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High capacity and flexibility thanks to cloud services

Cloud servers abroad ensure that the general public has access to geodata at any time. Hanspeter Christ is in charge of swisstopo’s cloud services. He has enabled swisstopo to play a pioneering role in the field of cloud computing.

02.05.2022 | DKW

Swisstopo Folio 2022

If there is a flood emergency in Switzerland, Hanspeter Christ and his team immediately take action. As head of the Geoinformatics section he knows from past experience that there will now be an onslaught on the federal geoportal. “As soon as the media report the occurrence of a major weather event, the number of visits to the federal geoportal increases enormously,” he says. Specialists as well as private individuals gather important information from the portal in order to assess the situation. swisstopo has taken the necessary measures to overcome these peak loads. “By using public cloud services we are able to ensure that we can handle the maximum level of demand without interruption,” explains the IT specialist.

Clouds are external computing centres whose capacities can be used flexibly. In the event of a severe storm, the operators ensure that the capacity that is available for the geoportal is increased to many times the normal daily level. Once the emergency is over, the capacity is scaled down again. This flexibility offers swisstopo many advantages.

First federal authority

In his capacity as specialised surveyor, Hanspeter Christ not only possesses technical know-how in the field of geodata, he has also acquired comprehensive expertise in the field of information technology in the course of his 20 years at swisstopo. When the Federal Council issued the mandate to create a federal geoportal in 2008, Hanspeter Christ assumed the role of system architect and went on to perform pioneering work together with his colleagues: “swisstopo was the first federal authority to take the strategically significant step of implementing cloud services,” he recalls.

Successful start

At that time, Amazon Web Services was the sole provider with which he concluded a cloud contract. Then in August 2010 the decision was taken to go live. Demand was extremely high. Thanks to the use of cloud services, swisstopo was one of the first countries in Europe that was able to successfully launch a national geoportal. “Other countries had to struggle with system failures due to excess demand,” says Hanspeter Christ. In Switzerland, since 2010 it has only been possible to meet the high demand for geodata thanks to the use of cloud services. 

Swisstopo Folio 2022

Transmission via fibre optics

The cloud servers are not located in Bern – they are operated in Ireland and Germany (Frankfurt), where the computer centres are based. In Hanspeter Christ's view, the fact that the servers are located outside Switzerland does not represent a risk because the original data are stored in Switzerland. “This means we always have the primary data fully under our control,” he explains. The copies are also transmitted securely to their destination: again as the first federal authority, swisstopo has established a fibre optics connection via which the data are transferred to the cloud.

Use of data free of charge

The utilisation of the various services has increased by a factor of twenty in the course of ten years. In the meantime, the number of visitors to the federal geoportal ( per day fluctuates between 50,000 and 250,000. One of the reasons for this is the introduction of the Open Government data strategy: in March 2021, swisstopo began to place the majority of its data and products online, free of charge. If swisstopo were to operate a computer centre with a correspondingly large capacity within the federal administration, it would have to anticipate significantly higher costs and far less flexibility.

The use of a cloud service makes it possible to adapt the infrastructure to the utilisation requirements at short notice, i.e. everything can be powered up for a few hours, then powered down again. “The providers charge for the use of their servers by the second,” Hanspeter Christ says. This sales model is referred to as “pay on demand”.

Provision of geodata as a service

The federal geoportal ( is a specialised application that swisstopo operates via cloud computing alongside many other geoservices. These include background topographic maps, plus extensive data relating to water levels, wildlife conservation zones and natural hazards. Under the designation “swipos”, geolocation is another service provided by swisstopo, which facilitates high-precision positioning in real time throughout the entire country.

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Federal Office of Topography swisstopo Seftigenstrasse 264
P.O. Box
3084 Wabern
+41 58 469 01 11


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Federal Office of Topography swisstopo

Seftigenstrasse 264
P.O. Box
3084 Wabern

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