Ajax and online map applications seem made for each other as any end user waiting for a map Web page to rebuild to show a slightly more westerly view can testify.
Map applications where Ajax makes possible immediate access to a treasure trove of data on new road construction or a history of traffic accidents would be a boon to highway engineers, planners and everyday drivers. That is part of the planning for Ajax-powered geographical information systems (GIS) envisioned by Doug Chambers, IT applications administrator, Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT).
He is currently working on a project re-architect the GDOT Website so end users can do more than view static maps of the federal and state highway system or order old fashioned ink on paper maps. He is counting on Ajax to provide fast access to the massive amounts of map-related data, including accident statistics and geotechnical analysis.
There will, of course, be non-map Web services including financial and planning. GDOT offers PDF forms for permits for things like oversized trucks, billboards, and driveway construction. Instead of printing out the forms, filling them out and mailing or faxing them, these forms could become interactive with Ajax. But the possibilities for GIS get to the heart of what GDOT is all about.
"We're the department of transportation so just about everything we do comes down to maps," Chambers said.
As he envisions it with Ajax powered online maps, highway safety engineers could click on an intersection and immediately see traffic accident information and analysis. City planners could review satellite images dating back to the 1990s showing construction and improvements as it has evolved along state and federal highways as well as city streets.
Inspectors checking on construction of a highway entrance to a shopping center would be able to view satellite imagery to see how the project is progressing.
To get from Web pages displaying relatively static PDFs to Ajax-powered Web services applications providing immediate desktop access to very large amounts of data, GDOT is moving from ColdFusion on Macromedia's old JRun server to Java applications running on BEA WebLogic Server built with WebLogic tools.
Following the SOA philosophy of incremental development, GDOT is moving gradually to the new technology.
And as if to prove wrong the analysts who say best of breed is dead, Chambers said the architecting of the BEA WebLogic-based services is being done by IBM consultants using the Rational Software Architect tool. When new servicess are ready for testing, GDOT relies on quality assurance tools from Compuware Corp.
While Ajax represents the future, GDOT still has developers working in ColdFusion from Adobe Systems Inc. Despite its almost senior citizen status as a scripting language, Chambers says, "It's a great RAD (Rapid Application Development) tool."
To handle the tricky server load balancing issues associated with legacy ColdFusion apps, GDOT is using BlueDragon technology that BEA is OEMing from New Atlanta Communications LLC.
Each company and each product has its unique strengths and in an SOA world Chambers sees it all working together to provide GDOT with thousands of Web services.
So much for one-stop shopping and buying a single stack so there is just one vendor to choke, as the marketers and analysts say.
How is this software version of "We Are the World" working?
"It's working well" Chambers said. "Everybody gets along fine."