1 Oct 2012

Geocloud: ESRI ArcGIS Online Reviewed

This is the third part in a series of articles from Georelated providing a summary of some of the major cloud mapping services, their capabilities and key differentiators. This article will examine ESRI ArcGIS Online. Previous articles in this review series:
  1. Part 1 - Google Maps
  2. Part 2 - Bing Maps
  3. Part 3 - ESRI ArcGIS Online  
The articles are aimed at a technical audience of architects or developers. 

ArcGIS Online is a large collection of GIS capability and data. ArcGIS Online provides "Hosted" and "Content" web services, mobile and web application programming interfaces, web mapping explorer application for sharing and collaboration, ArcGIS integration and Excel integration. It offers broad range of capability with ESRI product suite wide integration and support for a wide range of development technologies.

There are 2 editions of ArcGIS Online available:
  • Personal - This is intended for personal use for sharing maps and spatial information. It applies a 2gb limit and puts limits on the functionality available. The license also prevents its use for commercial activity. Its not really clear how many people spend their evenings sharing maps but it does offer a handy way to touch and feel some parts of the software.
  • Commercial - A fully featured edition with licensing for commercial use. This article will examine this part of the offering.


Applications, APIs and Integration

ESRI ArcGIS Online services are consumable from a broad range of ArcGIS on premise software:
In addition to applications the services can be used within ESRIs broad range of developer APIs and user interface controls. These capabilities have been extended to support the cloud services including Web APIs for JavaScript, Adobe Flex and Microsoft Silverlight. In addition to web api ESRI provides support for mobile application development including controls for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone. This provides the most comprehensive offering available even broader than Google and Microsoft.

Web Services

ArcGIS Online provides a vast array of online service options. There are two main web service options: Hosted Services and Content Services.

Hosted Services:
Hosted Services are ArcGIS Server services hosted and managed by ESRI as part of the ArcGIS.com service. There are two types of hosted services available:
  • Hosted Feature Services - The service supports query and edit of features as vectors.
  • Hosted Tile Map Services - The service provides pregenerated (cached) tiled map images. The service enables you to upload you data and it will generate map tile images from it and host them. ESRI uses elasticity to provide rapid pregeneration of tile images but the map images are pregenerated static tiles.
Content Services:
  • Map Services - reference data services using ESRIs hosted data. SOAP, REST and RIA Controls/Mapping application APIs
    • Topographic Map Services - base mapping, demographic, reference, specialty. http://www.esri.com/software/arcgis/arcgis-online-map-and-task-services/map-services.html 
    • Image Services - Global land survey data as tiles
    • Bing Maps - Bing base maps
  •  Task Services - Accessible through SOAP and REST and in RIA controls/mapping application APIs
    • Geosearch - The service provides searches for features or points of interest to support locating a map.
    • Geocoding - The geocoding service provides forward and reverse geocoding for addresses, points of interest and administrative locations. It supports transactional and batches. Batches can be "Generated" or "Published" either returning their results or making them directly available as a map layer. Coverage supports USA, CAN and Europe based on Teleatlas data.
    • Routing -  The routing service provides routes and instructions with support for multiple languages. The coverage includes USA, CAN and Europe . The routing service is based on Teleatlas data.
    • Geometry - commonly used geometric operations. Change CRS, Simplify, Buffer, Area, Length, Label Point, Convex hull, Cut, Densify, Relation, autocomplete, Cut, Difference, Generalise, Intersect, Offset, reshape, Trim/extend, union.


ArcGIS Online enables you to include your own data directly from ArcGIS or from file formats including Shapefiles, GPX, KML, WMS and csv. In addition to user supplied data ESRI offers a selection of data for use in the service. This includes base map tile sets and some limited business data sets. The current set at time of publishing is below:
ESRI ArcGIS Online Reference and Speciality Maps
Reference and Specialty Maps
ESRI ArcGIS Online Bing Maps
Bing Maps
ESRI ArcGIS Online Base Maps
Base Maps
ESRI ArcGIS Online Demographic Maps
Demographic Maps




ESRI also provides support for user access control providing support for restricting access to maps and data held within the service. ESRI provides support for SSL for all parts of the service securing your data in transit.



PricingESRI offers a 30 day free trial for customers. Beyond this pricing is based on a number of users and service credits. At the time of publication of this article the options were:
  1. $2500 - 5 Users and  2500 service credits 
  2. $10000 - 50 Users and 10000 service credits
  3. $17500 - 100 Users and 17500 service credits
Additional users (in packs of 5) and service credits can be added to these packages. ESRI offers some special offers around these in addition to standard packs. Service credits are based on use of geocoding, feature and tile services and for data transfers out of ArcGIS Online. These plans must be renewed annually but include ESRI technical support. 

Infrastructure and Hosting

InfrastructureSimilar to other vendors ESRI offers a 24/7 with 99.9% up time SLA however ESRI only applies this SLA for up to 1000 concurrent users. This is not an unreasonable limit for most use cases. ESRI provides geographically redundant fail over servers. ESRIs ArcGIS Online infrastructure is based in the USA. The architecture uses Akamai content distribution networks to provide local resource caching for applications outside of the USA. As a result the solution may not provide a suitable match for organisations with concerns about the US Patriot Act or fears over data residency. A conceptual diagram of the architecture can be found here.


Commercial licensing for ArcGIS.com and ArcGIS online are covered by ESRIs web services and API terms of use. The license agreement cascades third party suppliers terms and conditions making the license conditions an extremely long read. Below is a short summary that as always is no substitute for reading the full Terms and Conditions but we hope will provide a useful summary. The license applies the following constraints:
  1. Free Edition
    • Map, Imagery and Geometry Services are limited to an aggregate 50 million transactions per 12 month period
    • Task Services (Geocoding and Routing) are limited to 1000 batch geocode, 5000 routing requests per 12 month period.
    • Free for evaluation, development, external non commercial use, teaching as part of formal education.
  2. Static Maps - ESRI licenses the map services for use as static maps in printed or digital reports and PowerPoint presentations for colleagues, subsidiaries, and customers. Unlike the default Bing licensing ArcGIS.com bing maps are licensed for use as static maps within documents or presentations for internal purposes. These maps cannot be resold, sublicensed, or otherwise transferred without prior, written permission of Esri. Microsofts Print Rights for Bing Maps must be complied with. This applies further constrains on the use and number of maps that can be produced.
  3.  No Turn by Turn Routing - the services cannot be used in connection with any real time navigation system that provides turn by turn routing.
  4. Not create derivative/value add web services without express permission of ESRI.
  5. For publicly available information, similar to other public sharing focused sites, ESRI ensures all users "grant Esri and end users of ArcGIS Online permission to use, reproduce, prepare derivative works of, and distribute content, subject to any use constraints you provide".  
  6. Commercial web application licenses are "per principal unique domain identifier". eg. in example.com or example.com.au the full text of this url represents a principal unique domain identifier.
Georelated provides this information in good faith but it should not be used as a substitute for reading the full licensing agreement. The linked Terms of Use and License Agreements may not constitute a complete and accurate picture as understood by ESRI.


ArcGIS Online is the most difficult cloud web mapping solution to understand from those Georelated has reviewed so far. This may be a result of the breadth of the offering or high number of marketing buzzwords scattered across the documentation almost obscuring a comprehensive set of capabilities for cloud GIS. In comparison with Bing and Google the ESRI offering is far broader and deeper. The product is highly integrated into the ESRI ArcGIS suite and offers far richer and broader array of development apis than Google Maps and Bing Maps.  ESRI also provides a broader selection of content to support the service than Microsoft or Google. As you would expect from a vendor dedicated to GIS the offering is more suited to the solving GIS problems than Bing or Google however, the result of this is that Bing and Google appear easier to apply to simpler location enablement tasks.


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