Go Offline with the Bing Maps Server (Web Cast)

For a while now, I’ve blogged about the Virtual Earth Server and it’s offline capabilities for those of you who want Bing Maps imagery and data, but have internet connectivity limitations / requirements for behind-the-firewall-only use. If you’ve ever wanted to dive deeper into the Virtual Earth Web Server, now is your chance. Oh, and, by the way it’s now called the Bing Maps Server to align with our brand. So, henceforth what was the Virtual Earth Server is now the Bing Maps Server.

On February 24 (that’s this Wednesday!) at 8AM Pacific Standard Time, we’ll begin kicking on a series of web casts to illustrate the technologies within and around the Bing Maps Server. There are currently 3 web casts scheduled as follow which dive deep into the solution as a whole, IT requirements and infrastructure, and developer aspects respectively. If you’re at all interested in the Bing Maps Server as an offline server solution for your geospatial mapping needs put all of these on your calendar.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010, 08:00 AM Pacific Standard Time:
Microsoft Bing Maps Server (Part 1 of 3): When the Internet Isn’t an Option

Wednesday, 3 March 2010, 08:00 AM Pacific Standard Time:
Microsoft Bing Maps Server (Part 2 of 3): Configuration and Management

Wednesday, 10 March 2010, 08:00 AM Pacific Standard Time:
Microsoft Bing Maps Server (Part 3 of 3): Developing Geospatial Applications

What is Bing Maps Server?
Bing Maps Server is the on-premise, off-line version of Microsoft’s Bing Maps for Enterprise web mapping platform. Bing Maps Server brings capabilities from Bing Maps for Enterprise behind a customer’s firewall, onto private or classified networks, and onto portable platforms. It’s an integrated set of visualization and search capabilities that delivers maps, imagery and geospatial analysis through a web browser.

Many customers who are interested in using Bing Maps, for example defense/intelligence customers or first responders (police, fire, etc), have concerns about a dependency upon, or connection to, the internet in order to access this service. Either their application is too critical to rely on internet connectivity, they don’t have an internet connection, their internet connection isn’t sufficiently reliable or fast, or they have other security concerns. The Bing Maps Server product allow these customers to take advantage of the Bing Maps platform without the need to have an internet connection.

But Bing Maps Server also provides additional capabilities to support the needs of these enterprise customers. It is configured to work with SQL Server 2008 for customer data storage, allowing users to import their own imagery and KML files, store them in the database, query for specific results, and visualize the results — all on a Microsoft platform.

As Microsoft’s geospatial subsidiary, Vexcel provides Bing Maps Server development, support, updates, and other geospatial services.

CP – Follow me on Twitter @ChrisPendleton

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7 comments
  1. Nathanael

    Chris, for a long time I've thought that a killer feature for any online mapping site would be a simple option to cache any or all types of imagery available for a specific region if you know that you won't have connectivity there.

    This seems like it's going to be more of a standard practice across all web apps with HTML5 and Silverlight both talking about offline apps – from GMail to blu, so the question is, when will Bing address this?

    If I have the capacity on my hard drive, I basically want to be able to say, "Sync all imagery from the East Sepik Province to my computer and do not allow it to be deleted until I explicitly tell you to. Automatically increase my local cache size or whatever you need to do in order to achieve that goal. If I do not have enough free space on my hard drive, provide me with the filesize of each category, or location, or itemized convergence of those two sorting systems so that I can pick and choose what is most important for me to have. Present me with a progress meter for the download and let me know when you're finished."

    In that manner, I can then go on my trip with the assurance that the external hard drive for my laptop will allow me to show my friends where they are on the map while in the middle of the jungle with no hope of connectivity.

    If this solution provided a way to point both the Silverlight version of Bing Maps and the legacy Direct3D control at the same cache, with a customizable location on disk, and downloaded the index files so that searching the names of villages and landmarks was possible, then I would consider this feature to have met its 1.0 milestone.

    I used an entire province as an example above, mainly because I know that Bing Maps has very very little information whatever for that region, but the area to be synced could obviously be much smaller for a more indexed location – as specific as two or three towns in the countryside of Ireland. The point is that it would be a highly useful end-user tool and that we should be able to sync as much as our hardware will allow in order for this to be useful to us.

    Some of us will likely never have the money to pay the license for a custom hardware + software solution like the Bing Maps Server, as much as we would love to be able to. What is the likelihood of you giving end users this sort of power?

    It may not be a use case that you have any personal use for, but I could see it being a wonderful tool for anyone who wanted to give a demonstration/sales pitch to a company or organization on why Bing Maps is an excellent solution and I have to say that if you provided the functionality that I describe above, it would give both of us a fantastic talking point in telling people why Bing Maps is more useful than Google Earth or Google Maps.

  2. Chris Pendleton

    Hi Nathanael,

    Great question. A lot of it is economics. Bing Maps is comprised of a number of vendors providing imagery and road data to the product. So, how do they make money in an offline solution? What really needs to happen is market commoditization of imagery and road data to a point where it's just everywhere. It's already happening in some aspects since imagery is only as value as it's vintage (unlike a fine wine, the more recent the more valuable). So, maybe you get offline imagery that's 2 years old. That would be "good enough" right? Now, how about road networks. NAVTEQ provides ours, so how do they make money? Well, perhaps we setup a SKU for a client product (like MapPoint 2010) that uses imagery and caches for offline use. Then, we can pay a specific royalty charge back to them. So you get great road data with good imagery….but, then you'll want something better and we'll be here talking about it again. :) I think the market is ripe for a product like this, it's just a matter of really getting to the software + services architecture which today is hardly working together, but more reliant on one another. I've posed this question to some of our teams and it's something we're actively considering a solution for.

    CP

  3. Nathanael

    Hi, Chris,

    Please pardon my naïveté on the buisness side of your data and imagery providers. I had assumed that your team would have simply licensed that sort of data from the providers for a given timeframe or, in some cases, a flat one time fee rather than any sort of 'pay per view' model. For my own understanding (and unless revealing this is some sort of breach of buisness practices), is this 'per view' model closer to how your payment actually works?

    With regards to what I had in mind when I wrote my first comment, I was still imagining using either of the viewers through a web browser running the web app in offline mode. Certainly in the case of other offline web apps, the assumption is that my activity (commenting on videos that I have cached, sending emails that I have written, etc. etc.) will be synced back to the site upon my next connection.

    In the same way, then, I would expect the usage stats for all imagery viewed while offline to be sent back to Bing so that you could pay your data providers accordingly (if I was right, above, about the basic compensation model).

    Also checked at the time of reconnection should be a synchronization of any new data that has become available since my last sync. If I was out living in the bush for four months but I'm out at the coast again and have a broadband connection to Australia or wherever, obviously I will be interested in synching whatever imagery updates have been made to my area in that timeframe, or perhaps I will have new areas to swap out on my hard drive.

    Using this sort of feature assumes that any imagery selected at time of sync will be exactly what I would see were I looking at that imagery online on the day of sync. Subsequent syncs assume that they will be updated in every way to match the data current at the time of that sync. Any data which becomes outdated while trapped offline is

    I'm sure I'm not grasping the subtleties of the economic goings on, but to me, this sort of model has enormous merit in an unavoidably disconnected scenario. Thanks for the reminder to investigate MapPoint 2010. Perhaps it's all I would need.

    I suppose that my basic case can be boiled down to, "While I appreciate that mapping sites are doing their best to move beyond being sites for generating directions or simply being atlases, they should be certain that they do actually match the functionality of an atlas". Certainly while forced to be offline, common mapping sites do fail when compared to their paper counterparts, even though their presentation, when the data is able to be accessed, is infinitely superior to paper.

    Cheers.

    NL

    For the record, I would be interested in seeing whether a Zune Pass model could prove successful for you guys. I'm not sure about 15 dollars a month, as most people have more use for music and videos than maps. Additionally I would certainly need to caution you against using Microsoft Points for payment or making buying access for shorter periods of time more expensive than buying time in bulk (which does me no good if I am not travelling for that extended period of time, nor does it do you any good if I purchase X number of months in advance to be cashed in whenever I need the service and I space my usage out over a long time after your providers' rates have risen).

    If the price was right and customers could use the service as they needed – for the exact amount of time and amount of imagery that they needed, I imagine that frequent travelers would find such a service exceptionally useful.

    Since we are talking about payment here, I should also point out that there should be a way to extend the usage time period while offline if it turns out that I would be out of range of a connection for longer than expected (I assume that this model only works if some sort of DRM is introduced). The transaction would be recorded in my account from within the app and the data would sync the next time I connected. Conceivably a customer could not extend the coverage while offline any longer than a set number of months past the expiration date specified in the last online transaction in order that customers not simply make a payment and thereafter keep their machine offline and make phantom payments forever. Perhaps six months is a reasonable number of months to extend while trapped offline. Presumably anyone who *could* connect sooner than that would do so in order to gain new imagery.

  4. Nathanael

    Above sentence should read, "Any data which becomes outdated while trapped offline is completely understandable and part and parcel with the entire scenario.".

  5. daveSSL

    One question.. what is going to be the cost of all this?

  6. Juan Vega

    Hi Chris,

    I have some questions… On a project, we need to show a map, but with a view of hydrographical regions. And when a user click on a place, automatically read which lake or river is near there.

    Do you have any idea how can it be done??

  7. Chris Pendleton

    @juan_vega – This can certainly be done, but not natively with Bing Maps. What you could do is capture the click event, grab the lat/lon and send it to a spatial data source of water regions. Now, Bing Maps has reverse geocoding, but the water bodies aren't included; however, they are included in MapPoint Web Service. Soooo, technically, you could capture clicks and lat/lons and reverse geocode them against MapPoint Web Service to get the body of water. It probably won't have everything, but it does have quite a bit.

    @cyprus – depends. :) Send mail to mapemea@microsoft.com

    CP

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