Is cloud storage right for your organization?
Many healthcare organizations are looking to third-party vendors for help. By Rob Carter
he growing adoption of electronic health record (EHR) systems, the continued accumulation of patient data and increased utilization of digital diagnostic imaging are causing healthcare net- works to overload traditional data storage methods. HIPAA and EMR guidelines require that all data be kept on fi le, and healthcare providers must be able to store it securely but ac- cess it quickly. As a result, healthcare organizations are notic- ing a sharp increase in their need for data storage capacity. Although many healthcare facilities have historically handled all data storage needs internally, it is not always the most economical solution; it requires a lot of hardware re- sources and, depending on the size of the facility, may require additional IT staff members to manage it all. Due to the rising demand for data storage, many health- care organizations are looking to third-party vendors for help. But every organization has different needs. So how can you determine whether outsourcing data storage is right for your facility? And if it is, which data storage option is most ap- propriate for your needs? To determine how best to proceed, it helps to answer the following questions:
• How big is our institution? • How many patients do we serve?
• Do we operate out of a single location or are we part of a healthcare network?
• What type of facility are we (e.g., hospital, outpatient clinic, private practice, imaging center, etc.)? • What application workloads are consuming signifi cant amounts of space and what performance requirements do those applications have? How much space do we need? • How many imaging devices and databases do we need to accommodate?
• What is the typical size of the images/data that we store?
• How much do we expect patient population and/or procedure volume to grow in the near future? • What is the nature of the data we want to store? Consider structured versus unstructured data. Unstructured data (e.g., Excel fi les, video, clinical images, etc.) typically makes up the majority of the data produced by organiza- tions, and it is more diffi cult to store and secure.
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• How effective is our data-tiering strategy today? Do we have a data-tiering strategy?
• What is the total cost of ownership for storage, including management, staffi ng, space and power? • How much of the data must be accessible in a mo- ment’s notice?
• Who needs to access the data and from where? Consider whether your organization uses laptops, tablet devices or PDAs to access patient data.
An important area to assess when evaluating storage strategies is how data storage is tiered. Evaluate whether the facility’s primary storage is being used for workloads that could be moved to lower-cost platforms. A good use case for cloud storage in healthcare is archiving older images that are infrequently accessed. Once a medical image is more than 30 days old, the likelihood of it being used drops dramatically, so it could be benefi cial to move that data from high-cost primary storage to a lower-cost platform. After a thorough assessment of the needs of your organization, you can begin to look at the different data storage options that are available through service providers – such as cloud storage, where data is stored in virtualized pools hosted by third parties, and managed storage solutions based on traditional enterprise technologies, such as storage area network (SAN) and network attached storage (NAS). There are benefi ts to each, and it is important to understand them before making decisions. Compared to the traditional acquisition model of storage as a capital expense, cloud and managed storage solutions can offer a reduction in the total cost of ownership (TCO) per unit of storage and a more predictable cost structure for your organization. Traditional storage acquisition models typically require customers to purchase new storage devices that are signifi cantly over-provisioned on day 1 to reduce the risk of obsolescence down the road. This dramatically reduces the effective utilization rates for storage platforms, as much of the capacity sits idle for the fi rst half of the device’s lifetime. Unfortunately, growth is often highly unpredictable due to consolidation or acquisitions, and it is also diffi cult to predict when the storage asset will become full, requiring another large capital expenditure (capex) purchase. Cloud and man- aged storage arrangements offer customers a way around this dilemma, with the customer being able to purchase storage
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