Learn about GIS in the Cloud

Sangeeta Deogawanka


Many of you have used ArcGIS Online. So you already know that the Esri cloud ecosystem allows you to access, create, edit, analyze and share maps, apps, and geospatial data from anywhere in the world. While traditional GIS is installed on your desktop or server, Cloud GIS makes use of the flexibility of the cloud environment for data capture, visualization, analysis and sharing.

Cloud GIS

The cloud computing technology has revolutionized the way one works. Although GIS has been a late adopter of the cloud technology, the many advantages are compelling organizations to shift their geospatial functions to the cloud. Cloud-based tools are accessed for web-based geographic information system. Data generated as maps are helping analyze and optimize operations in real-time. Apps in the cloud are helping manage isolated silos of GIS workflows and geodatabases.

Thus, Cloud GIS could be defined as a next generation on-demand GIS technology that uses a virtualized platform or infrastructure in a scalable elastic environment. (Related: Cloud GIS definitions)

Free weekly newsletter

Fill out your e-mail address to receive our newsletter!

How does Cloud GIS work?

The cloud computing environment offers three base service models – Software-as-a-Service (SaaS); Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS); and Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS).

In the geospatial environment, the Cloud SaaS supports three other service models

  • GIS-as-a-Service (GaaS),
  • Applications-as-a-Service (AaaS)
  • Imagery-as-a-Service (IaaS), where ready-to-use GIS datasets are available as Data-as-a-Service (DaaS)

These are accessed as private, public, hybrid or community cloud services, depending upon the organization’s need for security, collaboration and ownership.

Cloud GIS Service Models
Cloud GIS Service Models


Cloud GIS Deployment Models
Cloud GIS Deployment Models

Key Benefits of GIS in the Cloud

Key Benefits of GIS in the Cloud
Key Benefits of GIS in the Cloud

Other Benefits of Cloud GIS

  • On demand service of online maps, geospatial data, imagery, computing or analysis
  • Large volumes of data handling, app management and geospatial analysis possible
  • Supports viewing, creating, monitoring, managing, analyzing and sharing maps and data with other users
  • Facilitates inputs, validation and collaboration by a global mobile workforce in real time
  • As optimizing with spatio temporal principles is possible, it provides effective geospatial validations and analysis
  • Managed services prevent data and work loss from frequent outages, minimizing financial risks, while increasing efficiency
  • Competitive advantage – shorter time to share and publish maps, with always on always available data / maps; and effective ROI
  • Choice of various deployment, service and business models to best suit organization goals
  • Supports offerings of client-rich GIS software solutions as a software plus service model – geocoding, mapping, routing, and more


  • Earth observation data
  • Citizen and social science
  • Road infrastructure projects
  • Mobile data collection and integration
  • Traffic management
  • E-commerce and geo-targeted advertising
  • Geo-referenced Weather Service
  • Crime analysis
  • Web mapping
  • Research
  • Public safety and emergency response

Case Studies

Education and Research in the GIS Cloud, using ArcGIS Online and Mango Map

This application was constructed using the map services and application templates on ArcGIS Online.

Relationship between rates in obesity, diabetes, and percentage of people on restricted sugar diet (US).
Relationship between rates in obesity, diabetes, and percentage of people on restricted sugar diet (US).

Another user-contributed initiative makes use of the Mango Map interactive web map platform.

Deforestation in Cambodia 1976 – 2006
Deforestation in Cambodia 1976 – 2006

Transport Departments making use of the GIS Cloud – Maryland, Idaho, Utah

The Maryland Department of Transportation has deployed a four level cloud-based model. The first is a hybrid application (MUTTS) which coordinates and tracks responses of construction work and excavations. The second model uses a hybrid cloud configuration of interactive mobile application for travelling truck drivers, highway motorists and cyclists. The third focuses on integration with the interagency mapping and GIS data portal MD iMap. The fourth deployment is a private cloud integrating the enterprise GIS of MDTA for access of staff members only. The whole system seamlessly blends the functionality of Esri, with data and applications stored within the MDOT’s firewall.

The MUTTS application and utility location viewer
The MUTTS application and utility location viewer.

Security and Crime management in the Cloud

The US Department of Homeland Security uses ArcGIS cloud products to access and share critical data for protection of US citizens – in aviation, border security, emergency response, cybersecurity, and chemical facility inspection.

The Ogden Police Department operates a real-time crime center for a 24 hour support using ArcGIS cloud services.

Site safety of projects

Thundermaps offers a cloud service using a mobile based GIS reporting system for improving safety and hazard reporting in civil construction.

Cloud GIS Products and Vendors

ArcGIS Business Analyst Online – on-demand reports and maps for informed decision.

ArcGIS Online. –creation of interactive web maps and apps, shared with anyone, on any device.

Explorer for ArcGIS – access, author, share maps from any device.

ArcGIS Server on Amazon EC2 – deploy ArcGIS Server and use enterprise geodatabases on Amazon EC2.

Vendors – GIS Cloud, Mango Map, MapBox, Map2Net, MapInfo Stratus, ThunderMaps, GIS Direct, Spatial Vision, Interroute, Aerometric, and more.


Introduction to Cloud and Server GIS

Kouyoumjian, V., The New Age of Cloud Computing and GIS, ArcWatch [Web]

Uses of Cloud technologies for Geospatial Applications, 2013, U.S. Deptt. Of Transportation [Web]

Why go GIS Cloud?

Photo of author
About the author
Sangeeta Deogawanka