As LinkedIn helpfully reminded me, it has now been a year since we founded Loxodrome (which has flown past), and
we thought it might be interesting to write a blog post looking back at our first year in business, in particular
our experiences of no longer working together in an office with all the equipment and budget of a big IT department!
Early on we realised that the cost of buying our own servers that we could run ArcGIS Enterprise on, along with the various software licences that we would require would be prohibitively expensive for a start up with limited cash. Also, not having a fixed office location meant that we would have to find somewhere to locate and then access them.
However, as we had already set up our Office 365 environment, using Microsoft Azure did lend itself well to being a cloud based service that we could build upon, especially as they offer a £150 in Azure credits to use within 30 days, which gave us time to test and evaulate it.
"I know where I'd rather be working"
We set up our server infrastructure on Azure as a pay as you go subscription for the virtual machines that can be started and stopped as required. They also, rather helpfully, automatically shut themselves down at 7.30pm to prevent unnecessary expense, if we forget to stop them.
As of September 2018 our Azure platform is as follows:
The diagram below is a simplified representation of our configuration (and is something that would have been invaluable to see a year ago as an example of a small company set up!).
For a small company such as ours with some recycled desktop hardware that is capable of running local installs of ArcMap/Pro along with the other applications and integration tools we work with, when it is coupled up to cloud based services/virtual machines has allowed a good deal of collaborative working and development . We now only pay for office/meeting room space when we need to get together for a day – and our current choice is a barn conversion that opens out onto an orchard and nature reserve!
In terms of the Office applications, the amount of functionality that comes with O365 Business Essentials is incredible. I know that people will say that there are similar services now from other vendors (such as G Suite from Google), but working with a familiar software suite, including SharePoint, has got us up and running quickly, and allowed us to investigate things like the ArcGIS Maps for SharePoint app, or embedding Story Maps into SharePoint pages. Which opens lots of interesting possibilities.….
As with most IT budgets, there is never enough money to buy the toys that you really want to play with, and the pricing system in Azure can get complex and then at the end of the month you get a larger bill than you might have been expecting!
One key challenge we are facing with some of the Portal for ArcGIS software (as well as a few other apps) is that the servers are not currently joined to a domain, so don’t have a fully qualified domain name, nor can you get a proper SSL certificate if it doesn’t have one.
“But why don’t you just use the Azure Active Directory Domain Services? Problem solved!” Because, to put it simply – see the ‘So what isn’t so good’ section above. It costs money, and could potentially add another £80-100 to our monthly Azure bill. It's also not available in the UK South region (as yet), so would have to be set up in another region with a seperate connection between the virtual networks (more money). What could be a more cost-effective solution (and this is what I need to investigate) is to have a Reserved Instance (RI) virtual machine – and not a high spec one – that can remain online 24/7/365 which will act as our domain controller, which could cost as little as £11 extra per month.
We’ll probably blog about this again, as we see the way that people work is changing, and employers will have to support more remote/flexible working, as people (myself included) don’t want to spend an ever-increasing amount of their lives - and salary - commuting to their place of work.
How do you reach the great geo-unconverted masses? Well, we would like to advocate a “take the GIS to the people” approach (as opposed to bring the people to the GIS) – by integrating geospatial content with SharePoint.
Wouldn't it be nice if there was a way processes could be automated to update both your GIS and SharePoint systems, to free someone up to do more important work..?