Hands-on with ArcGIS Server.

This week, I had the privilege of spending 2 days in Kansas City with the folks from ESRI St. Louis to get some real hands-on time with ArcGIS Server.

ESRI has been touting “Server” as the next step in the evolution of GIS for the last few years. However, I think with the 9.2 release, we’ve actualy got something usable. My experience in GIS isn’t with web-based applications, so there’s a bit of a learning curve every time I tear into ArcIMS. However, Server might be the bridge that allows me to take my desktop knowledge to the Web.

If nothing else, I think that ArcGIS Server is going to allow for an even-ing of the playing field between the little guy and big business/government. Now, with a knowledgeable vendor (ahem…), small business/government can buy hosting for their entire GIS, just like they do for their web presence. Click through to read on for my 1st ArcGIS Server experience.

Having never messed with ArcGIS Server before, I wasn’t sure what to expect. What I found was a software suite that had some very robust features, but was sorely missing some very obvious things right out of the box.

One of the first things I noticed was how much more streamlined the process of publishing web services has become. ArcIMS has always been a bit rough & a bit ugly if you stuck to the default settings. Plus, the publishing tools were pretty much worthless if any changes needed to to be made down the road. Server presents the closest thing to date for WYSIWYG where taking maps from the desktop to the web is concerned. ArcIMS really can’t hold a candle to Server in this respect.

Your users should see speedier pages now if a website is designed properly. ESRI has finally taken to tiling & caching static images and provides it as on option or as an accompaniment to the traditional live data feed. The only trade-off I really see at present is that if a cached image is displayed at the edge of its scale, no amount of anti-aliasing can pretty up what was originally a crisp vector line.

It is now possible to do a lot of Server’s housekeeping from Arc Catalog. Kudos to ESRI. Another thing that I found impressive was the ability to create models with model builder, drop them into an ArcMAP project (mxd) and have them appear as a tool when published to the Web. Brilliant.

Because the technology is new and the userbase is still relatively small, finding samples and examples is sparse, even over at the EDN. That said, this is probably going to be an obstacle for me, namely because Server is lacking turn-key functionality for some very fundamental tools such as printing a page, and using hyperlinked features. ArcIMS on the other hand, provides this kind of stuff right out of the box. To be clear, the tools are there, just be prepared to invest some sweat equity.

Other neato things worth mentioning include the ability to publish KMLs (data layers for Google Earth) and the ability to edit a geodatabse from a web interface. In all, I think there is a lot of promise for application development in ArcGIS Server. I for one, am looking forward to getting my hands dirty!


5 Responses to “Hands-on with ArcGIS Server.”

  1. Being introduced to ArcGIS Server | James Fee GIS Blog Says:

    […] Geomatics has written up a “Hands-on” post about their introduction to ArcGIS Server. Having never messed with ArcGIS Server before, I wasn’t sure what to expect. What I found was a […]

  2. Dave Says:

    Re: “small business/government can buy hosting for their entire GIS,…”

    I’d disagree with you on this – you can do a lot with the ADF, but it does fall down in a number of areas. Have you actually tried to maintain any kind of topology while editing with the ADF? Trace lines across layers? How about ad-hoc analysis? Import GPS? Create a custom map?

    While you can do a lot of stuff, and the basics are very streamlined, it’s a long shot from turnkey end-to-end GIS platform. And while the ESRI marketing story is that it can do “everything”, I’d take that with a grain o salt.

    While you “can” do pretty much everything that ArcMap can, the amount of programming required to get that power into the hands of the end users is non-trivial. For specialized applications, this is fine, but hosting out the whole kit and kaboodle (technical term there) just with Server is a stretch.

    Now – if you throw in some ArcMap seats via Citrix, you’d be looking at a compelling business model. Only issue is bargaining ESRI down from their current ASP pricing of 2 X commercial list (i.e. 80k for 2 sockets of Enterprise Advanced, and I don’t know if there is ASP pricing for desktop)

    Kudos on the blog – keep it going!



  3. dealygeo Says:

    Dave, Thanks for the comment! Actually i think you get the gold star for first post ever!

    To reply, I guess you have to understand the kind of customers that I deal with. Rural government here in Kansas is just really ramping up with GIS. These are counties or cities with well under 30,000 constituents quite often. Most of these types have one person developing data, if anyone at all.

    I agree that Server isn’t the place to do any initial data development. but if you can provide tools to make rudimentary edits to features and a way to edit attributes, I think the large portion of a functional “baby enterprise” (technical term) GIS could meet such needs.

    To be clear, the kind of GIS most of my prospective (& current customers) would like is something very client-based or end-user based. When you’re small and most of your data doesn’t change all that often, your expectations are about as limited as your budget 🙂


  4. Mark Says:

    I work for local govt for a municipality in Canada. I think ArcGIS Server will do a great job filling the needs of those users who just need to edit attributes. Our current ArcIMS app required a lot of customization to accomplish this. Hmm…and I think we may even get a free (ya right) copy of ArcGIS Server as an IMS upgrade!

  5. JoeB. Says:

    The comments regarding the ‘little guy’ are well said. A number of my clients are smaller communities, with tight budgets yet big needs. I saw a very impromptu demonstration of web publishing with ArcServer Workgroup earlier today, and I was really blown away. For the public saftey community, a wireless connection and web browser opens up a huge resource for on-board mapping capabilites whether it’s in a police car, a fire engine or an ambulance.

    ArcGIS Server looks like the real to me.

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