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GEOG 865 - Cloud and Server GIS

This is a sample syllabus.

This sample syllabus is a representative example of the information and materials included in this course. Information about course assignments, materials, and dates listed here is subject to change at any time. Definitive course details and materials will be available in the official course syllabus, in Canvas, when the course begins.


Geography 865 is an elective course in the Penn State Professional Masters in Geographic Information Systems. This course teaches students to use cloud and server GIS resources to solve problems for which geospatial data is an integral element. We will evaluate and implement systems using three cloud service models (infrastructure services, platform services, and software services). The course will contain both worked exercises and critical reading and writing for infrastructure, platform, and software service models.

The course will teach you to set up cloud services for creating maps, cloud services for managing spatial data, and cloud services for processing spatial data. This course will challenge you to exercise the critical thinking and technical skills needed to evaluate and develop successful cloud GIS projects. Assignments focus on helping students improve their ability to write about and execute cloud GIS projects. A final activity involves creating a working cloud and server GIS project.


You will learn to evaluate cloud computing resources and use Esri and open-source web GIS technologies.

Cloud computing objectives, based on the NIST definition of cloud computing:

  • Be able to evaluate cloud computing technologies in terms of their essential characteristics
    • Network access
    • On-demand self-service
    • Resource pooling
    • Elasticity
    • Measured Service
  • Be able to evaluate cloud computing technologies in terms of their service models
    • Cloud Software as a Service (SaaS)
    • Cloud Platform as a Service (PaaS)
    • Cloud Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)

Cloud GIS Skills

  • Scalable web mapping using the Esri ArcGIS Server platform
  • Web mapping using Mapbox
  • Web mapping using Carto
  • Web mapping using ArcGIS Online

Required Materials

The materials listed here represent those that may be included in this course. Students will find a definitive list in the course syllabus, in Canvas, when the course begins.

We will use a variety of free online readings in this course. There is also a textbook that is available online at no cost: The Cloud at Your Service. This is an excellent book that can help augment your contributions to our weekly discussions on cloud computing topics.

Several lessons in this course utilize Amazon Web Services (AWS). Students are required to create regular accounts at AWS and pay any costs directly. These charges should be on the order of $50 for the semester, depending on usage. 




We have worked hard to make this the most effective and convenient educational experience possible. How much and how well you learn is dependent on your attitude, diligence, and willingness to ask for clarifications or help when you need them. We are here to help you succeed. Please keep up with the class schedule and take advantage of opportunities to communicate with us and with your fellow students. You can expect to spend an average of 10 – 12 hours per week on class work.

Major Assignments

Students earn grades that reflect the extent to which they achieve the learning objectives listed above. Opportunities to demonstrate learning include the following, and grades will be based on percentages assigned to each of several components of the course as follows:

Class participation (20% of total course grade

Individual participation via online discussion forums. Students will be encouraged to post questions and answer each other's questions on the online forums. 

Weekly Assignments (60% of your total course grade)

Each week, you will have an assignment involving cloud and server GIS. In addition, there is a short quiz to test your knowledge after the ArcGIS Server lessons.

Term Project (20% of your total course grade)

The term project for this course involves making a cloud and server GIS application of your own devising.

Course Schedule

Course Schedule
1Lesson 1: Introduction to Cloud and Server GIS    
  • Set up your Amazon account
  • Create an Amazon instance from an Amazon Machine Image. Start, stop, and log in to that instance.
  • Use Google Fusion tables to create a map.
2Lesson 2: ArcGIS Server up and running on Amazon EC2
  • Understand cloud computing architectures in an infrastructure as a service (IaaS) model.
  • Set up an ArcGIS EC2 instance.
  • Understand the methods of moving data to the cloud.
  • Create a simple map service on that instance accessible via the Internet.
3Lesson 3: Cloud-based databases and web editing with ArcGIS Server
  • Create a feature service.
  • Create an application for editing your feature service using Web App Builder.
  • Understand GIS databases and web editing.
  • Understand how to set up your ArcGIS Server for web and feature services.
  • Understand how to design a web map to support editing.
4Lesson 4: ArcGIS Server performance and rasterized map tiles
  • Understand how to design a map for tiling.
  • Create and maintain a rasterized map tile cache.
  • Create a substantive application using your knowledge of ArcGIS for Server.
5Lesson 5: Map design and vector tile services using Mapbox
  • List some advantages and disadvantages of the software as a service (SaaS) cloud computing model for GIS.
  • Give examples of SaaS providers for GIS and mapping.
  • Use services offered by the company Mapbox for basemap design and thematic mapping.
  • Embed maps from Mapbox on a web page.
  • Explain the advantages and disadvantages of vector tiles and their differences from the rasterized tiles you created with ArcGIS Server.
6Lesson 6: Thematic mapping services with CARTO
  • Understand CARTO software and how it enables thematic mapping.
  • Analyze spatial data patterns using CARTO aggregation tools.
  • Visualize complex data in CARTO using time-series animations.
  • Understand how to upload datasets to CARTO.
7Lesson 7: Web maps and data as services using ArcGIS Online
  • Understand the role of ArcGIS Online.
  • Create an application for sharing maps using ArcGIS Online.
  • Upload data to ArcGIS Online and access it as a web service.
8Lesson 8: GIS as a service using ArcGIS Online
  • Understand how spatial analysis tools can be exposed through software as a service (SaaS).
  • Use analysis tools in ArcGIS Online to solve geographic problems.
9Lesson 9: GIS on your own cloud using Portal for ArcGIS
  • Describe how organizations could deploy software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions on their own internal clouds.
  • Understand the relationship between publicly available ArcGIS Online organizational pages and internal deployments using Portal for ArcGIS.
  • Perform some administrative tasks on your Server and Portal installations.
10Lesson 10: Term Project
  • Complete a comprehensive project addressing a real challenge or problem using cloud and server GIS technologies.
  • Share findings from the project using visual and written communication.