This week I am at GITA's annual conference and exhibition, this year in Tampa, Florida. I spent about four hours yesterday as one of the presenters in a seminar on spatial databases. The other presenters included Xavier Lopez of Oracle, David Maguire or ESRI, Jay Stinson of Intergraph, and Scot Rogers of Powel-MiniMax. Brad Lawrence of ENMAX was scheduled to be there as well, but his flight was delayed so I filled in for him, which is hard to do because Brad just exudes power utility experience.
Last year for this seminar we had 56 attendees, if my memory serves me. The room was packed this year as well and the people I talked to thought that attendance was up from last year. This was a Sunday afternoon in Tampa and there were certainly plenty of other things to do, so it is clear that there is a tremendous amount of interest in spatial databases. The audience was about 80% utilities, 20% municipalities, a telco, and the Smithsonian. The audience seemed to be about 30% users, 45% application developers, 15% DBA's, and I assume the rest were geospatial managers. I recognized a couple of folks from Puget Sound Power, Las Vegas Valley Water, and City of Tacoma.
Xavier gave a high level overview of spatial databases and typical solution architectures. In particular he mentioned that there were different approaches to sharing spatial data, which I would characterize as loosely and tightly coupled. Oracle emphasizes the advantage of a single point of truth, basically a centralized spatial database, which supports tightly coupled applications and can contribute to loosely coupled applications.
David Maguire focussed more on loosely coupled architectures and discussed some alternative distributed architectures based on database replication. He also discussed versioning and locking strategies and it was heartening to see that long transactions and versioning have become a central component of mainstream GIS. I remember the first VISION* solution incorporating versioning, in 1994 I believe, and how difficult it was in those days to convey the business advantages of long-transactions to GIS folks. There was a bit of confusion over versioning support in RDBMS's during question period when a member of the audience asked David if ESRI planned to continue to support ESRI's own implementation of versioning in ArcSDE since the RDBMS vendors would increasingly provide this functionality. I was afraid that some folks might have gotten the impression from David's response that the RDBMS vendors wouldn't be doing this any time soon. Oracle for one has supported long transactions and versioning for several years in Oracle Workspace Manager, which Autodesk and, I believe, Intergraph customers are using successfully.
I focussed on common business probems facing the utility and telco industries arising from their current business processes (see my first blog), including the as-built problem, problems with the flow of information with the field force, islands of information, and multi-vendor application environments and how a spatially-enabled RDBMS is a necessary foundation for solving these problems.
Jay Stinson discussed a very interesting example of an application using a spatial database that Intergraph implemented for a customer, and Scot Rogers discussed how they used spatial databases in building solutions for their customers.
To wrap-up Xavier asked for some feedback from the audience and my impression was that folks were very positive and felt that they had got a lot out of the seminar. Personally, I hope the participants left with one thing firmly in their cranium, that sharing data is good because it facilitates solving a lot of business problems.