Mobile devices may still be somewhat awkward in terms of supporting rich, web-based applications but they are leaps and bounds ahead of most infrastructure in their ability to figure out where you are.

GeoLocation technologies used to be used by load balancing solutions to address poor application performance across high-latency connections such as intercontinental and satellite links. While this is still an important variable in assuring application performance, especially for very large sites, GeoLocation is increasingly used to comply with legal restrictions on broadcasting, export of data and applications, and to imageprovide more relevant information to users than ever before. The accuracy of the GeoLocation technology plays a huge role in the successful application of location-based services.

For example, US law prohibits doing business with certain countries, so many organizations need to have a way to recognize where a user is coming from and block their access if necessary. Traditionally, this is done in the application, but this is complex, expensive, and insecure. Similarly, a broadcaster may have rights to stream the Olympics in one country, but needs to block access from other countries. And more near and dear to the hearts of many folks in the US this time of year, NFL football broadcast agreements require blackouts in local areas when games not sold out, but folks circumvent this restriction by going to the web. Accurate GeoLocation prevents those in the local area from accessing the broadcast but allows others.

Generally speaking GeoLocation has been promoted as a means to block access, which for many people leaves a sour taste in their mouth. It isn’t doing them any good as they aren’t trying to download, watch, or otherwise access an application that is subject to trade or export or broadcast restrictions. But GeoLocation can work for people, too, and for people who might not think it’s all that important to improve the user-experience as well as provide a measure of protection against misuse of their personal, private data and accounts.


GEOLOCATION IS FOR EVERYONE

First and foremost the use of GeoLocation for proximity based access to applications transparently helps everyone. Being directed to the application instance or web site that’s physically closest to you mitigates the effect of speed of light limitations on application performance. For organizations with very large web presences, this is also an efficient method of distributing resources as scaling out an application in New York, where there are millions of users, but not in Topeka, Kansas where there might be only a few thousand makes better use of compute resources in general. But before you can determine where to best allocate resources you have to know where users are located and that requires an accurate GeoLocation technology.

Consider the potential use of GeoLocation in real-time identity theft recognition. If you’re required to enter the credit card number and a billing zipcode and it turns out that you’re actually using the card in a completely different zipcode, a second security check could be required – perhaps you have to provide some snippet of information prearranged with the provider – before you can conclude the transaction. Inconvenient if you travel a lot, to be sure, but those few seconds of inconvenience might prevent the use of your credit card by some miscreant simply because they weren’t physically in an expected location. Fraud detection systems already perform this type of check when the transaction occurs using a physical (POS) terminal, but not necessarily when the transaction is completely web-based.

Similarly, and we’ve talked about this before, what if cloud-based applications like social networking sites were imbued with the ability to recognize that usually you access the application from location X and thus an attempt to access from location Y might mean you’re traveling, or it might mean malicious activity? And it took steps to further verify that you are you, and not some miscreant hijacking your account?

And what if other sites were smart enough to recognize where you were without you needing to change some setting somewhere, so that when you did travel and you looked up “weather.com” it automatically detected where you were and gave you the weather report for that zipcode? What about search engines? Wouldn’t it be nice if you’re out traveling and hit a search engine to find a restaurant and it ranked based on proximity to your current location, too? Searching for your favorite restaurant chain or hotel, for example, would prioritize the local locations first.

Indeed, if Intercloud and cloudbalancing is to be achieved GeoLocation will need to be a part of the implementation as location impacts performance and other application-specific content availability. Decisions about which instance of the application a user should be directed will certainly need to incorporate location as one of the variables that make up a request’s context. 

Yes, I know the iPhone has an app for that – because it’s GPS-enabled and the accuracy of that information is highly trustable. But on the web it’s not always been the case that GeoLocation-based lookups were accurate enough to limit functionality or access or provide location-based services. But they’ve come of age, and location is one of the pieces of the contextual puzzle that will help “the cloud” become more aware and intelligent about decisions that could – or should – involve location.

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