NetDisc Offers Census Data Discs On Demand
Posted Sep 1, 2002

When the U.S. government wanted to make maps with topographical and demographic data available to the public in a project called LandView IV, it needed a way to customize delivery of that data on CD or DVD without having to stockpile thousands of state-specific discs in a warehouse awaiting customer orders or offering bandwidth-hungry Web downloads.

Enter NetDisc, an online delivery solution created by the Virginia-based Global Technologies Group, Inc. (GTGI). The NetDisc solution is a data-on-demand system that lets users select only the information they want to receive and then compiles it onto custom-made discs. The LandView IV project compiles data from the U.S Bureau of the Census, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S. Geological Survey and presents it in geographic images on maps showing jurisdictional and demographic data for each U.S. state and territory. The LandView IV data shows everything from terrain and water tracts to schools, airports, and other facilities, according to GTGI product development manager Jim Cremeans. Originally, the LandView IV staff was looking for a way to fully automate delivery of map files using FileMaker Pro, Cremeans says. "We just happened to be working on a product that would do almost exactly what they were looking for," he says.

NetDisc is a bundled system that includes GTGI's proprietary software, a customized computer, and a CD or DVD duplicator—usually a Rimage Amigo for smaller jobs or a dual Prostar for larger jobs, Cremeans says. The standard NetDisc configuration allows only for recording full-disc images from an NAS or other storage system, but GTGI worked with the Census to modify it for LandView so that it would interface with FileMaker Pro to create customized discs depending on customers' online requests. The LandView IV project uses the Rimage production system to output the discs with custom labels.

NetDisc's output capability is limited only by the amount of time it takes to gather the data ("Unfortunately, Filemaker's not very fast at reindexing the selected state files," Cremean says) and the choice of CD recorder. "If we run a single recorder, such as a Rimage Amigo system, we can get roughly ten discs an hour," he says. "If we run a Goliath-like system, such as a dual Prostar with 16 recorders, we can get 160 discs an hour. It all depends on what the customer is recording and the output hardware."

The LandView IV system was suspended following September 11 due to national security concerns, but it will go back on line this September, with an updated LandView V to launch soon after. "LandView is public information, so it's available to anyone who pays for a CD," Cremeans says. "The data needed to be reviewed to be certain that the information couldn't be used against the United States in an attack. I'm not sure what has changed for LandView V, but I'm sure most of the really sensitive stuff has been removed."

In addition to eliminating short- or single-run outputs and bypassing inventory-tracking issues, NetDisc also tracks the most requested files for research and marketing purposes, Cremeans says.

--Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen