Desktop + Processing Server = GeoShangri-La

Those who know me are likely sick of my retelling of stories about my observations on the impact of migrating away from command line GIS (circa ArcInfo Workstation) to the typical desktop GIS with graphical user interfaces. More often than not, however, my desire for server-side scripting is now done within spatial databases (Ingres and Postgres/PostGIS databases being the two I recommend the most).  The interface between the GIS client and the server is still ripe for innovation however.

While some desktop applications can leverage server-side processes, instead of pulling it all down to the client, I have seen it less in-the-wild than I have the traditional client-side approach.  I’m hopeful that with products like ArcGIS Server, GeoServer or even GIS Cloud, PyWPS, deegree, 52North, Zoo, etc. much of that work will finally be put where it belongs.

Enter the Web Processing Service (WPS) to help glue it all together.  A couple years back I barely knew this existed, but now that it is easy to enable this on GeoServer, it’s starting to draw my attention more and more.  However, I can’t help but think that lack of client support is hampering the adoption of a WPS-based workflow.  When I saw there was a WPS plugin for QGIS then I really started paying attention!

Here’s why…

Imagine having layers loaded, say, through a WFS.  So you’re just drawing some features, selecting a few and then sending off a request to the server to process a buffer or to do a clip function.  Behind the scenes, QGIS would send just the select shape of interest, tell the server what process to run (along with some other parameters) and return the result to your map view.  Only a few local temporary files and all is done in one spot and kept clean.

Too good to be true?  You be the judge and let me know 🙂

p.s. The ultimate end game for me here is to have my Ingres spatial db serving up customer data via WFS, with options to process the data with GeoServer WPS.  I’ve tested against other platforms with more success, but I’ve only gotten halfway there with GeoServer.  If you’ve done QGIS with WPS plugin against a GeoServer WPS instance, I’d like to hear from you (twitter: spatialguru).  I can get it to create a grid, for example, but I can’t get the client to send data to the server and get a result.

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Tyler Mitchell

Product and marketing leader, author and technology writer in NoSQL, big data, graph analytics, and geospatial. Follow me @1tylermitchell or get my book from

4 thoughts on “Desktop + Processing Server = GeoShangri-La”

  1. It would be great to have Ingres support for (Mapserver-) TinyOWS so as to serve fast WFS-T layers…

    Concerning QGIS, I think WPS process integration into Sextante will come sooner or later. Then you will be able to design and execute geodata processing workflows with distributed processes, nice huh ?

    And what about exporting the SEXTANTE workflow and serve it as a WPS (meta-)process ? That’s something which is under discussion too…

    Keep in touch then !

    If you have intereste

  2. Yes, the SEXTANTE integration of the WPS client is among my priorities for the upcoming QGIS Hackfest in mid-April. I hope to be able to work on that there along with its creator.

    And yes, Tyler… how could you forget about SEXTANTE? 😛

    1. SEXTANTE in QGIS is going so fast and furious… it’s hard to see things traveling at speed of light sometimes 😉

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