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Meaningful Health Care Informatics Blog

Oct 30 2012   6:56AM GMT

Top considerations when using cloud computing



Posted by: RedaChouffani
cloud, IaaS, SaaS, vcloud, VMWare

Health care organizations are recognizing the benefits of what technology has been able to deliver in terns of automation, consolidation and innovation. Cloud computing continues to promise a much more robust, scalable, and on demand infrastructure in the server and storage space. Health care organizations have the ability to choose from the model that best fits their organizational goals and technical needs whether it’s software-as-a-service, infrastructure-as-a-service or platform-as-a-service.

One of the areas that has seen a significant interest of health care IT professionals and executives is cloud computing as technology continues to be utilized as one of the vehicles to assist providersc in improving health care and reducing costs. This is also the area that enables organizations to simply leverage existing enterprise capabilities when some or all of their servers are available as virtual servers and hosted for a monthly fee.

However, there are many considerations to be reviewed prior to seeking a cloud provider to shift some or the entire infrastructure to. The following are some of the considerations when evaluating a cloud based option for your health care organization:

Security:

For many health care organizations such as CRO, IDNs, ACOs and independent physicians are required to protect and safeguard patient health records.  Under the HIPAA rules and the FDA regulations there are many regulatory compliance requirements that force the implementation of specific practices to ensure the appropriate safe guards are in place to protect the data from unauthorized access and improper use.

Public, private and hybrid tcloud: As health IT executives and professionals evaluate the cloud offerings, three distinct offering can be found in the market place.

Public cloud: This refers to a shared infrastructure that would be offered to the tenants in which they will have some significant cost savings when comparing it to the private cloud.  In this model there maybe some limitations to how the infrastructure is configured.  Which can be a challenge for some who may be under specific system requirements of certain EHR packages as well as other health specific applications.

Private cloud: In this private configuration the healthcare tenant will have full control over the specifics of the configuration of the system, and its networking components.  This is typically the setup that specific health organizations that are seeking a complete isolation form other cloud tenants.

Hybrid Cloud: Many organizations are approaching the cloud through this model.  By slowly operating only a limited and particular set of systems in the cloud and maintaining some of the remainder of resources within the boundaries of the private network.

Management and added value services: Many of the cloud service providers are providing IaaS.  This is helping many IT departments by outsourcing the management, monitoring and day-to-day maintenance needed for the infrastructure.  It also provides an added value service that enables the organization to refocus their internal IT assets to focus on more specific healthcare related projects instead of the traditional support and reactive model that is usually associated with hosting internally the server infrastructure.

Emergency access: One of the significant benefits to the Cloud is its high availability.  And as we face natural disasters such as Hurricane Irene or Sandy, having the infrastructure hosted in the cloud ensures the protection of the information.  However, one challenge is always the availability of the data and system when the cloud provider or connection to the data center is unavailable.  While there have been very limited number of outages that were related to the data center system failures, many hosting providers offer failover clouds that are located through out the US and across the world and are fully accessible to the tenants.

Pay as you go: As data storage needs continue to increase and the need for health information analysis requires additional computing resources from time to time, a cloud infrastructure deployment will have the ability to provide temporary additional resources that may only be needed during the analysis of large sets of data.  This helps reduce the up front costs that would traditionally with required for additional servers and storage that may only be needed on a temporary basis.

Simplified and consolidated management tools: Preparing designing and deploying an enterprise grade infrastructure for large healthcare systems typically requires a significant number of networking and system engineers.   However, with some of the advancements of automation and abstraction of the components such as security, networking and storage, products like vCloud Director as well as nicira are able to simplify dramatically the provisioning of many of the complex services needed to operate and completely get an infrastructure ready without worry.

While much of the early adopters of the clouds have been small to mid size companies, many more healthcare organizations and their growing demand of affordable and scalable infrastructure is forcing many to evaluate the many offerings available through some of the cloud service providers.  IT departments are looking beyond SaaS but at the full scope of capabilities available and benefits that they can gained from IaaS.

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