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DigitalGlobe Sends 17 Years Worth of Satellite Images to Amazon

DigitalGlobe, a global organization headquartered in Colorado, has been taking satellite photos of the earth for 17 years. It has used the images taken by its six revolving satellites to help various governments, companies, and individuals around the globe.

Who Is DigitalGlobe?

DigitalGlobe is the world’s leading provider of high-resolution images of planet earth. DigitalGlobe runs one of the largest Geographic Information Systems (GIS) on the planet. The company not only provides images to its customers but also data and analysis of the location and objects found in the photographs.

DigitalGlobe has worldwide coverage and over 16 years of imagery to give companies and governments accurate, mission-critical information. The mission of DigitalGlobe is to help customers save resources, time, and lives.

DigitalGlobe’s Satellite Images

A satellite over Earth

DigitalGlobe has been collecting images via satellite since it launched its first satellite, the QuickBird, in 2001.

In August of 2014, DigitalGlobe launched its sixth and most advanced satellite into orbit. A few months before that, the Commerce Department gave DigitalGlobe permission to sell images with a resolution of 25 centimeters to third parties like Google and Microsoft.

To put that into perspective, Google maps currently shows images with a 70-centimeter resolution. This new satellite and its resolution will mean that private companies and governments around the world will be able to identify individual trees and decipher whether a vehicle is an SUV, sedan, or sports car.

These six satellites now stream all of their images down to Westminster, Colorado, at a whopping 100 terabytes per day. From a processing standpoint, the images being captured by these satellites are big and heavy. They take up a lot of storage space. A single image can be 30 gigabytes.

With all of this information streaming in, DigitalGlobe had to figure out where to store it all, and it needed to do so in a way that allowed it to easily and quickly share this information with its global clients.

Why DigitalGlobe Is Moving to the Cloud

DigitalGlobe was holding onto over 100 petabytes of information on tapes in its Colorado headquarters. The company has collected over 7 billion square kilometers of imagery.

Whenever customers wanted some of that information, DigitalGlobe had to download it from the tapes, load it onto a hard drive, and physically deliver it to the client.

The tapes were also becoming old technology, and are not functioning optimally. DigitalGlobe was concerned that if it didn’t act quickly, it might lose this information forever.

Given the large amount of information, it was nearly impossible for DigitalGlobe to send it via email or to upload it to the cloud on its own. If DigitalGlobe tried to upload this information on a basic computer using a home internet system, it would take over 300 years.

With DigitalGlobe’s information moved to the cloud, its clients will be able to access the imagery and data analysis without having to wait for delivery or worry about spending time downloading the information to their systems. They can simply log into a secure account and review all of the information that they need quickly and easily.

DigitalGlobe can now easily sync its data with the new cloud-based software system. The software system is a cloud-based picture-scrutinizing system. Coders at DigitalGlobe can write artificially intelligent algorithms that pick out specific details like all of the red mailboxes from a set of images. The more images that the software can access, the smarter it becomes — and the more information it can then convey to the customers.

Why Work With Amazon?

A few years ago, Amazon unveiled a system called Snowball, which allowed customers to upload up to 50 terabytes of data and send it to Amazon to be put on the cloud. This system would allow DigitalGlobe to preserve its information and spend far less time trying to upload it.

DigitalGlobe became a Beta customer, and Amazon sent it 16 Snowballs to upload its tapes onto. The Snowballs were physically shipped back to Amazon, who used its systems to upload the earth’s images onto the cloud.

Though it was a time saver and DigitalGlobe was beginning to solve its problems, the Snowball system wasn’t fast enough. Then, in late 2016, Amazon released information that it was about to launch a program known as Snowmobile. DigitalGlobe signed up immediately.

Amazon does all the work to upload the information to the cloud with its high-speed systems and organization. Amazon makes it easy for DigitalGlobe to continue focusing on its core business, while Amazon does the background work of turning the tapes into functioning cloud-based data.

Traveling by Truck

It seems impossible that the best way for this data to be transferred from DigitalGlobe to Amazon is by truck, but that is truly the case.

With over 100 petabytes of stored information and an additional 100 terabytes being captured every single day, it would not be possible to send this information over the world wide web. Not only would this take an exorbitant amount of time, but it is also insecure and risks possible theft from competitors or hackers.

Amazon collects all the information and puts it on refrigerated drives inside a cargo container on an unmarked white semi-truck for delivery. Amazon also ensures complete privacy and safety by driving the truck along an unknown route to a destination unknown by anyone other than the truck driver and the people on the other end receiving the information. This means that the location can’t be picked up by people who may be reading emails or intercepting phone calls.

Educational Opportunities

 Understanding geographic information systems opens up doors to work at companies like DigitalGlobe. Students who study GIS can go on to work with GPS systems and online maps. They can create global applications that have never before been discovered. There are so many industries that need GIS specialists, from homeland security to healthcare.

Visit the USC Spatial Sciences Institute (SSI) website to learn more about Geographic Information Systems and how a master’s degree or certificate from the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences can help progress your career.