Evening the Satellite Imaging Playing Field

By By Derrick Harris, Editor

August 27, 2007

Ever since GeoEye and Appistry first crossed paths during a chance meeting at a business competition at a St. Louis university (Appistry CEO Kevin Haar was presenting, while GeoEye’s Ray Helmering was in attendance because his daughter had reached the finals) the companies knew they would be a good fit together. In the world of customer-IT vendor relationships, it was as close to love at first sight as you’re likely to get.

You see, GeoEye is a leading provider of geospatial images and information in both the intelligence and commercial spaces (including Microsoft’s Live Search Maps service), and as such has a lot of data-intensive processing to get done. In fact, GeoEye’s satellites feed its computing infrastructure about 5TB of raw data per sensor every day, all of which has to be processed to some degree, often at very high resolution. When the company launches its GeoEye-1 satellite later this year, these demands will increase even more, as GeoEye-1 will be the world’s highest resolution and most accurate commercial imaging satellite – with a ground resolution of .41 meters, or 16 inches. On top of “simply” processing the data though, GeoEye also maintains multi-petabyte reference stores, which make storage an important part of the IT equation, as well. All in all, an ideal situation for highly scalable, highly flexible and high-performance solution, which in this case is Appistry’s Enterprise Application Fabric (EAF).

By making the switch to EAF, GeoEye has been able to move away from its large, expensive SMP server, which, although functional from a performance standpoint, limited scalability of both computing and storage resources, required complex multi-threaded coding, required manual data partitioning, and, among other things, offered relatively little security in terms of failover. EAF improved GeoEye’s capabilities and ease-of-use in all of these areas and, according to Helmering, GeoEye vice president of product engineering, did so at an affordable cost.

Although GeoEye is still building a value report for its 40-dual-core-server fabric platform, and therefore does not have specific numbers, Helmering says the lifecycle savings will be “substantial.” “Experience with the Appistry EAF has given GeoEye a cost-effective vehicle to address the immediate image processing needs of the company,” he said. “The EAF will play a significant role in the migration of the current architecture to the advanced systems planned for the future.”

Likely included in these plans is the adoption of Appistry’s soon-to-be-available EnergySaver product, which Helmering says directly supports GeoEye’s objective to reduce costs without affecting product quality. An add-on to EAF, EnergySaver utilizes performance-based policies to shutdown or put to sleep fabric components that are not needed to handle the present computing needs of the platform. In GeoEye’s case, for example, less processing is needed when satellites are sending images taken over the oceans. By implementing EnergySaver, resources would be automatically ratcheted down during these less-CPU-intensive times.

However, the demand for EnergySaver should extend beyond GeoEye and into the datacenters of Appistry customers as a whole, and the product’s capabilities might even do its part to bring even more companies into the folds of Appistry’s application fabric. Driven as much by a basic lack of available power to datacenters and power-density issues as by the need to conserve energy in a “green” sense, EnergySaver manages resources based on user-determined aggregate CPU usage, says Sam Charrington, Appistry’s vice president of product management and marketing. If, for example, a user sets the target resource usage at 50 percent, the software will add or subtract resources as necessary to keep aggregate usage at that level. This is particularly well-suited, Charrington said, for real-world, non-batch applications that don’t benefit too much from the current crop of time-based resource managers. All of this is done, of course, without affecting application performance.

Getting back to the geospatial intelligence market, Appistry founder and chief strategist Bob Lozano believes the mutual success between his company and GeoEye should just be the start of things to come within that community. Lozano explains that solutions like Appistry’s are a “complete sweet spot on several levels” for organizations doing geospatial imaging because the solutions allow these users a degree of scalability they’ve never before experienced, and, with Appistry at least, they can do it cheap. This is of particular importance in this market, he added, because overhead costs in other areas tend to be on the high side, so a solution that allows users to “slice and dice” data in different ways without breaking the bank becomes very valuable.

In illustrating just how important scalability is to companies looking to maximize their various areas of expertise in mapping and imaging, Lozano invokes the name of everyone’s favorite Web service provider. “Google has effectively set the bar on scale and relatively low-cost operations,” he said. “If anyone wants to play on either directly that type of application or, more likely, wants to build off of that, to be able to do some mash-up … they can do any of that kind of stuff, and now be able to do it in a way that is as cheap as anybody else can do it and as fast and more reliable than anybody else can do it.”

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