How cryptographic ledgers are helping geospatial researchers deal with information overload

Out of all the potential use cases of geospatial services, it could be that location-based real-time monitoring applications are the fastest growing. Some experts believe that these are expected to be the biggest drivers of the Earth Observation field in coming years, which could end up creating an unprecedented amount of data. Existing GIS solutions for long had to deal with increasingly large datasets, but this could potentially portend the creation of exponentially massive ones.

Computer industry representatives believe that blockchain-based solutions could be used to manage these geospatial datasets regardless of their physical size. Agricultural supply chain managers have been turning to distributed cryptographic ledgers to manage GIS data collected in that industry. Programmers might soon start to apply these to the observation industry, which has been one of the biggest information-creators in recent years.

Managing location-based tracking data

Exploring location information that’s integrated with IoT-based sensors has allowed geospatial engineers to provide low-cost solutions to commercial and governmental interests who have specialized needs. The fact that this kind of technology is so flexible has contributed to the development of specialized services, which can be custom-tailored to the needs of individual subscribers.

As the demand for real-time surveillance has risen, location-based intelligence services haven’t been able to keep up with what computer scientists sometimes call fire hoses. These are constant streams of surveillance or monitoring data that send packets of data each time they’re able to transmit an interrupt. These packets could contain location reporting codes, movement information, tracking data or countless other pieces of geospatial data that’s repeated on a regular basis. Depending on the type of equipment that an organization’s GIS department selects, this data could be sent in intervals that are as short as mere fractions of a second. Keep in mind that some estimates put the current digital universe somewhere around 40 trillion gigabytes.

Basic text logs strip out most of the formatting instructions that make XML files so massive, but these can still grow to obscene sizes in just a few days of use under these circumstances. Since timestamps are important for those doing research on the movement of specific objects or landmasses, going without this information isn’t an option. Cryptographic ledgers store an immutable primitive every time some change is made to the data flow, so this vital metadata is preserved.

As drone players and satellite station-keepers provide insights from multiple locations, a single blockchain ledger could theoretically record everything that come up.

Critics, however, have pointed to the slow access times provided by some blockchain-based solutions, so some people are understandably cautious at this point.

Performance cost of using blockchain-based technology

When IT specialists call a task expensive, they don’t mean that in terms of price. Rather, the expense that they’re talking about is related to the amount of memory and processor power needed to complete a data transaction. Cryptographic ledgers can be expensive in this respect, and considering the appreciation of cryptocurrency prices in the world market, it’s easy to assume that these solutions may be expensive in the conventional sense as well. That being said, specialists are looking at a number of optimizations that could make it easier for developers to bypass some of these challenges.

Perhaps the most famous cryptographic hash technology is based around SHA256, which is at least somewhat secure but is relatively slow. While you could use a technology like MD5 or CRC32 to manage things as complex as geospatial datasets, you’d be sacrificing a lot of security in the name of performance. While this might be good for those trying to solve their issues without investing in an extremely expensive hardware platform, it’s not going to work for anyone managing major satellite systems or anything else that might prove vulnerable in a mission critical situation.

A better option is to invest in some sort of alternative cryptographic algorithm, of which there’s certainly no shortage. Cyclic redundancy check technology might be on the way out, but those who are looking to replace slower protocols might want to look into something like Blake2b or a compatible application. Since these now come baked into most modern Linux distros, engineers can usually trust that they’ll be available. That being said, it’s still important to check the source availability before building a solution around any platform, no matter how open it claims to be.

Astute observers might recall that open source climate data was starting to change the way that environmental researchers drew their own conclusions. Academic institutions are more than likely going to be the biggest contributors of such projects, but there’s a chance that all players in the market space will have the ability to benefit from this.

Those who are looking to adopt a new blockchain-based strategy to help manage their geospatial findings will certainly do well, to locate similar solutions to help kick start their operations.

Also Read: 4 emerging technologies to drive adoption of Location Analytics in industries

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