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Speed off with flash storage benefits for healthcare

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For healthcare data storage of IoT and AI info, consider flash

With IoT and AI-driven data growing in healthcare organizations, a consultant suggests providers look into flash storage to take advantage of the technology's speed.

IoT activities likely will affect healthcare data storage decisions in the future, so hospitals and medical sites should evaluate flash memory options.

"We have some challenging data use cases" in clinical settings, said Mike Garzone, an analyst at consulting firm Impact Advisors. The volume of patient-related data continues to grow, and "IoT will make it bigger."

This growth creates the need for more efficient healthcare data storage of digital information such as medical images or readings from connected medical devices. Having this data available in real or near real time helps nurses and physicians deliver care more efficiently, whether it's searching a patient's EHR for past diagnoses or confirming whether a prescription carries any drug interaction warnings.

More speed given, less power taken

Flash memory is a good option to look into for healthcare data storage because of its well-known benefits: speed and less power consumption compared to spinning disks. For example, moving to flash storage can result in speeds dozens of times faster than spinning hard drives.

Garzone said the speed of flash helps providers that want to connect IoT medical devices, analyze patient data through AI, conduct real-time clinical surveillance work or enable swifter searching capabilities. Simply put, in all three cases, "you need to be fast," Garzone said. 

For example, after Sharp HealthCare installed flash several years ago, certain clinical and financial reports -- which once took 10 hours to complete -- ran in five to 10 minutes.

Storage vendors recognize the need for speed and have consistently moved their product lines towards solid-state storage, which flash stems from. Flash memory "is stable. It's fast. It's easy to work with," Garzone said.

And flash is about to get "exponentially faster" thanks to a technology called nonvolatile memory express (NVMe), which will improve latency for storage, he added.

NVMe has practical uses, according to a white paper from IT analyst firm Neuralytix and Tegile Systems, a storage vendor. Among them is a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), in which a hospital hosts a desktop OS on a central server. In turn, the network delivers desktop images to various user devices, which lets clinicians more easily access their desktop apps on these devices. VDIs can tax storage system performance, however.

"NVMe will help reduce the latency associated with VDI, giving users a better and more productive session," the white paper stated. "Additionally, an NVMe-based storage system can act as additional virtual memory, allowing more VDI sessions to be hosted on a single physical server while maintaining performance."

Mobile devices benefit from flash, too

Beyond healthcare data storage concerns, flash is also helpful in these two important areas identified by Garzone:

  • Mobile devices: Flash is used in smartphones, which often act as lifelines to data for physicians and nurses in a busy unit.
  • Switching and routing: Flash enables faster authentication in network routing systems.

Garzone has even heard anecdotally from a client that flash storage could offer greater security compared to spinning disks because it may be easier to verify data-cleansing activities in flash devices when they are retired from service.

This was last published in August 2018

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