Thursday, July 22, 2010

The oceans are in the Cloud

Riveting hydrographic innovations set the pace for change elsewhere

From Shipcrunch_5956n by Ryan Skinner

Read this, from Peio Elissalde of the little French geo-informatics outfit Marine GeoGarage: "[We're ushering in] a new era of nautical mapping services with the launch of a marine charts portal built on cloud computing technology."

It's probably the first time I've seen the "cloud computing" buzzword in the marine world.
What is cloud computing?
Basically, you plug into the information and services you want wherever you have Internet access.
All those things that you used to find on your hard drive or your company's proprietary servers?
Now they're in the cloud - huge server clusters run by the likes of Amazon, Microsoft, Google or IBM.

The crazy idea Marine GeoGarage had was to give marine chart users an online account, from which they can access the latest updated charts from a number of international hydrographic services.
The way Marine GeoGarage builds the chart views for users, and how users interact with them, uses cloud computing technology.

Elissalde put it best: "You don't own charts anymore, just use them and share them anytime, anywhere you are via computer, mobile phone or any other Internet device." Google Maps for mariners, in other words.

Meanwhile, another guy named Tim Thornton of TeamSurv has a complementary idea.
They want to crowdsource hydrographic data.
If you put some sensors on any commercial ship or leisure craft to record depth and such, and gather this data based on its location, you have the foundation for making and updating marine charts. Imagine a hydrographic service with thousands of ships creating a firehose of new data, instead of a couple ships with multi-beam echo sounders mowing the proverbial oceanic lawn.

It's not too great a stretch to imagine TeamSurv feeding hydrographic data into the cloud, with hydrographic offices providing norms and quality certification, so suppliers like Marine GeoGarage can package value-added services.
Yes, both companies are initially focusing on the light marine market; that's where much of our innovation comes from.
In fact, there's every reason to believe the above model resembles the future.
Some chart suppliers are preparing themselves for a future a lot like this.

What can the rest of the industry learn from this example?
Anyone who can scale services worldwide around a core pool of data or functions, and fashion it into a subscription model service, for example, would be wise to explore a cloud model. Brokers, box-ship operators, even component suppliers, could exploit this.
What if you could log in to your vessel from any Internet connection and pull down real-time operating data, with comparisons to similar plants?

The core idea is turning what used to be assets that you had to own and maintain into services you basically rent.
Software's an obvious candidate.
Hardware and infrastructure will follow.
For one client, we held a workshop positing "Propulsion as a Service".
Cloud propulsion may be a bridge too far, but it gets minds racing.

For nerds interested in the full online chat between me and Elissalde of Marine GeoGarage, just click through:

[5/28/10 3:02:37 PM] redwood.skinner: Hi Peio!
[5/28/10 3:03:37 PM] redwood.skinner: Are you there?
[5/28/10 3:04:21 PM] Peio Elissalde: Hello Ryan
[5/28/10 3:04:33 PM] Peio Elissalde: Yes I'm ready to discuss with you
[5/28/10 3:04:38 PM] redwood.skinner: Right. I'll just fire away then
[5/28/10 3:05:05 PM] redwood.skinner: First question: who is this product meant for exactly?
[5/28/10 3:05:50 PM] Peio Elissalde: At firts, our website is dedicated to any sailor or mariner who plans to study his next trip at sea, comfortably installed at home.
[5/28/10 3:06:18 PM] redwood.skinner: in other words, primarily leisure craft sailors?
[5/28/10 3:06:55 PM] Peio Elissalde: Yes but we are not racists : so any mariner is welcome
[5/28/10 3:07:40 PM] redwood.skinner: ok. do i understand correctly that access to many charts is free, with access to others (chart premium) at a cost?
[5/28/10 3:08:33 PM] Peio Elissalde: Yes some Hydrographic Services (UKHO, CHS, AHS..) don't intend to display their charts publicly.
[5/28/10 3:09:04 PM] Peio Elissalde: So we provide a 'private' access via some monthly subscription. The reason is because Marine GeoGarage is required to royalty fee to display them online.
[5/28/10 3:09:19 PM] redwood.skinner: how does the 9.9 EUR/month fee stand up to competitors' offers?
[5/28/10 3:10:01 PM] Peio Elissalde: You mean comparatively to official WMS servers from the Hydrographic Services ?
[5/28/10 3:10:12 PM] redwood.skinner: for example.
[5/28/10 3:10:43 PM] Peio Elissalde: Do you know other web services ?
[5/28/10 3:11:03 PM] redwood.skinner: no.
[5/28/10 3:11:53 PM] Peio Elissalde: That's the reason why I haven't set this price comparatively to professional WMS access. The purpose is not the same.
[5/28/10 3:12:47 PM] Peio Elissalde: But as we are a pioneer in matter of nautical charts display online, difficult to imagine what is the real price of the market.
[5/28/10 3:13:07 PM] redwood.skinner: OK. you mentioned Cloud computing technology and then GeoGarage servers. Is the data "in the cloud" or on your servers? Can you help me understand this?
[5/28/10 3:15:07 PM] Peio Elissalde: That's exact there is some difference between classical client/server and Cloud Technology.
[5/28/10 3:15:58 PM] redwood.skinner: OK, but what about your service is in the cloud, so to speak?
[5/28/10 3:17:26 PM] Peio Elissalde: The Cloud computing part of the service provides some resources in back-end to ensure regular processes for updating the charts. And the ressources we use are dynamically scalable for accepting more chart data for example or future additional web services.
[5/28/10 3:18:34 PM] redwood.skinner: So it looks to me like you're laying HOs raster charts over a Google Earth presentation, and then allowing some manipulation. Is that it?
[5/28/10 3:18:40 PM] Peio Elissalde: What Marine GeoGarage changes is the concept of nautical electronic charts viewing:
you don't "own" anymore the charts, just "use" them and share them, anytime, anywhere you are via computer, mobile phone or any other Internet enabled personal device.
[5/28/10 3:18:56 PM] Peio Elissalde: Not Google Earth : Google Maps
[5/28/10 3:19:21 PM] redwood.skinner: Right. What kind of user numbers are you seeing so far?
[5/28/10 3:19:24 PM] Peio Elissalde: Google Earth is a stand-alone application, Google maps is the application accessible with some web browser.
[5/28/10 3:20:39 PM] Peio Elissalde: The web has just started at the beginning of March so 3 months old.
[5/28/10 3:21:25 PM] Peio Elissalde: But Marine GeoGarage is also the next step of our previous app :
[5/28/10 3:21:52 PM] redwood.skinner: OK. And what kind of usership did you see from that app?
[5/28/10 3:22:07 PM] Peio Elissalde: Today we have between 500 and 1000 users which visits the website (mainly from the US because of the previous website)
[5/28/10 3:23:03 PM] redwood.skinner: what's the business plan, exactly? where does GeoGarage plan to make its revenue?
[5/28/10 3:23:07 PM] Peio Elissalde: We have not push a lot regarding communication for the marine press for the moment because we prefer to study the increasing of the charge.
[5/28/10 3:23:44 PM] Peio Elissalde: Marine GeoGarage uses a Freemium business model -mix of ad supported and subscription-, offering these Web services (described above) for free while charging a Chart Premium for accessing to certain nautical charts layers and certain privileges.
[5/28/10 3:24:29 PM] Peio Elissalde: The other wy to earn money is the Mobile side : we have just released the first iPad/iPhone application for New Zealand.
[5/28/10 3:25:22 PM] Peio Elissalde: In the future, we plan to add other web services such as tides, hight-resolution weather forecasts, vessel tracking...
[5/28/10 3:25:47 PM] redwood.skinner: Interesting. So you get a little mark-up from the fee-based charts. Would you prefer these charts go free (to increase usership) or prefer them stay on a royalty basis so you have that revenue stream?
[5/28/10 3:26:21 PM] Peio Elissalde: Personnally, I would prefer that all charts go to free.
[5/28/10 3:27:19 PM] Peio Elissalde: I guess this is a way among other to struggle against nautical maps piracy onboard, proposing up-to-date charts for the user.
[5/28/10 3:28:26 PM] redwood.skinner: how exactly does the machinery work? i mean, you have the google maps as API presumably, then how do you put the raster charts over them? Are you buying licenses, then hosting on own server and presenting? Or is the machine calling up the chart from (for example) NOAA as people access it through GeoGarage? How's this work?
[5/28/10 3:31:10 PM] Peio Elissalde: Actually, we have done some analysis about how Google stores and displays their charts in Google Maps. So we are using the same process to build some multi-resolution image pyramids (Tile Map Service)
[5/28/10 3:31:40 PM] redwood.skinner: ???
[5/28/10 3:31:42 PM] Peio Elissalde: Actually, our tile map server is composed of a static set of tiles, each one having a size of 256 pixels x 256 pixels. These small and regularly sized tiles form together on a screen a partial visual representation of some area at different levels of scale.
[5/28/10 3:33:32 PM] Peio Elissalde: Only the tiles needed to display the area currently on the screen are transported over the network.
The client/server communication is fast because the system is deterministic: all the tiles have been pre-generated so there is not any ‘on the fly’ calculation process such as in the WMS server (Web Map Service) which returns a section of a map based on the request with specified geographic coordinates.
All the tiles are prepared in advance for a fixed area in fixed zoom levels, so they are immediately available (no waiting as in the case of dynamically generated WMS requests).
[5/28/10 3:33:50 PM] Peio Elissalde: So the tiles are pre-generated instead of per-user way (WMS case).
[5/28/10 3:34:54 PM] redwood.skinner: would that mean that you are uploading the HO charts and updates onto your servers, then these are presented on the Google Maps infrastructure (as you say, pre-generated)?
[5/28/10 3:35:30 PM] Peio Elissalde: Yes exactly in the same way.
[5/28/10 3:35:59 PM] redwood.skinner: I guess there's no way you're going to do the same thing with vector charts?
[5/28/10 3:37:19 PM] Peio Elissalde: But today I'm not sure Google is rendering the tiles in a pre-generation way but certainly on the fly using cache on their big servers.
[5/28/10 3:37:38 PM] Peio Elissalde: You mean with ENC ?
[5/28/10 3:37:45 PM] redwood.skinner: Yes.
[5/28/10 3:39:00 PM] Peio Elissalde: Yes we have already done this with all the NOAA ENC but for technical reasons we are obliged to render the vector charts in raster.
[5/28/10 3:39:15 PM] redwood.skinner: files too large?
[5/28/10 3:40:16 PM] Peio Elissalde: The problem is that thz s-52 presentation norm (used in ECDIS) is not the best way for displaying charts on the web :
[5/28/10 3:40:40 PM] Peio Elissalde: No this is only a problem of presentation.
[5/28/10 3:42:01 PM] redwood.skinner: OK. New question: You have deals with NOAA, UKHO, etc. What's preventing you from signing up with all the HOs from Oman to Croatia, Japan and Chile? Time and trouble? Contracting? Expense?
[5/28/10 3:42:07 PM] Peio Elissalde: The other issue is exceptly NOAA and UKHO all the other Hydrographic Services consider that the ENC data is only for ECDIS.
[5/28/10 3:43:01 PM] Peio Elissalde: So distributed by Primar in s-63 encryted format for registered ECS or ECDIS.
[5/28/10 3:43:20 PM] Peio Elissalde: Good question.
[5/28/10 3:43:44 PM] Peio Elissalde: Actually different situations :
[5/28/10 3:44:11 PM] Peio Elissalde: - some HS have not any georeferenced maps... So no way for us
[5/28/10 3:44:59 PM] Peio Elissalde: - some HS service have some entrance ticket too expensive for our small business
[5/28/10 3:45:46 PM] Peio Elissalde: - some HS service haven't study the possibility to distribute charts for web/mobile applications. So they need to study that on a legal form and a commercial form.
[5/28/10 3:46:50 PM] Peio Elissalde: - some Hydrographic Services have signed bilateral agreement (for example with UKHO) : so we are waiting for their agreement to get the raster charts corresponding to their geographical area but UKHO stamped
[5/28/10 3:47:24 PM] redwood.skinner: Have you gotten any interest from traditional chart suppliers, who might want to buy you and add you on to their own service portfolio? Or do they all just see you as competition?
[5/28/10 3:48:00 PM] Peio Elissalde: But we continue to push to get more charts (Australian charts will certainly be the next)
[5/28/10 3:48:59 PM] Peio Elissalde: To buy us ?
[5/28/10 3:49:57 PM] redwood.skinner: Yes, as a home/office route planning interface, for example. I'm thinking about industrial users here.
[5/28/10 3:50:49 PM] Peio Elissalde: No for the moment, we try to establish some links with companies involving selling charts on paper or CD
[5/28/10 3:51:54 PM] redwood.skinner: when did you guys start up with this whole business?
[5/28/10 3:52:21 PM] Peio Elissalde: Another idea (totally different) would be you use our nautical chart website (and its growing number of users) as a marketing tool to promote their charts.
The idea would be that a 'specific seller' layer is proposed to our users showing all your charts with a direct link to your website for purchasing CDs and paper charts.
(such as Amazon Associates Program)
So we could organize some Affiliate program in order we make money by advertizing 'specific seller' products :
- we advertise 'specific seller' products on our charts portal (viewing the charts online, the user exactly knows what he buys in CDs and paper charts from the 'specific seller')
- people follow the links to 'specific seller' website
- we earn up to xx% in referrals when our users concretely buy their products
[5/28/10 3:53:43 PM] redwood.skinner: OK. Like a shopping mall of sorts.
[5/28/10 3:54:55 PM] Peio Elissalde: Actually I worked since 1986 in Electronic Marine Navigation (I started in 1986 with MaxSea), then I develop with my associate Loic (an other former member of MaxSea) the first 3D seafloor mapping software in 1998.
[5/28/10 3:55:55 PM] Peio Elissalde: Actually our goal is to host all the nautical charts in the world (like Google Maps is doing for land maps and aerial/satellite imagery).
[5/28/10 3:57:05 PM] redwood.skinner: A single source of supply for all nautical chart needs (except ENC)? Something like that?
[5/28/10 3:57:49 PM] Peio Elissalde: Not supply but only viewing.
[5/28/10 3:58:23 PM] Peio Elissalde: I guess the vector data which is the future of e-navigation is also concerned.
[5/28/10 3:58:40 PM] redwood.skinner: Right, viewing, with immediate access to the supply.
[5/28/10 3:59:12 PM] redwood.skinner: I didn't understand the e-navigation statement. what did you mean?
[5/28/10 3:59:41 PM] Peio Elissalde: But Hydrographic Services must change their mind concerning the availability of ENC for web/mobile applications.
[5/28/10 4:00:27 PM] redwood.skinner: You mean it would be good to allow viewing of ENCs AND raster charts with the full functionality at Marine GeoGarage.
[5/28/10 4:00:57 PM] Peio Elissalde: I refer to the tem 'a la mode' of E-navigation
[5/28/10 4:01:54 PM] redwood.skinner: yes, yes, it's a concept I'm familiar with, even if the whole thing's a bit mysterious
[5/28/10 4:02:04 PM] Peio Elissalde: Yes both ENC and raster, and in some years when the catalogue of charts will be full only ENC
[5/28/10 4:02:58 PM] redwood.skinner: OK, Peio. This has been good. I appreciate you taking the time. And I believe this may make an interesting post for the blog. I will also start following marine geogarage's blog. Interesting stuff for those interested in charts.
[5/28/10 4:03:15 PM] redwood.skinner: Have a nice weekend!
[5/28/10 4:03:25 PM] Peio Elissalde: Thanks.

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