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Geospatial Mapping Services at Virginia Tech: Accessing GIS Software

This is a guide to help Virginia Tech community members discover geospatial data and Geographic Information System (GIS) resources and services available for their research.

ArcGIS Online

Since ArcGIS Online is cloud-based (online), it does not require any installation and anyone can access it regardless of the Operating System they are using. It only requires you to have a Virginia Tech AGOL account and use one of the browsers supported by ArcGIS Online. These include: Google Chrome version 115 and later, Microsoft Edge version 115 and later, Mozilla Firefox version 117 and later, Mozilla Firefox version 115 (ESR), and Safari version 16 and later.

For best performance and full functionality, use the latest version of a browser listed above. Only WebGL-enabled, 64-bit browsers are supported.

  • If you do not already have a Virginia Tech ArcGIS Online account, visit, select the“Virginia Tech” login option.

  •  Then sign in with your Virginia Tech PID/pw/Duo 2FA as you are used to doing with other VT websites. 
  • Once this login is complete, your named user account in ArcGIS Online has now been generated for you automatically and can be seen on the top right corner.
  • Explore the different tabs on the page (including Home, Gallery, Map, Scene, Groups, Content and Organization) to familiarize yourself with ArcGIS Online.

Please note: This guide is designed with the assumption that you currently have an account on our Enterprise ArcGIS Online site. If this is not the case, kindly refer to the instructions provided above, under "Creating an ArcGIS Online Account," to create your account.
It is necessary to specify the organization that you are a member of when accessing the ArcGIS Online resources that are outside of Virginia Tech’s Enterprise URL of: You may be prompted for a username and password when signing on, so please note that using this prompt will fail.

Please visit the ArcGIS Online Account Maintenance webpage to learn about the cloud-hosted geospatial content management and services offered by Enterprise GIS.

ArcGIS Pro

ArcGIS Pro is a full-featured professional desktop GIS application from Esri. With ArcGIS Pro, you can explore, visualize, and analyze data; create 2D maps and 3D scenes; and share your work to ArcGIS Online or your ArcGIS Enterprise portal. The sections below introduce the sign-in process, the start page, ArcGIS Pro projects, and the user interface.

  1. A computer operating on Windows (Windows 10 is recommended; please refer to the System Requirements for details). Also note that ArcGIS Pro is exclusively compatible with the Windows platform.
  2. For Apple users, the recommended approach is to either boot to Windows or virtual Windows. A Remote Desktop (RD) typically runs on a large server, mimics the behavior of a traditional computer and is accessible from most devices with a strong internet connection. The RD, "libRD", utilizes a CPU and GPU heavy server, enabling multiple users to run processor-intensive tasks that may be difficult to run on your local machine. libRD provides each person with a browser-accessed RD running Windows 10. To access libRD, follow the following steps:


  • Each user has a private desktop (and documents, downloads, etc.) that can be customized to taste.
  • Your desktop will persist, even if you close the browser on your local computer. Meaning, jobs running will continue after you leave the desktop, and can be returned to later. Be mindful of closing unnecessary resource-intensive programs as you exit. If you want to run a multi-hour thing it is best to schedule that for late night.
  • Take advantage of this! This is a powerful computer that can take heavy lifting off your local machine

Note: all Esri products run on Windows machines. If you have a different Operating System and need to use Esri products, follow the steps above.

3. Administrative rights to the computer either using the “Make Me Admin” app or reaching out to IT for support to get administrative rights (if using a University issued computer).

4. At Virginia Tech, we use the “named user” licensing model for ArcGIS Pro.  This means that you’ll need to first create an ArcGIS Online Account before you can use ArcGIS Pro. If you do not already have a Virginia Tech ArcGIS Online account, visit, select the“Virginia Tech” login option, and then sign in with your Virginia Tech PID/pw/Duo 2FA as you are used to doing with other VT websites. 

Once this login is complete, your named user account in ArcGIS Online, and your ArcGIS Pro license, have now been generated for you automatically, and you can close the ArcGIS Online browser tab at any time.

Note: You will likely want to explore the ArcGIS Online software-as-a-service GIS, as it can do many simple things very well and with a much shorter learning curve than ArcGIS Pro.


  1. Begin by downloading the executable installation file for ArcGIS Pro by agreeing to the VT Network Software Service Center site, expand ESRI Software and select ESRI ArcGIS Pro 3.1 for Windows, agree to the license agreement and log in using your VT Username (PID) and passphrase. Click ESRI Software and then click ESRI ArcGIS Pro.
  2. Follow the installation process step-by-step on the Installing ESRI ArcGIS Pro or here provided by 4Help if needed for guidance. Please reach out if you encounter any problems while following these installation instructions.
  3. To begin your work in ArcGIS Pro, you must first “Sign In” to ArcGIS Online, and then, create a project. 

a. Signing in:  

i) Click on the “Not Signed In” button in the top right of the ArcGIS Pro user interface.

ii) If “” is not already selected, click “Manage Portals”; otherwise proceed to step (iv)

iii) Under “Manage Portals”, click “Add Portal”, and type

iv) Now click the “Sign In” link under the portal name on the top right:

v) Once you click “Sign In”, you’ll be presented with the same login experience as you saw when you logged onto ArcGIS Online directly.  As was the case there, you’ll select the and use the “Virginia Tech” login option and supply your PID/pw/Duo 2FA as usual.

vi) You’re in!  ArcGIS Online should remain signed in for a while, but every so often you’ll need to re-authenticate.  You won’t have to type the URL anymore; just click “Sign In” when necessary, select “Virginia Tech” and then enter your usual VT credentials (repeat step (v)).

4. Creating a project: We recommend starting with the “Blank project template”, but feel free to explore the various project templates.

NOTE: ArcMap is not equivalent to ArcGIS Pro. ArcMap is legacy software, and will enter mature support in 2024, and be retired completely in 2026, so it is not advisable to build new geospatial analysis workflows in ArcMap. If you’re just starting out, be sure to download ArcGIS Pro for Windows.

We strongly advise you to verify if there are any updates available for ArcGIS Pro after creating your first project. ESRI regularly releases updates, making it likely that the version downloaded from the software service center may require updating. To check for updates: Click on the Project tab, then select About. The About page will indicate the availability of any updates. If updates are available, simply click on the Update option.

ArcGIS StoryMaps

ArcGIS StoryMaps is a story authoring web-based application that allows you to share your maps by integrating narrative text, images, maps, and other multimedia content using this storytelling platform to visualize your story. It can be used to share information and engage decision makers. It is ESRI’s tool to craft a strong narrative and bring your content to life.

If you want to dive deeper, ESRI has assembled a variety of helpful tutorials, videos, articles, and more, so you can take your mapmaking skills to the next level. To get started with ArcGIS StoryMaps, follow this tutorial (with examples) for a beginner mapper.

When you are using ArcGIS StoryMaps, use the latest version of one of these browsers:

  • Google Chrome
  • Apple Safari
  • Microsoft Edge
  • Mozilla Firefox

You will need to sign in to ArcGIS StoryMaps using your ArcGIS Online account. If you don’t have an ArcGIS Online account, follow these steps to create one.


  1. A computer operating on Windows (Windows 10 is recommended; please refer to the System Requirements for details). Also note that ArcMap is exclusively compatible with the Windows platform. For Apple users, the recommended approach is to either boot to Windows or virtual Windows.
  2. Administrative rights to the computer either using the Make Me Admin app or reaching out to IT for support to get administrative rights.

This software is made available at no additional cost to students that are currently enrolled in courses at Virginia Tech. 

To install this software, please follow the step by step instructions provided by 4Help in the Installation Instructions page.

Web Maps

Web maps are interactive maps that are hosted online. The following products can be used to create a web map including an interactive mapping application:

  • ArcGIS Online - features its own data repository, making it easy to search and add data to your map. It also offers open-source tools for fundamental functions like creating web maps and web mapping applications, such as StoryMaps. Visit the ArcGIS Online Help resources to help you create and share interactive maps.
  • Google My Maps - an open source platform that lets you create web maps using Google Maps. Visit the My Maps Help Center to create maps.
  • Tableau - helps you to see, create, and understand data. Follow this link for a basic tutorial for web mapping.
  • Mapbox - equips innovators to keep up with a changing world through using real-time data and map rendering technologies that make it look easy. Visit this link to get information on how to use Mapbox.
  • CARTO - helps you analyze and visualize different forms of location data. See the Carto Help page to make maps and visualize data using CartoDB.


QGIS is the best open-source desktop GIS application at your disposal. While all Virginia Tech community members have access to Esri tools while employed at or attending here, you may not have such access within future organizations.

If you are familiar with ArcMap, you will find that the QGIS interface is also familiar. One of the remarkable strengths of QGIS is its compatibility with Windows, Mac, and Linux operating systems.

The installation of QGIS is pretty straightforward. Just download the software from this site:, select which operating system you are using and download the version you want to use. It is recommended to download the most stable version (LTR).

Remote Sensing

Although it may not be a dedicated powerhouse program, ESRI's desktop GIS does offer a selection of image analysis tools. For more detailed information, please refer to the following link:
ArcGIS combines spatial analysis, image analysis, and artificial intelligence (AI) into one powerful system that handles massive datasets at local and global scales. You can integrate imagery from street-level, drone, aircraft, and satellite sensors with spatial data in fundamental and advanced workflows—and generate fully informed insights that impact decisions.

Google Earth

Google Earth is frequently not classified as a traditional GIS, but it possesses several noteworthy advantages. Firstly, it's available at no cost. Secondly, it's compatible with various operating systems, making it accessible to a wide audience. Moreover, its user-friendly interface simplifies navigation. So, what can you achieve with Google Earth? You can load historical maps sourced from renowned map collectors, incorporate your own points, lines, and polygon layers, and even explore 3D representations of buildings. We are happy to demonstrate the multitude of exciting capabilities that Google Earth has to offer.

Earth Engine Data Catalog is a public data archive that includes more than forty years of historical imagery and scientific datasets, updated and expanded daily. Visit this GIS Stack Exchange to ask questions and seek answers using the google-earth-engine tag.

Geospatial Data Curator

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Imma Mwanja
Newman Library Room 3010
560 Drillfield Dr
Blacksburg, VA 24061

Geospatial Data Consultant

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Ed Brooks
Room 3020 Newman Library

Virginia Tech
560 Drillfield Drive
Blacksburg, Va. 24061
(540) 231-9225