Esri Developer Summit 2012 Insights: Day One
March 28, 2012 1 Comment
Here we go again. The GISi Development team at the 2012 DevSummit is seven strong this year… well six developers and myself, and I am really here for the Dodge Ball. Once again we will be posting a daily blog to describe our reactions to the different presentations each of us attend.
Well I have to say, everything is about to get easier, from publishing data, geoprocessing, and map services, all the way to standing up scalable Amazon Cloud clusters and managing all of the AGS services on the cluster. Everything is wizard driven, drag and drop, point and click. Well not everything of course, but a significant portion of the processes in the ArcGIS stack have gotten simpler. For a developer, this is going to minimize the amount of time getting everything set up so they can actually spend time developing.
I also see these efficiencies really changing the analysts’ day-to-day activities. The ease with which we can now publish geoprocessing tasks into discoverable easy-to-use apps and get them in the hands of the end users is also going to free up the analysts from some of the mundane, allowing them to do the interesting stuff. Figure out a problem; publish the solution, then on to the next problem.
The vision is that the map, with the data and geoprocessing task, serves all devices – defined as web, mobile, and desktop clients; and ArcGIS Online being the central service mechanism is compelling. However I think as Esri develops this technology stack there are some things we as solution providers will need to tackle and I am still getting my head around these. First, while ArcGIS Online (and Portal for Organizations) is an Enterprise GIS, there is little talk of how the GIS can be integrated with the rest of the Enterprise Stack. While there is ArcGIS for SharePoint and ArcGIS for Cognos solutions, these are not core products, yet. However, the fact that the services are all exposed as REST endpoints does offer tons of opportunities to integrate these GIS capabilities into the rest of the Enterprise. I think we’ll start seeing demos shortly showing how these can be accessed by other enterprise solutions. Second, we have been spending a lot of time helping clients consolidate systems and defining databases of record and implementing solutions around that. I think without some significant planning and workflow design, the simplicity of publishing data services could lead to entropy of data again – remember when everyone had their own shape files and personal geodatabases, and the mess that that created? Organizations are going to need to get in front of the wave and be creating services that serve databases of record for all to use, just to prevent everyone in the organization from publishing their own little piece of data to serve a specific application.
Any way you look at it though, the new technology brings many efficiencies, and with that new opportunities to solve different problems. It’s going to be a fun year!
Another DevSummit underway in sunny Palm Springs; check out the plenary videos here.
It seems like just yesterday I was blogging about the many SaaS (Software as a Service) offerings Esri released. Now at this year’s DevSummit the word of the day is GaaS. That’s right—GIS as a Service. ArcGIS Online version 1.6.3 will be available at the same time ArcGIS 10.1 is released in June of this year, and offers much more than just pretty maps. ArcGIS Online becomes a GIS in the cloud as a subscription-based offering for hosting and managing data, maps, applications and organizational portals. We also saw the new and improved resource center, with the focus of many sessions around the new ArcGIS for Communities.
Each community offers free hosted or downloadable solution templates for web or mobile devices, data models, desktop tools, and access to online maps and services for your specific area of interest.
We saw a whole new paradigm in authoring, publishing, and using services with the re-engineered ArcGIS Server, as well as a Flex Air tool for managing ArcGIS EC2 instance on the Cloud.
This year’s DevSummit is off to a great start…..stay tuned for more.
Things kicked off this morning with a delightful welcome animation illustrating the coming-of-age journey of a hard-core coder, with an accompanying rendition of the Johnny Cash classic “I’ve Coded Everywhere, Man!” And once our adrenalin was pumping Jack took the stage and gave us something important to think about as the development community, that works to marry the expanding capabilities of GIS with the ever-evolving needs of our customers:
“We have to believe as humans that we can make a difference.”
The remainder of the summit will serve to educate us on how the capabilities are expanding, as well as to brainstorm and daydream about how we can use what’s coming to better meet our clients’ needs.
Following the introduction, there was a demonstration by Phoenix Skyharbor International Airport detailing their efforts to use ArcGIS to streamline some basic parking capacity workflows, as well as their subsequent exploration of where GIS could take them (check out their mobile site).
Then we got down to business with the overview of what 10.1 will bring to the table. There were many little goodies that we’ll see (and share) more details on over the next couple of days. Two high level themes that were very clear at the morning session were:
- ArcGIS Online is moving toward the center of the universe (or vice versa?)
- Everything builds on top of ArcGIS Runtime
The following are the highlights from the technical sessions I was able to attend this afternoon:
Choosing a Mobile Deployment Platform
This session was a little more introductory than I’d hoped for, but the content was at the very least a re-affirmation of the lines of reasoning that I have observed and participated in in terms of choosing platforms. Also it served to set my frame of mind in preparation for some in-depth mobile sessions to follow.
The bottom line is you need to know your client—know their business, know their GIS expertise, know their budget, and know their data requirements. If you have a solid handle on these areas, then the device and platform will usually present itself.
What’s New in Silverlight?
There are some expected items in this list, which we’ll probably hear repeated in most sessions—make use of new ArcGIS Server capabilities, and include/utilize a Runtime SDK. Beyond that, the Silverlight team has added the following (probably not comprehensive) list of capabilities in version 2.4, which was released in January:
- An Application Builder with an Extensible Framework
- Integration with ComponentOne
And with version 3.0 RC released this month, we’ll also see:
- Server 10.1 capabilities:
- Additional Map Service support (Dynamic Layers and more)
- Feature Service support, including Editor Tracking, Versioning, and Ownership-based editing.
- Print Service support
- Image Service support (there was a slick demo of image georectification using Silverlight in the plenary session)
- Upload (images, attachments)
Building Applications with ArcGIS Runtime SDK for Windows Mobile
This was my favorite presentation of the day. Having been neck-deep in the ArcGIS Mobile SDK for the last several months, I was anxious to see what was coming in 10.1, and in particular, what the migration to the Runtime SDK would mean. As it turns out, the migration to Runtime SDK was very well illustrated. We were walked step-by-step through taking an application built for 10.0 and upgrading it to 10.1. We saw what broke, and we saw how to fix it. Aside from some obvious stuff, such as dll names, namespaces, and a couple of class names, there were a few changes worth noting:
- Several components were pulled from the designer—specifically map actions. Rather than adding them by dragging and dropping on your form, you create and add them in code. This is done mostly for consistency. Only a subset of map actions was available in the designer to begin with.
- A 10.1 application cannot consume a mobilecache created using 10.0. However you need not upgrade your entire ArcGIS infrastructure to make this work. Simply installing ArcGIS Mobile 10.1 will replace all of the mobile geoprocessing tools with new versions.
- The map control no longer has a DataSources property. Data layers are added using the Map.MapLayers property.
There are several other changes. Here’s a brief list of some of the highlights:
- Mobile Project Center has added a Validator (similar to mxd validation in ArcMap).
- MPC integrates extensions seamlessly. It’s as if they were part of the core capability.
- Added attachment support.
- Routing with Streetmap Mobile (only for the SDK, and only on the Windows platform, not Windows Mobile)
- The next release version of what is now “ArcGIS Mobile 10” will be “ArcGIS for Windows Mobile 3.0” in order to better align with the versioning of the runtime.
And finally there’s the roadmap. What’s coming later?
- Support for Tables
- Relationship Classes
- Laser Range Finder support
- Ad-Hoc Schema Creation
- Expanded Routing Capabilities
All in all it was a good first day. I’m anxious to see what is revealed tomorrow.
The DevSummit started with the full flair of an Esri-style production for the plenary session, which featured glimpses into the newly overhauled 10.1 version of ArcGIS Server—perhaps one of the most enticing aspects of the opening session. As a native 64-bit application and streamlined code under the covers, the upcoming release appears to be quite a significant deviation from what we have come to know (SOM, SOC, etc.). Performance gains were presented through a series of quick demos, including a drive time analysis that updated based on the position of the mouse as it hovered across the map (the drive time polygons and a route from the origin to the current mouse position updated in very near real time!). Completely based on http calls to web services with APIs to facilitate programmatic administration/manipulation, it looks to be much simpler to deploy and manage.
Similarly, ArcGIS Desktop has undergone some corresponding changes that mirror the simplicity of Server. Publishing or sharing services from ArcMap (optionally including the required data) is nearly as easy as saving a map document, especially when the target is a cloud server. Likewise, the process of deploying a geoprocessing task follows the same streamlined path, and can be published with or without pushing the data along with the task. And with extended Python capabilities (better data access, cursor control, rendering, etc.), the geoprocessing tasks can be easier to use and more powerful than ever.
There were a flurry of demos focusing on ArcGIS Runtime that illustrated consistent functionality across the APIs (Android, iOS, Windows, etc.). I was impressed by the performance of each, though the advances they have made in the Runtimes was highlighted through a side-by-side comparison of the ArcGIS Runtime for Windows that showed a dramatic improvement in rendering graphics. The demos also emphasized ArcGIS Online hosted services, with the new capability to take your data and work offline/disconnected with subsequent synchronization, which is largely made possible by hosted feature services and tiled services. Esri also made a point that they are shifting perspectives away from considering mobile vs. Desktop, and they are now looking at Desktop as just another device and not a separate framework.
The last topic of the plenary session was a brief glimpse into the future. A quick demo showed that even the geoprocessing tasks and the data required to perform them will capable of disconnected analysis and performed offline in the field (i.e., routing, geocoding, etc.). Esri teased about the widgetized windows framework that won’t require any manual configuration. The demo showed creating a simple application that included a map with an ArcGIS Online hosted map that displayed dynamic content. The map and associated widgets can point to common data feeds that are all configured through the UI. They also presented what they are calling “Metro Style” Windows 8 applications, which have the whole screen display, and the look and feel of an iPhone/iPad app.
The whirlwind plenary was pretty impressive, but obviously could only hint and tease at many of the features—most to be covered deeper in sessions.
The first session I attended was focused on testing within an agile development approach, that is, looking at Test Driven Development (TDD). Not knowing what to expect, I actually found it to be very interesting. Certainly, the key takeaway for me was that while I have used the “agile” buzz word, I have never participated in a project that followed that development approach, but rather than focusing on the tenets of agile, the session focused on the discipline and extensive testing efforts that are required to support agile development. While somewhat intimidating, the discussion also made me that much more curious about attempting to follow this path on a project!
I also attended a session on ArcGIS Server Performance and Scalability analyses. This was a good session, but ultimately represented a high-level summary of a training opportunity I was able to participate in last fall in the GISi Birmingham office, but this time without the cool tools to actually perform the analysis. The message was really more about the components of performance and where to look or what to consider when things aren’t behaving as expected, and less about designing a responsive and scalable system.
The last session I participated in on Day 1 was ArcGIS Server for Amazon Web Services. This was a very interesting session! What started out as what appeared to be a high-level review quickly turned very interesting when Esri introduced their new Cloud Builder tool. Cloud Builder is an Adobe Air application that leverages the EC2 API to allow administrators to quickly and easily spin up new cloud instances based on either the Esri AMI or a user customized AMI. The application facilitates creating the instance (along with starting/stopping the instance), authorizing the Esri software, establishing the required key pair, setting up auto-scaling, and backing up the AMI. With Cloud Builder, the Esri folks showed that you can create a new cloud instance, get the software authorized and running, and publish services (and data) without ever logging into the cloud server itself!! This is all facilitated by architectural changes made with ArcGIS Server at 10.1. They also discussed aspects of responsible cloud usage (planning/understanding the costs, managing AMIs and security, etc.), but my mind was spinning around the new tool far too quickly to care about that stuff yet!
As I found my seat 10 rows back to the left of the stage in a comfy faux-leather couch before the Esri DevSummit plenary session this morning, I was worried whether the comfort of the seat and the darkness of the room would overcome the forces of my morning coffee. Thanks to the engaging presentations and exciting announcements, though, I remained wide awake.
After Jack welcomed us to the 6th DevSummit and inspired us with the notion that software could perhaps overcome the darkness of the world, we dove into updates and demos from web API team, ArcGIS Online teams, and runtime teams. One gem from the runtime team – everything is a device. Your desktop computer is a device. Your phone is a device. Your tablet is a device. Stop thinking in terms of mobile platform / desktop platform, and just get it into your head that everything is a device. And every device needs the capability to run native apps; therefore every platform needs a runtime.
A nice surprise was the announcement of an OSX Runtime with a native Cocoa API. This now rounds out the runtime suite of Windows, iOS, Android, and Linux. If you asked me a few years ago, I wouldn’t think native platform development would be getting much attention these days. I would have said, “It’s all about the browser, baby.” But with the hardware available in the thinnest form factors today, it makes sense to tap into that with a runtime whose core is written in C++ and can fully exploit all the available resources.
There was good content today and much was learned. Can’t wait for tomorrow!
The plenary session promised several welcomed and potentially profound changes coming to AGS Server, the web APIs, and the runtime engines. Highlights for the 10.1 release include a noticeable increase in performance, tile layer packaging, and simpler creation and configuration of geoprocessing services. The APIs boast custom symbology and enhanced printing capabilities. Perhaps the biggest change revolves around native application development. There is a shift in the development philosophy surrounding the ArcGIS runtimes that attempts to blur the distinction between mobile and desktop applications, and view these platforms as just another device and not disparate technologies. We got a sneak peek at some of the goals of future releases of the various runtimes for mobile apps that drive this point home. Functionalities will include disconnected geocoding, networking, and 3D modeling. In addition there was a demonstration that focused on configurable desktop/mobile applications (think widgets).
I wrapped up the day by attending a few user presentations. The first topic dealt with converting an existing Flex application over to AIR in order to achieve disconnected capabilities. Python and Django were employed to tease out tiles into byte arrays, which were stored in a SQLite database. The methods used to pull the data back into AIR were the same that will be used for tile layer packages. The second topic focused on web design in Flex. The presentation drove home the point of only giving the users what they need in order to accomplish their given goals, rather than serving up the entire API, which in many cases can clutter the UI and cause unnecessary confusion. The final talk dealt with an interesting approach to try and determine the root cause of performance issues in a Flex app. The developer wrapped each component with a custom timer to help highlight any code that may be slowing the application down.
This being my first DevSummit, I didn’t really know what to expect. But they really brought out the “wow” factor. Demos went well, and I’ve already started rethinking how my projects need to be reworked to target the new directions. I started things off light with a refreshing “Projections, Spatial References, and Geometries” session; I had several “Oh, that’s why we do that” moments. (Did you know that there was also a vertical project model? I think I’ll be spending some time on Wikipedia researching that tonight)
Next I sat in on “Getting Started with ArcGIS Online”. They didn’t get nearly as technical as I wanted, but I plan on tracking down the speakers and asking them some more questions; ArcGIS Online looks really awesome.
Finally, for the third tech session today, I went to “.Net Add-ins for ArcGIS Desktop”. They’ve drastically simplified the add-in architecture. It’s going to be very frustrating the next year(s) until my projects have upgraded to 10.1; they did a great job making ArcGIS 10.0 look completely archaic.