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New Tile Servers

29.06.2012 | Frederik Ramm

Some time in the future I’d like to have a giant button on my desk and every time I press it, a new tile server is ordered, bootstrapped, configured, and seamlessly added to our infrastructure. And if you read the glitzy announcements from various “cloud computing” providers you might think that this is actually not very far away.

However at Geofabrik we’re still doing things like our grandparents did, oh well, maybe not, but we do things the old-fashioned way: We select and order physical hardware, individual machines that have a rack number and a physical location, and we configure them and grill them and test them and run them ourselves. We don’t even have a setup script that “does everything” because if we set up another batch of tile servers in half a year’s time then technology will have progressed again and we’ll be using different hardware or software…

The tile servers we set up are generally of the dynamic kind like the one OSM operates – we have a lot of tiles pre-rendered but we can render any tile, in any style, in any location, on demand if required. If you add a telephone booth on a rock in the Atlantic to OSM and load the respective tile on zoom level 18 from Geofabrik a few minutes later, the telephone booth will be there. (Please don’t do that though. Only if you have verified that the telephone booth really exists.) That means that our servers usually need a lot of SSD storage to keep a copy of OSM’s database. For the current generation, we’re using fairly standard Hetzner servers but equipped with 3x120GB of SSD, just enough to store a full OSM planet for the next year or so.

Today we’ve phased out the previous generation of machines, and also updated to the new Mapnik2 rendering engine. Other than that, our tile servers are running the classic OSM rendering stack – PostgreSQL/PostGIS (with hstore extension for access to seldom-used tags), osm2pgsql, and the Tirex queue manager.

We’ve also updated our map styles to reflect the latest OSM Mapnik style and its German variant, which we have slightly adapted to add German names to local names where they are present in OSM:

We’ll contribute that change to the site as well if people want to use it. We’re also working on a couple of new tile styles that our clients can use. Mapnik2 should also allow us to offer nice high-resolution tiles for “retina” displays or even print use in the future.

If you already are a user of Geofabrik tiles then you shouldn’t notice anything, apart from perhaps a minor style difference here or there. If you’re thinking of using our tiles then read more on our web site.