It took only 7 years. But why did it take so long?
Back in August 2016 when I started designing the ideas around what would be then called WebODM, I never had a doubt that 1) It should be a web application and 2) A SaaS/open-source model would help sustain it’s continued development.
It’s only after the first iterations of the software came to completion that I realized the difficulty in actually deploying such a service:
- Large amounts of data to handle. Photos, data products and intermediate build files take up a lot of space. Like, terabytes, every week.
- Memory / CPU scalability issues. Processing photogrammetry datasets is intensive and requires expensive hardware.
- Competition from VC-funded companies under-pricing their products. If the software is not at feature parity to competitors (which in 2016, WebODM definitely was not), the price pressure is felt even more.
So I initially focused on something smaller. How about just processing power? Since most people don’t have large servers to perform photogrammetry tasks, you can rent those out, preloaded with OpenDroneMap software, and let people handle the data storage themselves. And without storage costs, you could actually offer a competitive price for just that one small functionality.
Next, ODM (the photogrammetry engine) needed to be improved. That alone took the better part of several years, but it’s now solid, stable and produces wonderful state-of-the-art outputs.
During these years I also battle tested and refined ClusterODM, the core software that runs on webodm.net for load balancing photogrammetry tasks, which hasn’t had a serious bug in years. At the same time I focused on delivering WebODM to as many people as possible, and we found ways to run the web software on the desktop. Desktop instances of WebODM are today the most popular deployment.
Finally, cost-gravity (the tendency of commodity tech prices to go lower) took care of the storage issue. It is much cheaper today to buy 1TB of space compared to 7 years ago.
So, after 7 years, cloud hosted WebODM is finally here. Check it out. https://webodm.net
Now the real work begins.1