Report on the New Zealand AuScope Spatial Information Services Stack (SISS) workshop

Written by Alistair Ritchie.

In November 2011 Landcare Research co-presented a workshop on the AuScope Spatial Information Services Stack (SISS) with CSIRO in Wellington. SISS is a suite of software tools designed to enable the sharing of information between computer systems distributed across the internet.

The workshop was hosted by NIWA and was sponsored by NIWA, GNS Science and Landcare Research. The NZ Geospatial Office was instrumental in the organisation and promotion of the workshop. The workshop attracted the attention of senior figures  within the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC), and a blog representing their view of the day can be found at http://www.opengeospatial.org/node/1513.

One of the great challenges facing the environmental informatics community is the management of what has become known as the ‘data deluge’. The increasing complexity of the environmental problems faced by modern society has required the capture and processing of large volumes of relevant data. No one organisation has sole responsibility for the storage and management of these data, or the necessary processing and analysis. Instead this is spread across a wide variety of organisations (government, academic and private), each with their own information systems but also a need for access to information and computational resources maintained elsewhere.

These systems must be networked, and in a way that allows translation between the languages of different information systems. The internet is an ideal platform for these ‘interoperable spatial data infrastructures’ (SDIs), but the protocols of the internet needs to be extended to define consistent structures for information, and the behaviour of systems that deliver or process the information.

Bodies such as the International Standards Organisation (ISO) and the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) have defined technical specifications for the network information systems (web services). They have also defined a syntax for representation of geospatial data that has been adopted by a growing number of scientific communities and extended into data models that meet their specific needs.

Well documented standards are only a part of the solution, there must also be a concrete means of implementing them. The Australian National Collaborative Research Infrastructure project addressed this by funding AuScope – a not for profit company, run by CSIRO – to develop a variety of tools to enable the conduct of research on a grid of networked computer systems. The SISS is one of their key products and incorporates the following tools:

  • Web feature and maps services (WFS, WMS – Geoserver)
  • Web coverage services (WCS – THREDDS, ERDDAP)
  • Web catalog services (CS/W – GeoNetwork)
  • Vocabulary services (SISSVoc)
  • Unique identifier services (SISS URI resolver)
  • Information modelling (FullMoon)

A full description of the SISS, and an explanation of the purpose of these tools, can be found at the project’s web-site (http://siss.auscope.org) and in the workshop summary and presentations (https://www.seegrid.csiro.au/wiki/Siss/SissWorkshopNZ2011). It builds on existing open-source technologies, focussing on making enhancements where necessary and only developing new tools where no candidates already exist.

There is a web portal, specifically constructed to demonstrate the capability of the data infrastructure (http://portal.auscope.org). Its content reflects AuScope’s earth science focus and its active support of the deployment of the stack at all the Australian geological surveys. SISS should not, however, be considered a tool set for earth science only; it is being adopted by other domains. It is also a proposed means of implementing the local SDI defined by the New Zealand Geospatial Office.

Landcare Research has a long-standing interest on these SDIs, and a number of staff with significant expertise in the area. Alistair Ritchie presented at the workshop, having worked with AuScope since the project’s inception. In his experience, the success of SDI’s depends on well-organised communities willing to make an effort to define and implement infrastructures specific to the their needs. The workshop had a large turnout with 42 people, from 18 organisations from government, academia and the private sector. However, interest is not enough.  The challenge for the New Zealand information community is to translate this interest into an actual, functioning infrastructure with collaborative communities of do-ers all willing to support each other are essential.

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