How to take your GIS cloud-native with QGIS & CARTO


Modernize your GIS with QGIS & CARTO for scalable cloud-based analytics. Maximize efficiency, security, and collaboration.

This post may describe functionality for an old version of CARTO. Find out about the latest and cloud-native version here.
How to take your GIS cloud-native with QGIS & CARTO

In the past few years, geospatial technology has fundamentally changed. Data is getting bigger, faster, and more complex. User needs are changing too, with an increasing number of organizations and business functions adopting data-centric decision-making, leading to a broader range of users undertaking spatial analysis.

This evolving landscape has given rise to a more modern tech stack - an ecosystem of tools and technologies designed to handle the demands of contemporary data workflows. In this stack, cloud-native platforms like CARTO are increasingly being used to scale and democratize more traditional desktop GIS applications like QGIS, across the different functions within an enterprise organization.

A graphic showing different software logos grouped by function
The Modern Geospatial Tech Stack

About QGIS

QGIS is an open-source desktop GIS application that has become a cornerstone for geospatial professionals. Its importance lies in its flexibility, cost-effectiveness (it’s free!) and the strong community that continually enhances its capabilities.

However, users of desktop GIS tools like QGIS are increasingly encountering a range of challenges.

  • Working with large datasets: desktop GIS platforms struggle to scale as data is becoming bigger, faster and more complex. For example, running a spatial buffer on the same ~300,000 points is 96% slower with a desktop GIS. In addition to slower processing times, rendering times are also slower. Below you can see the same dataset being rendered in CARTO (left) and QGIS (right), with the former leveraging cloud-native connectivity and dynamic tiling to render the same table almost instantly.
  • Data silos: as more data-intensive business functions move to the cloud, users of desktop GIS platforms like QGIS are increasingly finding their geospatial data siloed from their organization’s data ecosystem, risking multiple “sources of truth” and compromising data security.
  • High skills barrier: in addition to creating a data silo, platforms like QGIS risk creating a skills silo within their organization. Traditional GIS platforms often require a highly specialized skill barrier for entry, with GIS skills not necessarily being interoperable with the wider data analysis skillset. This comes at a time when most organizations are attempting to democratize their data analytics to drive transparency, trust and efficiency.
  • Static outputs: QGIS is designed mostly with static map outputs (think PDFs and jpegs) in mind. One element of the democratization of geospatial is the move from these more static map outputs to interactive, dynamic and web-based visualizations. These bring decision-makers closer to your analysis, dramatically shortening the time-to-insight. While it is possible to create web maps with QGIS, the skills barrier for creating these is even greater than that for static maps.

So, what does the future look like for QGIS users?

Modernizing your geospatial tech stack

To address these challenges, many organizations are modernizing their geospatial tech stack with cloud-native solutions like CARTO. The benefits of this approach include:

  • Interoperability: By joining other data-intensive functions - such as data analysts, scientists & BI analysts - on the cloud, you can ensure seamless integration with other data functions and platforms. This means a single source of truth database, and a broader range of skills to draw on to perform more advanced analytics.
  • Scalability: Easily scale your analysis to handle large datasets and high-velocity data streams. In addition to cloud connectivity, CARTO users can benefit from data formats like Dynamic Tilesets and Spatial Indexes which are designed for truly enormous Location Intelligence.
  • Data Security: Cloud-native platforms offer robust security features to protect private and sensitive geospatial data. Learn more about data security on the cloud here.
  • Democratization & Collaboration: Enhance collaboration both within internal teams and with external partners. Benefit from tooling designed to lower the skills barrier for spatial analysis, such as CARTO Workflows - our no-code solution for running complex data processes the easy way.

For more detailed insights on modernizing your geospatial technology, check out our free ebook!

So I don’t need a desktop GIS anymore?

While the advancements in cloud-native platforms like CARTO offer wide-ranging benefits, they may not entirely replace all of the functions that more traditional desktop GIS like QGIS offers. Instead, they complement each other well, creating a more robust and efficient geospatial tech stack.

Some key use cases for a desktop GIS remain:

  • Editing and Creating Geometries
  • Creating Static Maps
  • Coordinate System Transformations
  • Data format transformations (e.g. converting a DWG to a geojson)

However, if you find yourself frequently waiting for data to render or analytical processes to run -  or if you need better integration with your wider data stack in the cloud  -  pairing your desktop GIS with a cloud-native solution like CARTO can be highly beneficial.

QGIS & CARTO: how to get the best of both worlds

So, how can you best leverage QGIS without sacrificing having a cloud-native geospatial stack for your analytics and visualization needs?

An optimum complimentary approach would be to use QGIS for the tasks mentioned above - the data preparation and geometry editing processes - and then leverage PostgreSQL to push these changes to your cloud data warehouse to be used for analysis purposes. From here, you could then leverage CARTO for more advanced, scalable analytics - as well as building beautiful and highly impactful interactive dashboards and applications.

A screenshot of QGIS

Depending on your cloud provider of choice, you will have access to a specific flavor of a PostgreSQL transactional database, in which you can install the PostGIS extension. Examples include Google Cloud SQL for PostgreSQL, Amazon RDS for PostgreSQL and Azure Database for PostgreSQL. You can use these to federate and synchronize your tables in the cloud.

With QGIS, you can connect to those PostgreSQL databases on the cloud, and both read and write spatial data to them. With your edited geometries into the cloud, you’ll now be able to leverage CARTO to perform analytics and stunning visualizations at a huge scale.

A schematic diagram explaining the CARTO & QGIS architecture

Ready to give this a try? We’ve put together this tutorial to help you do exactly this!. By following the steps in the tutorial, you will be able to effectively integrate QGIS for data preparation and geometry editing with CARTO for scalable, cloud-based analytics and visualization. This hybrid approach allows you to harness the best of both desktop and cloud-native GIS capabilities, ensuring a comprehensive and efficient geospatial tech stack.

A screenshot of a CARTO Builder map

Want to learn more about how you can start building a more modern geospatial infrastructure? Schedule a demo with one of our experts and start your journey today!