Explore health IT data storage strategies

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Patient data storage options include public cloud, colocation

There are several options for healthcare data archiving, including the public cloud and on-premises data centers. The best choice will depend on the organization's needs.

One of the primary challenges faced by healthcare IT today is that of patient data storage. Systems ranging from medical imaging to patient billing produce massive quantities of data, and that data has to be stored somewhere. While it is common for the most recent data to be stored on primary storage, aging data that must be retained is commonly migrated to archival storage in order to make room for newly created data.

Part of the process of planning for data archiving is deciding where the data should physically reside. Options include the organization's own data center, a colocation facility or the public cloud. There are advantages and disadvantages to each option. Healthcare providers must archive data in a way that meets the organization's operational, financial and regulatory requirements.

On-premises storage

One option for data archiving is to store the data on premises in the organization's own data center. The primary advantage to archiving data on premises is that it gives the organization complete control over the data. While any of the patient data storage options discussed in this article will provide the ability to implement digital access control, on-premises storage provides complete control over physical security.

Another advantage to using on-premises storage is that -- assuming that adequate space is available in the organization's data center -- there are no costs associated with renting a facility, although there are still costs associated with power and cooling.

There are two main disadvantages to using on-premises storage for data archiving. The first is the equipment cost. If the organization does not already own the storage hardware, there will be an upfront investment required.

The second disadvantage to using on-premises storage is that the organization's IT department is responsible for day-to-day maintenance of the storage hardware and for first-tier technical support.

Colocated storage

A second option is to use colocated storage. Colocated storage refers to a commercial data center that leases space to individual tenants. In some cases, colocated storage can be significantly less expensive than using a dedicated data center. However, some colocation centers are known for having a high price tag.

In most cases, renting space within a colocation center provides tenants with power, cooling and at least some form of physical security. Security offerings can vary widely and can involve anything from armed guards to cameras that may or may not be monitored.

As is the case with on-premises archiving, colocation centers almost always require tenants to provide their own hardware. As such, there will typically be a large upfront investment in hardware, in addition to the cost of a long-term facility lease.

From a healthcare standpoint, the biggest disadvantage to using a colocation center for patient data storage is that doing so can be challenging from a compliance standpoint. Some colocation centers use cages to isolate tenants from one another, but others do not. Even if a colocation center provides top-tier physical security, healthcare providers must still be able to prove to regulators that there is no danger of a neighboring tenant being able to gain access to archived data.

Cloud storage

The third option for patient data storage is the public cloud. Public cloud archiving is often viewed as being the least expensive option because it does not require an upfront investment in hardware. Even so, public cloud providers charge a monthly fee for every gigabyte of storage consumed, and most also charge for data transfers. These monthly fees can be substantial and, over time, may exceed the cost of purchasing storage hardware.

In spite of the long-term costs, public cloud providers offer two main advantages to healthcare providers who need to archive data. First, public cloud providers take care of all of the day-to-day maintenance, and they provide technical support. This means that the organization's IT team is free to work on other things.

A second advantage to using public cloud storage is that reputable public cloud providers take security very seriously. The larger providers may even offer assistance with HIPAA compliance.

Each of the options for long-term patient data storage has its own advantages and disadvantages. Healthcare providers must determine which option is best suited for their needs. It is important to note that the selection of a data archival location does not have to be all or nothing. In some situations, it may be acceptable or even desirable to use multiple data archival locations.

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