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Avoid telehealth technology roadblocks with flash storage

The amount and format of clinical information running through telehealth technology can lead to video conferencing hiccups. Flash storage is an option to consider in such cases.

Telehealth is among the most ambiguously defined concepts in all of healthcare. The term simply means the delivery...

of health-related data over a telecommunications network.

Telehealth can refer to the remote monitoring of medical devices, long-distance robotic surgery or nearly anything in between. Often, however, the term describes a patient's ability to consult with a doctor via video conferencing.

Regardless of how telehealth technology is used, healthcare organizations tend to place the greatest emphasis on network bandwidth. This approach is completely understandable because bandwidth plays such a big role in the quality of the experience.

Telehealth demands top tech performance

Most IT professionals have probably experienced a video chat at one time or another in which the audio or video drops or in which the picture falls out of sync with the sound. Such occurrences are annoying when it comes to run-of-the-mill video conferencing, but can be downright disruptive to a doctor who is attempting to use the session to make a medical diagnosis of a patient.

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Flash storage is an excellent option to alleviate these telehealth technology concerns. Although flash storage tends to be a good choice for IOPS-intensive workloads, it is equally important to make sure that the storage connectivity does not become a performance bottleneck. IOPS provides a reliable performance measurement for storage devices.

The importance of storage performance is simple: Providers who use telehealth technology also tend to log telehealth data. Storage capacity is a concern because much of the telehealth data that is being produced today is video, but storage performance tends to be an even greater worry.

A trio of irksome storage issues

I've identified three reasons why storage performance nags healthcare organizations:

  • Telehealth can take on a number of different forms. Although video conferencing is a common telehealth implementation, it is far from the only type. Telehealth can also involve the remote monitoring of IP-enabled medical devices. Some doctors have even been known to issue patients digital stethoscopes that can transmit sound over the internet during a telehealth session. The point is that a telehealth session may involve the transmission and storage of more than just audio and video data. Such a session may also require medical images, text files or monitoring data to transmit. If all of this data is to be logged, then the back-end storage system needs to be able to keep pace.
  • Sessions occur in real time. As such, the recorded data is sensitive to storage latency, which is a strong argument for flash storage. If the storage subsystem is unable to keep pace, then data will be omitted. Recorded video may appear to freeze and audio may momentarily cut out, and because the telehealth session occurs in real time, there is no opportunity to recapture any streaming data that the system fails to record.
  • The storage system likely needs to record multiple simultaneous streams of data. After all, there is probably going to be more than one telehealth session occurring at a time. Depending on the size of the facility, there could be more than a dozen simultaneous telehealth sessions that need to be recorded, thereby compounding the demand for storage I/O.

Flash storage can potentially make the logging of telehealth sessions more practical because flash can handle random IOPS at a rate that is far greater than that of traditional storage.

It is worth noting, however, that storage capacity is also a concern. Given the cost of all-flash arrays, it may be more practical to implement a high-speed flash tier than to use an all-flash solution. Streaming data can be written directly to the high-speed tier and later be transferred to commodity storage during a period when there is a lower demand for storage IOPS.

Next Steps

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This was last published in July 2016

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