition of Terra Map
open or closed, Metropolis uses “stealth-         MB of storage, and 8 GB of data-                Server (, effec-
response” algorithms that analyze and             exchange per month. Included in the             tively extending their offering to include
control content in both directions, in and        setup fee is installation of PostGIS, a free,   spatial Web hosting. Autodesk referred to
out of the server. For instance, if speci-        open-source spatial extension to the Post-      California CAD Solutions (www.calcad.
fied, LizardTech (             greSQL database from Refractions Re-            com) as an emerging Web hosting pro-
MrSID file formats can be loaded into the         search (, as well as        vider with MapGuide. ESRI and MapInfo
system, but never output.                         UMN’s Mapserver and both PHP and                declined public comment. Clearly, no-
    The company’s cofounder and CEO,              Perl Mapscript, for customization. New          body really knows just yet how Web serv-
David L. Hunsinger, explained that                users will find working templates with          ices and spatial Web hosting will change
(unlike state and local government                sample data ready for substitution with         our industry, but interesting options con-
clients), entities such as banks may have         their own data (see Figure 4), which can        tinue to emerge.
security policies forbidding the use of           be loaded from shapefile format directly                                                                            Geospatial Solutions   May 2003    49

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