Spatial data exchange in communities and research networks, research and development potential

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Author: E. Panidi, Department of Cartography and Geoinformatics, Institute of Earth Sciences, Saint Petersburg State University, St. Petersburg, Russia. Contact: panidi(a)ya.ru, e.panidi(a)spbu.ru

Geospatial data exchange is one of the pillars of contemporary geospatial industry, science and education. Any industrial or research collaboration in the geospatial domain, assumes a number of ways for the shared usage of the geospatial data, including publication, transferring, collaborative editing, etc. The PEEX network is quite good example in this case. For everyday activities, it is usual to operate with separated map layers, images, tables and other datasets characterized by small or relatively small data volume. Probably most significant environment for abovementioned interactions is the Web, which is used in parallel as a data transfer channel and data representation form.

Two interdependent tendencies in the Web-based platforms and infrastructures implementation have to be mentioned. The first one is the extremely wide use of cloud-based technologies. All the industrial open source geospatial standards for the Web provided by OGC – Open Geospatial Consortium (https://www.ogc.org) are the cloud-oriented standards, for instance. The second tendency composed by rare use of peer-to-peer Web architectures in geospatial domain, while in the Web in whole such an approach is used wider and wider in recent years (well-known examples are the file-sharing, blockchain, WebRTC, and some other technologies). Peer-to-peer architectures can be denoted as more effective in number of cases, being not dependent on centralized hardware infrastructure and flexible in the meaning of network connection establishment. In the context of everyday exchange and representation of the geospatial data on the Web, it means that a lack of relevant peer-to-peer standards and technologies have formed in recent years, while in other domains this approach have became customary (e.g., direct browser-to-browser WebRTC connection in video conferencing systems).

Due to a number of research activities provided since 2012 at our department, we tend to conclude that development of peer-to-peer solutions (standards, technologies, software complexes) composes a relevant scientific and engineering research direction. Implementation of gained in this way research and development results into thematic domains of Earth sciences can facilitate interaction and common work in the frames of informal research communities and institutionalized research networks. Most naive example of peer-to-peer redesign of the between-researchers interaction model is the embedding into desktop geospatial software a capability of direct connection to the geospatial data stored remotely on the computers of researchers who work on common project (without emailing, or publishing onto cloud platform, just direct loading to view the same dataset). Highly complex issues are the common geospatial data editing and formation of distributed datasets.

In our studies, we provided research and developed of two software prototypes to ensure processing services (algorithms) publishing on the Web to make them available for loading and running on client computers. The idea of this approach is to skip server side data processing, when it is possible to process directly on desktop computer. In other words – to exchange through the Web a processing tool instead of processed data. We explored possibilities for extending of earlier implemented Web-based data processing standard (OGC WPS) to complement it by extra facilities, and proposed a Web request notation to implement these facilities (2012-2016). To try out an alternative solution we developed a technique prototype for geoprocessing service exchange based on general-purpose technology of Web exchange. In this case, we used Java Web Start technology as a basic to wrap a data processing tool (program code) and transfer it through the Web to consuming computer (2015-2016). Other research activities were devoted to the design and prototyping of the lightweight servers (server-side applications) able to support standard compatible Web publication of raster coverages (grids) accordingly to the OGC WCS standard on not specialized Web hosting (Fig. 1) or equally at the client computers (2015-2017). The idea of the lightweight servers can be formulated as the one-button standard-compatible publication of (geospatial) data on any Web-connected computer.

Fig.1. Interaction between lightweight WCS server, server-side environment and client computer when the WCS server is designed as a quasiautonomous CGI application.

The above mentioned solutions showed their principal applicability. However, being not involved into any research network, our research group were not able till now to explore embedding peer-to-peer model into real-life community-based research activities. In this way we discover the PEEX network as an extremely interesting multimodal and multipurpose research framework that can become also an environment for testing of new collaboration ways and techniques, including (but not limiting with) techniques of peer-to-peer geospatial data management.

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