Who to Trust after GME Dies

In mid-January, Google officially announced that support for Google Maps Engine (GME) would end on Jan. 29, 2016. This sent shockwaves throughout the GIS community. Is Google pulling out of the geospatial arena? Will we still have Google Maps? What’s going on? In practice, this is not affecting many customers, but the geospatial community certainly noticed—and, to a point, overreacted. To put everyone at ease, Google Maps isn’t going anywhere.

Because we are a Google Enterprise Maps Authorized partner, Google’s decision certainly impacted us and some of our clients. We have spent quite some time here at Woolpert looking into and testing alternatives. We’ve determined that choosing what to use instead of GME really depends on your use case. Below are some of the questions we ask whenever we sit with a client looking for a GME-like capability:

  • Are you establishing a store locator?
  • Do you need to display raster data, vector data or both?
  • What kind of data do you have (points, lines, polygons, etc.)?
  • Do you need editing capabilities?
  • Will you be performing spatial querying or analysis?
  • Does your company have a GIS department capable of administrating possibly complex software?
  • Is your spatial data public or internal?
  • What are your security concerns?
  • What is your budget?
  • Are you comfortable with open source technologies?
  • What basemap do you want to use?

The resulting architecture will vary greatly depending on the answers to the questions above. If you’re looking to create a store locator, Google Cloud SQL in combination with the Google Maps API will most likely do the trick. But what if your scenario is more complex than this? What, then, are your options? Here is an overview of the most likely candidates.

CartoDB (http://cartodb.com/solutions/cartodb-on-google-platform/#)

CartoDB is built on top of open source software, specifically, PostGIS. CartoDB is a cloud offering and has historically been hosted on Amazon Web Services but is now also available on the Google Cloud. The pricing is competitive, and it has multiple plans available. For the Google cloud option, the price is similar to GME, although typically a bit lower.

We have been very impressed by CartoDB’s offerings. Its interface is well done and intuitive, and its documentation is quite good. Support has also been responsive. If you’re migrating from GME to CartoDB, they offer a very simple option to bring in your data, making that transition seamless. Data stored in CartoDB can be displayed on top of a number of map APIs, including Google Maps. CartoDB, being built on top of PostGIS, also provides the ability to run spatial queries, something that was not always very simple with GME.

OpenGeo (http://boundlessgeo.com/solutions/opengeo-suite/)

OpenGeo is also built on top of open source software (PostgreSQL, PostGIS, GeoServer and GeoExplorer). It is a solution provided by Boundless, which offers its software suite for free; however, paid support is available. It is an on-premise solution, and cloud hosting is not offered. As with CartoDB, OpenGeo provides the ability to run spatial queries.

MapBox (https://www.mapbox.com/)

MapBox is a Washington, D.C. startup building geospatial solutions on top of OpenStreetMap data. It specializes in open source by building on top of open-source software and open data formats, while developing new ones.

MapBox Studio is the design platform, which allows users to define custom CartoCSS styles for an OpenStreetMap basemap. This is similar to the Google Maps API Styled Maps feature, which allows for the customization of the basemap. MapBox Studio can also be used to define custom CartoCSS symbology for your own geospatial data, which can then be displayed on top of MapBox’s basemap or Google Maps.

MapBox’s cloud platform is primarily a static visualization engine so while it provides great tools for defining symbology and renders beautiful maps, the data API is very limited and data cannot be dynamically edited. As with CartoDB, MapBox offers various plans that will fit your use case. MapBox also has an on-premise option called Atlas Server.


Esri has been in the geospatial software market long before Google and is probably the largest commercial player. Its offerings are extensive and tend to be preferred by GIS departments. Esri’s software works best when you stay within the Esri family, although you can use ArcGIS Server map services in combination with open source web APIs. You can create and edit your data in ArcMap, then publish your data in ArcGIS Server. ArcGIS Server is Esri’s web publishing software and is typically hosted on premise, although it is also easy to deploy in a cloud infrastructure such as Amazon. It does, as with all on-premise options, require people who know the software and can administer it properly. If on-premise is not an option, you should consider ArcGIS Online; however, read the fine print on ArcGIS Online’s terms of service. If you plan on hosting your data in ArcGIS Online but your application is not public, each user will need to have an ArcGIS Online account.

While Woolpert is both a Google and Esri business partner, we strive to find the best solutions for our clients.

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