Top 3 Reasons to Make a Move to Virtualized ArcGIS


In a traditional, on-premises GIS system, all data collection, management, analysis, and dissemination are handled through a central on-site server managed by an in-house IT department. As GIS becomes more deeply integrated with other systems, and as spatial modeling capabilities, associated computing requirements, and the sheer amount of data continue to grow, the time has come for organizations to recognize the constraints of the traditional model and take a fresh look at the benefits that modern cloud-based models have to offer.


The IT demands of maintaining a GIS system have increased exponentially since the early days of GIS, so it’s no surprise that for GIS team members currently struggling to operate a modern, in-house GIS system, IT headaches are often the first concern that comes to mind. For organizations, it’s often the costs associated with updating and maintaining hardware and software, as well as the need for personnel to perform those functions.

All too frequently, GIS managers and analysts find themselves attending to IT concerns—resolving issues with on-premises databases and webservers, diagnosing network problems, managing server-based GIS—or waiting for their limited IT staff to respond to a request or trouble ticket before they are able to get to the actual jobs awaiting them at their GIS desktop.

For municipalities like the City of North Miami Beach or Pinellas Park, FL, hiring additional IT staff to manage on-premises GIS resources was neither feasible nor desirable from a cost perspective, yet the internal and customer-facing applications supported by the municipalities’ ArcGIS data are critical to residents and government agencies. The municipalities also faced concerns about server outages and system reliability in the event of hurricanes or other severe weather events.


For the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), a non-profit focused on environmental conservation, an in-house GIS database was sufficient for a single GIS analyst. But as the organization grew, the analyst wasted hours packaging and downloading data to allow him to work remotely from nine other office locations, and when a second GIS analyst joined the department, sharing data across the office LAN resulted in slower performance times and inconsistencies between workstations.

In Nassau County, FL, the GIS manager spent hours every week updating data and troubleshooting IT issues. Every department in the county created and maintained its own maps, and residents and developers required separate visits to offices such as the flood zone department, tax appraiser’s office, and tax collection office to research a single property or parcel of land.


Key Environmental, Inc., an environmental engineering consulting firm headquartered in Pennsylvania, needed a way to collect massive amounts of data in the field at a client’s Staten Island site location and push the updates back to the geodatabase in real time. Although Key Environmental had used ESRI technology for years, the data requirements for this project were far beyond what their servers could handle, and the firm’s multiple offices lacked a central datastore.


For all of the organizations above, and for many more, the solution to their cost, productivity, and processing issues was found in the cloud.

ROK Virtualized Desktop is a cloud-based ArcGIS hosting solution that provides the security, stability, and reliability organizations need, all while helping to save time and money, increase productivity, and improve processing speeds.

Moving to the cloud represents a significant cost savings in most cases, as it immediately removes the need for organizations to purchase or maintain servers, upgrade desktop PCs, or even purchase the most current version of GIS software. A move to the cloud also frees IT departments or, in many cases, GIS teams, from needing to worry about installing the latest service pack installation, or whether the newest release of GIS software will be compatible with employees’ current Mac or PC build and operating system.


The City of North Miami Beach moved to Virtualized Desktop in 2014. GIS manager Don Blalock estimates that the cost of maintaining IT staff and infrastructure to maintain their GIS in-house would cost three times what the municipality spends for the cloud-based solution. Additionally, North Miami Beach can now create online maps in near real time, get reports out to employees and residents before, during, and after a hurricane, and automatically access the most current versions of ArcGIS software and service packs every time they log in, from any machine.

Pinellas Park, which migrated to Virtualized Desktop in 2015, has able to move its GIS services forward without the need for a database administrator or the need to rely on in-house IT staff. The four members of the city’s GIS team are able to access their GIS data from any location and are free to focus solely on GIS tasks such as asset management and map creation.

The SELC’s move to Virtualized Desktop in 2015 allowed them to achieve their primary goals of democratizing workstation performance, so that every member of the GIS staff has the same response times and access to the same systems and same information, no matter what device they use to access the platform, or from what location. Virtualized Desktop allows employees to easily work from the organization’s different offices, or from remote locations and has eliminated time spent on hardware and software updates and data backups.

Nassau County switched to Virtualized Desktop in 2016. Since that time, GIS manager Jason Gregory estimates that productivity has increased at least 25 percent. Virtualized Desktop has eliminated the hours Gregory spent every week updating data, and previously siloed map and GIS information is now collected all in one repository, allowing the county’s customers (residents, realtors, builders, etc.) to generate one report online and eliminating the lines out the door at various zoning offices.


For Key Environmental, which began using Virtualized Desktop in 2013, the solution not only increased processing speeds; it allowed them to fulfill a service to their clients that they would not otherwise have been able to provide.

With Virtualized Desktop, Key Environmental is able to handle an enormous database efficiently and quickly, with no lag time, even as the database has grown from zero records to upwards of a million. Data is entered on iPads and even iPhones and Android devices in the field, while a QC manager back in the office can run QC as soon as the data is loaded.


The big names in cloud computing—think Google, Amazon, and Microsoft—provide pure infrastructure (hardware) solutions. Essentially, customers are renting a server in the cloud. The amount of server space can be scaled up or scaled back according to need, and the customer’s internal IT department or outsourced IT consultant makes the decisions about when and how much server space to acquire. ESRI itself provides this type of solution in its ArcGIS Online, where users can store and share GIS content and even publish web maps, all in the cloud.

Both infrastructure solutions and service-based solutions allow organizations to perform specific tasks that would be prohibitively expensive to run and maintain in-house.

A third type of solution offers organizations both the infrastructure to power their ArcGIS applications in the cloud and an expert technical team to install, maintain, and update ArcGIS for Desktop and ArcGIS Online, including all the hardware, software, licensing, and IT support required to host ArcGIS server-based map services and applications.

ROK Virtualized Desktop is a stable and secure infrastructure for ArcGIS desktops that frees GIS managers from the need to keep up with hardware, software, and licensing updates, allowing them to focus once again on their core responsibility: GIS. With ROK Virtualized Desktop, organizations can:

  • Save money on server purchases or hosting fees, hardware maintenance, and software updates, as well as IT resources and staff.
  • Increase productivity, with collaborative, interactive tools that streamline data collection, analysis, and distribution, plus a renewed focus on providing GIS services instead of maintaining the required infrastructure.
  • Achieve faster processing speeds, with Citrix XenApp integration. RAM and CPU-intensive GIS applications such as ArcMap load on a dedicated cloud machine with plenty of capacity and processing power.


ROK Virtualized Desktop provides organizations of every size access to the same ArcGIS platform they currently use, but with lower costs, faster processing speeds, and none of the hassle of managing legacy hardware or maintaining in-house systems.


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