Thursday, February 8, 2007

IAS, SOA and other TLAs

Much has been said about Smallworld moving to a Service Oriented Architecture (SOA). But what does it mean to you or your users. How can it benefit you and them?

The O'Reilly Radar Blog today posted a number of articles dealing with Yahoo! Pipes. The introductory article is Pipes and Filters for the Internet. It gives a very good description of what pipes are in terms of the web and RSS (another TLA).

What I found interesting was that the example used by the blog to demonstrate the power of pipes, GeoRSS and filters on the web was a classic GIS one:
A good example Pipe is "Apartment Near Something". It allows you to input what you would like to be near (for example: "parks"), what city (for example: "Palo Alto, CA"), and how far (for example: 2 miles). It outputs GeoRSS of available apartments in a Palo Alto, CA that are near parks.
The beauty of a tool like this is that your business analysts can put together dynamic queries of multiple data sources including your Smallworld data. You might also call this "roll your own dashboard". This might include applications that present power outage information, gas leaks or unserviced customers near your services taps.

If Smallworld has not included GeoRSS with their next version of IAS then I think it would be easy for someone else to write a GeoRSS service quite quickly to provide this service.

The Yahoo! Pipes graphical tool actually reminds me a bit about Safe Software's FME Workbench tool. It seems to me that if Safe would include a GeoRSS reader and various RSS manipulation transformers in its toolkit, then could provide a service that Yahoo! Pipes cannot: a RSS manipulation toolkit that resides behind a corporate firewall. A typical Smallworld customer has data that cannot or should not be exposed to the 'net. That means the Yahoo! Pipes tool cannot access it. But if FME had this capability, your business analysts could do the same thing in a secure environment.

In short, SOA is one way to get your data out to non-programmers and others that are more interested in the data than they are in the mechanisms/protocols for accessing that data. Yahoo! Pipes is a useful tool for that. If Safe could add this functionality to their toolkit, I would be even more excited!

1 comment:

Dale said...

Hi Alfred,

Thanks for another very insightful article. And the timing of this is quite serendipitous – just today we announced our support for GeoRSS. (I’ve also written a blog entry about it, and we’ve got some interesting examples of how FME can add value to a GeoRSS feed among other things on the GeoRSS pages on the Safe site).

But the thing we didn’t announce today is probably more germane, given the buzz around pipes today. As the above materials state, we can both read and write GeoRSS (actually, plain RSS also). But what we didn’t mention anywhere was the services we’ve been creating in house with our next generation FME Spatial ETL Server technology. What we’ve got going is the ability to take an arbitrary GeoRSS-outputting FME workspace, and wrap it up nicely into a webservice. Now, because FME can read GeoRSS, we can do the same kind of thing as Yahoo is doing, only we would do it within an enterprise and as such the resulting feeds could of course combine in and otherwise integrate in-house data. Indeed, we can make GeoRSS feeds out of anything FME can read, including Smallworld. And the authoring environment is Workbench.

We’ve also got some services going that produce KML from arbitrary input, for use as a Network Link in Google Earth. The GeoRSS Earthquake visualization we show on on GeoRSS pages is running in house as a live network link that reads GeoRSS from USGS and converts the results into columns whose height is related to the intensity of the earthquake for visualization in Google Earth. (We’re playing with the term reflector or refractor to describe these types of services, I like refractor since we are bending the data as it goes through our pipe, transforming in some way to make it even more useful than it was before.

We’ll be making more noise about this new FME server technology in the weeks to come…(once we get a beefy enough host setup so we can have live demos of this stuff for folks to try…)

Wow - another exciting day in the land of FME and the land of Neogeography and SOA.