Home > Software Development > MapGuide, ArcGIS Server, and Manifold – First thoughts

MapGuide, ArcGIS Server, and Manifold – First thoughts

In this article I'll give a brief overview of three Internet Map Servers (IMS): ArcGIS Server 9.3, MapGuide Open Source, and Manifold. I have scoured the web for information and also talked to consultants for each tool. Please keep in mind that my viewpoint is that of a person who has only acted as an end-user of each product, not a developer.

First, why am I looking for an IMS? Well I'm glad you asked! We are nearing completion of our first "for sale" software product, Landboss. Landboss is a SaaS app that provides lease acquistion and administration functionality to the oil and gas industry. Most of my functionality gathering missions took place in our homestate of Oklahoma. Our initial plan was to support only states that use the Public Land Survey System, but after talking to some folks in TX we realized we could support them (and other non-PLSS states such as the New England area) without too much extra work.

There was a catch, as always. Because tracts of land in non-PLSS states come in all shapes and sizes, mapping is extremely important. The main reason is because users need to visualize their prospect and tracts within it. In a PLSS state you can fake this because most tracts are rectangular in nature. Thus, our potential TX clients want/need mapping in the system as soon as possible.

ArcGIS Server
ESRI is the standard in GIS, there is no arguing that point at all. The ArcGIS Server product seems snappy in all demos that I have used and has a nice look to the maps. The big advantage to ArcGIS Server is that there is a large community and a lot of support for the product and it has been tested heavily in production.

The two downsides of ArcGIS are price and multi-threading performance. ArcGIS Server is expensive for a server license if you want to open it up to the world, more than I want to pay. That problem is compounded by the fact that the ArcGIS engine product is not multi-threaded. The server itself is multi-threaded to handle requests, but once a request gets to the engine, it will not take advantage of a multi-core processor. ArcGIS server has announced native 64-bit support, but I'm not sure if it's available yet or not.

ArcGIS Server will run on Windows, Linux, or Sun Solaris.

MapGuide OS
MapGuide OS is backed by AutoDesk. They open-sourced MapGuide, I assume, to combat ESRI's stranglehold on the marketplace. AutoDesk still sells a licensed enterprise version that is built around MapGuide OS.

MapGuide's interface is nice and response time was quick. The quality of the rendering was good as well, although I don't think there is a significant difference between ArcGIS and MapGuide. The huge benefit with MapGuide is that it is open source and free to use. For what I want to do, the work is fairly straightforward and I'm looking at spending less on a consultant than I would spend on one license of ArcGIS Server!

The main reason the consultant's time would be less is because MapGuide comes with quite a bit of functionality out of the box, like tiling, AJAX, and more. It also has support for all major spatial databases.

MapGuide OS will run on Linux or Windows.

Manifold is a very interesting product. It claims huge performance benefits on it's website and shamelessly bashes ESRI. I have no reason to believe that those performance benefits are false and from reading and discussing with a consultant I have reason to believe they are true. I was very intrigued by their support for NVIDIA CUDA and in future versions they plan to move more function calls to CUDA (currently it's a limited number of functions that can run in CUDA).

The maps themselves are good quality and the rendering speed was good. It would be hard to compare the three products on performance without doing a formal benchmark of each under various loads.

As a desktop GIS product I think Manifold is extremely competitive because of it's pricing and capabilities when compared to ESRI. The IMS falls down short though because the out of the box implementation is horrible. To get to a nice feature set that MapGuide has out of the box would take you hundreds of hours of developer time. The performance benefits are simply not good enough to overcome the extra cost of development time. Manifold does not seem to have any interest in building out the server product, they seem content to focus their time on the engine.

Manifold proudly flies the Microsoft flag and even suggests that supporting only one platform is a benefit because it makes their job simpler.

And the winner is...
If you haven't already guessed it, MapGuide OS is the direction we have chosen. For the quality and features of the software you simply can't beat it when it is free and open source. You can interface with the product using multiple languages (we prefer C#) so it fits into most development environments easily. AutoDesk still supports MapGuide heavily so it is far from a dead product and there is a large support community around the product in case you need help developing your map application.

Once we put MapGuide into production I will post a follow-up and let everyone know how it goes.

  1. Irish
    March 23rd, 2010 at 19:51 | #1

    Kindly give me some sample architecture of the mapguide implementation.

    thanks !

  2. Cole Shelton
    August 5th, 2009 at 11:30 | #2

    We actually used MapServer a few years back for a small project for a client. It worked okay for what was intended and the developer that implemented is very much an open source advocate. The problem with MapServer is that the webclient is not that good (I am specifically looking at web clients, our customers will be creating their own polygons, we will simply display.) Manifold suffers the same fate, although I did talk with David Brubacher, a leading consultant for Manifold and he was working on a Silverlight interface. I’m not crazy about Silverlight, though, so I’m not sure how that will end up.

    MapGuide’s default web client is light years beyond MapServer and Manifold, which is what attracted me to it. It does have an abstraction layer to connect with spatial databases. They call it FDO, or “Feature Data Objects”, and it supports all the major database engines, including SQL Server 2008 spatial. Since our software is just starting up, we’ve decided to stick with shapefiles for storage and if things progress we’ll migrate to SQL Server Spatial.

    I’m leary of open source products just as you are, but I evaluate each one on it’s own merits. Each has it’s own history and community and that plays a big role in my decision. We do .NET development and use NHibernate data persistence, ported from Java’s Hibernate, and it saves us 30-40% development time on our
    projects. Is the documentation as good as M$, no, but it’s taken Microsoft 8 years to get with the program and create a true ORM, ADO.NET Entity Framework. The first version we dismissed as not good enough to replace NHibernate, but the upcoming version looks like it will be and we will slowly migrate back for the sake of having a more mainstream solution (easier to support in the long run).

    That’s my one good experience, I’ve got plenty of experiences trying to use open source products that simply needed more polish and I didn’t have time to break out the wax.

    Thanks for the thoughts, I always appreciate good discussion.

  3. August 5th, 2009 at 11:08 | #3

    @Cole Shelton
    MapQuest haha sorry I confused it with the address locator commonly refered to as a GIS.

    Well I used MapServer, a couple of years back. I don’t know if you remember that but it was an AutoDesk opensource child as well,
    (In November 2005, Autodesk, the MapServer Technical Steering Committee Members, the University of Minnesota, and DM Solutions Group announced the creation of the MapServer Foundation.[2]) (Source http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MapServer) and it fell off the radar. That’s really my problem with opensource. Not so much anti opensource but more so for enterprise solutions. I think opensource thrives in R&D and academia.

    I appreciate your response and your time as I am looking into arguments for and against opensource GIS tools.
    You mention the oil and gas industry so I instantly thought of MMS. I work with a company that develops large scale applications for MMS using ESRI products. To date, things have gone smoothly and ESRI’s products that have scaled nicely through the release of ArcGIS Server 9.0 to 9.3. We do have customers that ask about opensource solutions when they see the price tag that ESRI products carry. My concern is scalability with MapGuide. Does AutoDesk/MapGuide provide a geodatabase solution of is everything shapefiles?

    All in all, I am leaning towards opensource GIS tools for small scale development that does not lean towards expansion. This could be a great way to save cost for small business or it could be a “fat cow” in terms of overhead for expanding future development.
    You said “The reality is that we have spent less $$ in labor implementing our solution than we would have spent in licensing on ArcGIS Server” but that is precisely where opensource gets you, I can’t help thinking about the old joke – software, free : the manual, $10,000 dollars.

    Again I appreciate your responses and I do not want to at all seem confrontational or a proponent of ESRI products but rather I am interested in researching open source solutions in GIS and I consider you to be a valuable resource as you have adopted an opensource solution.

  4. Cole Shelton
    August 5th, 2009 at 10:18 | #4

    @Aaron Gibson
    MapGuide, not MapQuest, I fixed that typo a few months back, so not sure where you read it other than the comment below. It appears that you are anti-open source. As your quote states, puppies become dogs, this is very true, and that’s why one of the most important factors to evaluate about open-source is the community around a specific open source technology.

    In this instance, MapGuide is backed by AutoDesk, in fact their developers are the ones that continue developing the product. They can’t very well stop developing it because MapGuide Enterprise (not open source) is built around the open source codebase. That’s why I feel safe using MapGuide.

    The reality is that we have spent less $$ in labor implementing our solution than we would have spent in licensing on ArcGIS Server, and the product is as good or better. From a financial standpoint, it was really a no-brainer.

  5. August 5th, 2009 at 09:29 | #5

    I would e interested in hearing what type of development you are involved in. I am a developer that currently works in the ESRI environment and cannot imagine trying to develop large scale agile GIS applications using MapQuest.
    It’s Aug 5th, have you got anywhere in development?

    “In 2005, Scott McNeely of Sun Microsystems quipped that open source software was “free like a puppy is free”. Just as you can pick out a puppy from the pound without paying expensive breeder fees, you can download and use open source software without buying a single license. But puppies become dogs, and dogs need food, toys, training and lots and lots of love. The same goes for open source software. As soon as you introduce open source into your organization, the real costs, commitments and risks become clear.”

  6. Cole Shelton
    April 17th, 2009 at 09:21 | #6

    Hah, thanks for pointing that out! That would be confusing :)

  7. Peter Rieks
    April 17th, 2009 at 08:59 | #7

    As a ‘desker, I’m naturally supportive of your post. It’s just a little confusing to see the name ‘MapQuest’ in the title of your post…

  1. No trackbacks yet.