Google April 20 introduced Google Earth Builder, a new service to let businesses host geospatial data on Google's cloud computing network and access the data through a Web browser from any computing device.
Earth Builder marks a departure from Google's on-premise geo-mapping products to date. Google Earth is a free desktop download that maps the Earth by superimposing images gleaned from satellite imagery, aerial photography and GIS 3D globe.
Google licenses commercial versions of Google Earth Pro for $399 a year and Google Earth Enterprise to help environmentally-oriented businesses and researchers gauge the effects of climate change and conduct other geospatial data-crunching tasks. Pro is downloaded to users' PCs while Earth Enterprise is hosted on company servers.
Those that know Google know the localized, on-premise practice is distasteful to the company because it prides itself on its cloud computing system.
Google's cloud comprises thousands of commodity servers running in parallel and residing in dozens of datacenters all over the world. These servers power the company's dozens of Web services, shuttling results to the Google.com's search engine and hosting data from Gmail messages and Google Apps such as Google Docs.
Now Google has turned its cloud on for its traditionally locally-based enterprise geo products, starting with Earth Builder. The tool, which won't be commercially available until Google's third quarter, will let businesses upload, process and store their geospatial data in Google's cloud.
Company employees will be able to use Google Maps and Google Earth to share and publish mapping data via Google's cloud, which means the data will be accessible from any Web-enabled device, including computers, tablets and smartphones.
"Whether you have terabytes of imagery or just a few basemap layers, now you can create multiple map layers from your data, such as shapefiles of demographic data, spreadsheets of worldwide customer locations and files of your recently acquired imagery for a new development," said Tarun Bhatnager, director of North American geo sales, in a statement.
Bhatnager said business users of Google Earth should see a number of advantages with Earth Builder, starting with money and time savings.
Users of Earth Pro or Earth Enterprise have discovered that satellite imagery in Earth can comprise many terabytes of data, which is difficult to process and store without specialized tools.
Geospatial data may also be located in numerous geographic projections and formats, making it hard to track. Also, because the geospatial data generated with the Google Earth commercial products often resides locally within workgroups, managing different versions and updates is tedious. Finally, GIS software is expensive to license and requires training.
Earth Builder helps businesses obviate all of these issues, providing the computing power to scale and host big chunks of geospatial data on the fly without requiring customers to host and manage data.
While it's true Earth Builder isn't generally available yet, Australia's Ergon Energy and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) have also signed contracts to use Earth Builder. NGA is the U.S. government's primary provider of geospatial data and intelligence.