Cloud services are transforming the remote sensing industry

Mar 2012 | No Comment

Brian Rohde

Senior Product Manager,

As satellite imagery becomes increasingly ubiquitous, the mechanisms to deliver and disseminate this data have become critically important to both the consumers and providers. Aligning these dissemination tools with cloud hosting and computing is a natural fit and provides significant opportunities to make remote sensing data more accessible.

Customers who utilize satellite imagery products are able monitor any place in the world from the convenience of their office or home. Not only does this significantly improve overall inefficiencies for governments and organizations by reducing or eliminating the need for regular on-site visits, but it allows customers to access content within hours of acquisition. From defense to commercial interests, this timeliness allows for rapid and informed decision making related to ground-based information.

To appreciate these advantages of timely delivery of satellite imagery, imagine the following scenario. In a world without internet accessibility, 11 am local time, the Mount Pinatubo Volcano suddenly erupts. A few minutes later, DigitalGlobe instructs its constellation of satellites to collect images based on its monitoring of world events and, at noon local time, collects the first image of the event. Having received orders from humanitarian and relief organizations, DigitalGlobe produces the imagery, burns it to DVDs and sends it that afternoon to Manila via overnight delivery.

The DVD is held in Tokyo because all flights to Manila are canceled due to poor visibility caused by an ash cloud pervading much of the Philippines. Two days later, humanitarian relief organizations receive the DVD, which was finally delivered from Tokyo to Manila via ship.

Fortunately, we no longer live in a world restricted to physical delivery. Rather, as was the case with the recent tsunami and subsequent nuclear disaster in Japan one year ago, sharing and dissemination of information occurred within minutes of the disaster. In this real-world example, DigitalGlobe collected imagery of the Fukushima Daiichi plant just minutes before and after the first explosion, and made that imagery available online within hours of the event.

In order ensure that users can effectively access content they need, when and where they need it, providers such as DigitalGlobe have utilized web and the cloud-based services to deliver content to users around the world. These new dissemination frameworks provide dramatic reductions for customers’ total cost of ownership. Now, rather than investing in a datacenter or waiting for physical media to be delivered, and then struggling with how to share data among users who may not be in physical proximity, customers can simply make a request to a web service hosted on the cloud, which will respond with the image product within seconds. No longer must a customer rely on its own infrastructure to share the data, or build its own datacenter to manage the petabytes of content requested from commercial remote sensing providers like DigitalGlobe each year. Instead, customers may access the content on demand- when they need it, where they need it. Because the imagery is available through web services that are hosted in the cloud, users around the world can instantly access recent, relevant imagery, from anywhere that they can connect to the internet.
By making the imagery product once and disseminating it through cloudbased web services, providers such as DigitalGlobe leverage the cloud to fulfill multiple customer commitments at once. By computing in the cloud, imagery is processed in real-time, exactly in accordance with each customer’s request. Image customization, including formatting, mosaicking, projection and layering, can all be completed within seconds. At the foundation of DigitalGlobe’s cloudbased remote sensing web service are OGC open standards. Only by having a well-adopted, uniform set of services and protocols, can customers expect to integrate services to existing geospatial applications, or can providers expect to address customer integrations en masse. Indeed, these open standards allow for a single web service to be natively interoperable with hundreds of geospatial applications. Web services can be hosted in industry-standard cloud platforms directly, or can be “Image as a Service” solutions, where pixels are hosted on the cloud and referenced by web services at the customer or provider’s environment.

Just as the banking industry has leveraged technologies and practices to make online access secure, so, too have remote sensing providers. By implementing rigorous authentication and authorization procedures, and encrypting requests and responses, customers can be assured that their activities, information and imagery are secure.

Cloud services are transforming the remote sensing industry as they continue to evolve together. While the Cloud will be a significant part of this future, look for clear skies ahead.

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Dr Guenter Heinrichs
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March 2012 TO October 2012

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