Pierce County, in Washington State, likes to boast that its unique blend of natural beauty and urban sophistication makes it one of the most livable regions in the nation. A large swath of land just south of Seattle, Pierce County encompasses the city of Tacoma as well Mount Rainier, a favorite destination for locals and tourists from all over the world.
The local government of Pierce County takes similar pride in making its community a great place to work and do business. To that end, the county makes all kinds of data about the region—everything from crime statistics to salmon populations—available online for county workers and the general public to search.
To help ensure that all the facts and figures it collects can be understood and put to good use, the county is increasingly presenting its data in an easy-to-read map format.
"Maps give you a special understanding of the data, so you can better understand crime patterns, real estate buying trends, the concentration of drug-abuse clinics or the most industrialized parts of the county," said Linda Gerull, GIS (geographic information system) manager for Pierce County. Gerull estimates that approximately 80 percent of all county data has a geographic component and can be mapped.
For 15 years, Pierce County has used software from Environmental Systems Research Institute Inc., or ESRI, to build online maps to accompany all the statistics of the Tacoma area. Then last year, Gerull realized there was a big—and growing—problem. The county had mapped so much material in a user-friendly, data-rich way that it had run out of data storage space—quite literally.
Compounding the problem of mountains of data was the fact that ESRI, based in Redlands, Calif., was in the process of moving to a new architecture that would require its customers to add more servers.
Pierce County did not have the budget to buy more equipment; Gerull said she realized that after years of the county adding servers in a haphazard, piecemeal manner as the need arose, she was not so sure that was the right strategy anyway.
The countys existing storage system was based on a hodgepodge of technologies from Hewlett-Packard Co., Sun Microsystems Inc. and other vendors, whose products did not always fit together seamlessly or efficiently.
As a complement to the maps the county already offered, Gerull said it had also recently adopted new data imaging software based on lidar, or light detection and ranging, technology. Lidar enables the presentation of data through terrain and topography imaging, which provides more detail than flat maps but also consumes more storage space. "We just keep adding data," said Gerull.
There was no shortage of vendors eager to sell more storage equipment to Pierce County, which initially started a very basic search for a cost-effective way to add more storage. Gerull contemplated solutions from Unisys Corp. and HP, which had also recently introduced a blade server product that compartmentalized servers into multiple slots to provide more storage capacity and flexibility.