Best Practices for Hosting the Utility Network

This article provides recommendations for hosting the Utility Network in the cloud that provides benefits in availability, performance, administration, and security.

Cloud Hosting

The Critigen team delivered the first auto-scaled, cloud-hosted Utility Network environment in the industry for one of our large gas utility clients in 2018. Today, our client can quickly scale their enterprise GIS to add or reduce capacity supporting spikes or temporary reductions in the business usage. Auto-scaled user sessions also take full advantage of consumption pricing offered for cloud-hosted solutions.

High Availability and Reliability

Cloud hosting ensures the system is always available, safeguards against outages, and reduces downtimes. It simplifies and enhances:

  • Platform management
  • Enhances security
  • Accessibility to a centralized environment

Users can access the enterprise GIS from any machine that has an internet connection through a web browser or a Citrix receiver. Additionally, cloud platforms offer over 99.9% server availability. Configuration of Availability-Sets and cloud-based redundancies can increase the SLA percentages drastically and expand uptime.

Autoscaling

The cloud infrastructure allows automatic scaling of the environment to meet growing user demand while reducing cost. This model only uses the resources that are needed at any time. At times of lower user demand, VMs are turned off so the organization is not paying for them while they are offline. At times of high user demand, VMs are spun up automatically to accommodate the higher usage periods to ensure the user experience remains optimal.

Secured Cloud Hosting

Using an isolated cloud platform, we can enable a single point of access to the entire platform which lowers the overall attack surface for security considerations. The cloud allows utilizing a complete virtual security perimeter that provides access to requisite users (with the ability to filter by user accounts and IP address) with the option of applying Multi-Factor Authentication. This ensures a secure yet highly available system for appropriate users.

ArcGIS Pro Virtualization

The cloud environment supports a virtual deployment model for ArcGIS Pro. As GIS professionals know, ArcGIS Pro is the required desktop client for the Utility Network Management extension. Many organizations are transitioning to ArcGIS Pro from ArcMap and finding that the resource demands for ArcGIS Pro are higher. Hardware that was adequate to run ArcMap does not support ArcGIS Pro. The most notable change is ArcGIS Pro’s requirement for a graphics processing unit (GPU) for rendering performance over a traditional CPU.

Desktop Client CPU RAM Disk Space Video/Graphics Adapter
ArcMap 10.7 2 cores, hyperthreaded recommended 8 GB 6+ GB
  • OpenGL version 2.0 runtime minimum is required, and Shader Model 3.0 or higher is recommended
ArcGIS Pro 2.4 4 cores, hyperthreaded required 8 GB 32+ GB, SSD
  • DirectX 11, feature level 11.0, Shader Model 5.0
  • OpenGL 4.5 with the ARB_shader_draw_parameters

Comparison of the recommended hardware requirements for ArcMap and ArcGIS Pro from Esri.

In addition to meeting the hardware requirements, deploying ArcGIS Pro as a virtual application may be more cost effective than replacing user’s hardware across the organization. The cost would vary by organizations depending on the number of users, software/hardware agreements, and other factors. Critigen’s implementation for a gas utility customer applied Citrix XenApp. Using this model, each virtual machine will accommodate up to five ArcGIS Pro users at a time. Applying autoscaling, the environment will add additional VMs when more users log in. One caveat to Citrix is that there is no automated way to allocate CPU usage across the users logged into the same hosting VM with ArcGIS Pro. If one of the users performs a heavy geoprocessing task, this will “steal” the CPU from the other users, causing the other users’ experience to suffer. One way to mitigate this situation is to know what types of activities different user groups will be performing and share content appropriately. For example, do not place analysts performing spatial analysis on the same VMs as technicians performing standard editing. Resources can be grouped together and additional VM sizes can be employed to account for ‘power users’ or user groups that require higher resource utilization. These groups can be routed to larger machine sizes in the virtual environment, such as allocating additional RAM, GPU or CPU utilization or, alternately, can be set up to share a resource with a smaller number of users.

Designated Utility Network ArcGIS Site

Hosting the Utility Network service on its own designated ArcGIS Server site offers benefits in performance, reliability, and supports Utility Network functionality. Federation of the ArcGIS server with Portal is a requirement of the Utility Network Management extension. The ArcGIS Server site hosting the UN implemented by Critigen contains four clustered server nodes.

Performance

As the UN functionality includes long transactions for processes such as reconcile, post, validate network topology, and network tracing, an isolated site hosting the UN service ensures that adequate resources are available for these functions to remain performant. The Validate Network Topology process is a good example.

The Validate Network Topology operates in either asynchronous or synchronous mode. This is determined by the method in which this process is run in ArcGIS Pro. If executed from the Ribbon on the Analysis tab, the validate will run asynchronously.

Validate on the Utility Network tab runs asynchronously in ArcGIS Pro.

This means that the user will be able to continue working in ArcGIS Pro while the tool runs. ArcGIS Pro will check periodically for the response from ArcGIS Server until the process is completed.

The Validate Network Topology geoprocessing tool in the Utility Network Management toolbox runs synchronously, meaning the user must wait until the tool has completed its operation before continuing to work in the map.

Which option is better? In either scenario, a designated ArcGIS Server site ensures that geoprocessing completes as quickly as possible. Many organizations implement a designated server site for geoprocessing, to support long transaction times and higher resource demand to perform complex spatial analysis. This design segments users performing heavy analysis from those editing or using a web application whose services are hosted on a separate server site. This way, geoprocessing or analysis performed by a few users does not negatively impact the experience of the wider groups performing more common tasks.

Troubleshooting the Utility Network

A separate UN ArcGIS Server site isolates all UN-related activities to one site. This is helpful for troubleshooting issues with the UN feature layer as it is easier to review ArcGIS Server logs specific to the UN. Additionally, Critigen implemented ArcGIS Monitor to analyze and report on the health of ArcGIS enterprise. Using this application, administrators can create a centralized view into the performance of the entire ArcGIS Enterprise to support the following administration activities:

  • The addition of resources to under-performing services
  • Troubleshooting problematic services
  • Performance monitoring
  • Tuning services

Additionally, cloud provider based monitoring and metrics provide insight into the overall system performance, including:

  • Network utilization
  • Application and database performance
  • Resource consumption by task

Finally, alerts can be configured to notify administrators of high resource utilization, performance issues or faulty configurations. This enables the administrator to remedy any issues dynamically online, without requiring downtime.

We hope this article provided some insight into how a cloud implementation of the Utility Network on an isolated ArcGIS Server site can benefit your organization. If you would like to learn more, please contact us!