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Not all providers will reap cloud image storage savings

While small health care providers may save money by using a cloud storage provider, larger facilities may be better off managing their own data centers. One CIO explains why here.

Fears of data breaches, compliance snafus and bad publicity scare hospital administrators away from considering cloud vendors. According to Jeanine Banks, General Electric Co.'s general manager of global marketing for specialty solutions, those fears melt away when cooler heads prevail and administrators entrust IT leadership to make the call when data storage needs outstrip a provider's capacity.

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Banks is seeing IT people increasingly unafraid to utilize cloud services. So far, GE has seen an increase in the number of customers committing radiology images to its vendor-neutral archive, challenging the traditional PACS model for medical image storage in some facilities.

"Imaging is the largest source of data in their data centers…the decision-making process and purchasing power around [storage] has shifted from the radiology department to IT," Banks said. "With that kind of shift, IT decision makers are trying to figure out what they are going to do with their entire storage environment, and storage-as-a-service is one of the most popular use cases for leveraging a cloud environment. We do see more interest, more demand for storage in the cloud from a long-term archiving perspective."

Economy of scale should frame cloud image storage discussions

But cloud image storage only makes economic sense for smaller facilities, said Pete Higgins, CIO of Radiology Affiliates Imaging, which provides services to about a dozen hospitals and clinics in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. He doesn't plan to commit his organization's patient data to a cloud provider. The rationale has nothing to do with his confidence in cloud storage security, but, rather, dollars and cents.

Storage vendors are cramming more and more data in smaller, more energy-efficient boxes. This is outstripping the growth of storage needs, even in the rapidly advancing radiology specialty where video and higher-resolution images hog increasing space. As a result, Higgins will just buy smaller, more capacious storage for his data center rather than invest in cloud image storage.

Cloud image storage comes with hidden costs that aren't always obvious, such as the infrastructure and bandwidth needed to transmit and receive data.


"Our data center's got plenty of room. In fact, we do hosting services for other organizations," including hospitals and small imaging centers who want to get physicians orders our of electronic health records and into picture archiving and communication systems (PACS) and radiology imaging systems (RIS), Higgins said. Radiology Affiliates Imaging's IT department serves as its own limited-liability corporation, selling consulting services to area health care providers.

Higgins does, however, understand how smaller providers might find value in cloud image storage. Economies of scale start kicking in around the 30-terabyte range, he estimated, depending on the rates different cloud vendors might offer. Most health care providers' pain threshold, he guessed, probably amounts to paying up to 1.5 times the cost of storing data in a data center, factoring in maintenance, heating, cooling and other costs. Once an organization's storage needs grow past that point, managing its own data center is cheaper.

Higgins also pointed out that cloud image storage comes with hidden costs that aren't always obvious, such as the infrastructure and bandwidth needed to transmit and receive data. "One way or another, you're going to pay for it," he said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Don Fluckinger, Features Writer or contact @DonFluckinger on Twitter.

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