In a push for improved access to open data, we moved all 125 gigabytes of United States TIGER Census data to Amazon's cloud infrastructure. This means that all the shape files used by the federal government for U.S. states, counties, districts, parcels, military areas, and more are now publicly available via one of the fastest web-based consumer grade computing toolsets available.
This is important for our mapping operations since we can now load all of this data directly into one of our TileMill virtual machines to process these large data sets in the cloud. The TIGER data is available as an EBS store, or Elastic Block Storage, which is essentially a virtual hard drive that appears just like an external hard drive when it is mounted to a TileMill EC2 instance, an Amazon virtual machine. With the data in the cloud, we can hook up this public virtual disk to our TileMill virtual machine and work with the data as if it is local to our virtual machine. It is that fast. The EBS is publicly accessible so that anyone can access this useful data.
This work to make large data sets available alongside the tools to work with the data in the same infrastructure is dramatically lowering the barrier to entry for mapping projects looking to benefit from cloud computing.