Oregon, Montana, Utah and Colorado Partner to Share GIS Data in the Cloud

Four states are creating a project that could let governments host GIS data in the cloud.

by / December 1, 2011

Oregon stores a vast amount of geospatial data, which will grow exponentially as the state finds new ways to use location-based information. Oregon CIO Dugan Petty hopes to cut the cost of housing GIS data by joining with three other states in a joint cloud-based storage initiative. The initiative is led by Montana, which released a request for information (RFI) in December 2010 asking vendors for input on how to best store GIS data from multiple states in the cloud. Along with Oregon, two other states — Utah and Colorado — have joined the effort, which has been dubbed the Multi-State GIS Cloud Services Assessment Team.

“We’re wondering if there isn’t an opportunity to aggregate the volume, drive some costs down and work more cooperatively,” Petty said. Oregon’s Geospatial Enterprise Office is responsible for about 30 terabytes of GIS storage. If the other states store a similar amount, the four-state consortium would spend a combined $15 million annually on GIS storage, the RFI says.

Stating Needs

The RFI sought vendor input on security in the cloud, interoperability between cloud services and providers, pricing models, data ownership in a hosted environment, technology support and customer service.

Robin Trenbeath, Montana’s geographic information officer, said the response was good. “I think we had 23 total responses,” he said. “Of those, there were probably 16 or 17 that more or less hit the mark.”

Each state belongs to the Western States Contracting Alliance (WSCA), which facilitates multistate purchasing. In the WSCA process, one state takes the lead and issues a request on behalf of all involved, which Montana did. The state held a WSCA-sponsored workshop in Helena, Mont., in June 2011 to discuss the RFI results.

A report on those findings recommended developing an RFP for a multitenant GIS cloud and creating a governance structure. Utah is taking the lead on the RFP, which was targeted for release by the year’s end. The parameters are still being worked out, said Spencer Jenkins, the director of the Utah Geographic Reference Center. “It’s driven by economics,” he said. “If it’s a cheaper, more cost-effective and efficient opportunity, we’ll pursue it.”

One hurdle, Jenkins added, is accommodating differences in states’ GIS software contracts. “One state might have an enterprise license agreement with Esri, which gives them kind of full access to the suite of technologies and software that Esri offers, and another state may not have that enterprise licensing agreement and they may have a finite set of licensing capabilities,” he said.

Oregon’s Petty will lead efforts to create a governance structure for the GIS cloud. Petty expects the governing body to be chaired by Montana CIO Dick Clark, who initiated the plan. “He came up with this idea, and he’s worked with all of his counterparts to see who might be interested,” Petty said.

Broader Participation?

Colorado was the last state to participate. Jon Gottsegen, the state’s GIS coordinator, said Colorado’s GIS footprint is lighter than the others, but the cloud solution could help state personnel store additional data sets more cheaply. “If we can get into a collaborative environment where we have much more flexibility in how we [set up] machines, and the costs are better, then we have other types of data as well that we would like to make available,” he said.

The team also is open to involving more governments to create a larger buying body to further drive down costs. “I’ve had informal discussions with some federal agencies, but they’re careful about committing to anything,” said Gottsegen. “We’re trying to feel out what the marketplace is [like] for feds to join in.”

Federal employees attended the June workshop in Helena, along with representatives from the four-state team. Petty hopes these players will brainstorm the right tech solution. “That’ll help us be smart in crafting a solicitation that could go out to WSCA, that would allow us to get proposals and can evaluate the proposal,” he said.

If the GIS cloud is successful, the team will examine what governance and business processes worked and see what other services they can apply them to. “I think we’re just scratching the surface on this. If we can have some success with this, then we can take that and replicate it in any number of other areas where there is potential for states to collaborate across boundaries for better outcomes,” Petty said.


Hilton Collins

Hilton Collins is a former staff writer for Government Technology and Emergency Management magazines.

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