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New hospital cloud services changing clinical workflows

New VMware-, Microsoft-hosted healthcare desktop virtualization models create efficiency for health IT buyers.

As healthcare IT continues to evolve, hospital cloud services and desktop virtualization start to make sense to reduce the components of a hospital's technology infrastructure. We are seeing a number of IT folks looking to do away with Level 1 desktop support and evaluating the use of virtual desktops to reduce dependency on traditional machines.

At the same time, healthcare facilities are seeing an increase in mobile device adoption, as well as a surge in the use of tablets, thin clients and virtual desktops. Because clinicians typically need remote access capabilities, as well as multiple-device support across different locations, desktop and application virtualization become viable options for their IT support teams. However, costs, hardware requirements and the complexity of a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) can be an obstacle for many healthcare IT executives.

Although some CIOs are reticent to engage cloud vendors, an emerging, more cost-effective alternative to in-house VDI is Desktop as a Service.

Although some CIOs are reticent to engage cloud vendors, an emerging, more cost-effective alternative to in-house VDI is Desktop as a Service. Vendors are introducing platforms, such as VMware Inc.'s Desktone, designed to deliver Windows applications and desktops through the cloud. Microsoft is also rumored to be working on an offering it calls Mohoro for hosted desktops and remote apps.

This is yet another clear example of the direction in which desktops will be moving. With the ability for devices such as the iPad, Android or the Windows tablets to connect to a virtual desktop, IT staff will see fewer deployments of physical desktops and an increased use of hospital cloud services. This is likely to have positive effects in five areas of the healthcare IT environment:

Device flexibility. Mobile devices, thin clients, tablets and e-books have the ability to connect to virtual desktops. This further encourages the use of VDI as a viable option to deliver consistent content and data securely to end users. Similarly, these devices are also able to connect to cloud-based desktops.

System expertise. From an infrastructure standpoint, an on-premises VDI implementation requires a specific skill set and expertise. For most IT departments, rolling out such projects does require a significant investment in training and knowledge. However, with a hosted VDI model, many hospitals can roll out desktops and virtual apps without any significant installation and deployment project.

Security and compliance. The use of cloud in hospitals is still concerning for some when it comes to security and compliance. Vendors such as VMWare and Microsoft all have business associate agreements available for their healthcare clients. And when it comes to hosted or cloud-based infrastructures, the availability of disaster recovery and business continuity processes provides assistance toward safeguarding data as part of HIPAA compliance.

Scalability and costs. Cloud services provide the advantage for many to simply pay for what they use. This reduces the up-front capital needed for systems. When it comes to desktops, reducing the number of full desktops, servers and storage to be purchased -- and replacing them with just thin clients and a Desktop as a Service -- would likely offer significant reduction in those up-front costs. Similarly, cloud is significantly more scalable.

Manageability. Hosted desktops do come with robust tools to help manage all the applications that may be needed by end users. It is also valuable for IT staff to be able to adjust the resources on demand without the need to physically get under an employee's desk.

While there have been attempts in the past and existing products that offer similar services, seeing the capabilities of vendors such as Microsoft and VMware does interest most enterprise organizations. These services will enable many IT departments to leverage the cloud to now deliver desktops. Security and costs will still need to be evaluated, and hospitals will have to perform an ROI analysis to ensure which solution would yield the highest long-term return.

Reda Chouffani is vice president of development with Biz Technology Solutions Inc., which provides software design, development and deployment services for the healthcare industry. Let us know what you think about the story; email or contact @SearchHealthIT on Twitter.

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