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The types of technology that top health IT executives are evaluating on behalf of their organizations are usually good indicators of the popular trends in healthcare. Movement to public cloud platforms -- during which IT teams move some of their workloads to cloud providers to reduce costs and internal infrastructure footprint -- has become more frequent in recent years.
In an interesting twist, some vendors are taking a creative approach and offering IT departments a way to run the cloud provider's platform in the facility's own data centers.
Cloud service providers have built their internal cloud platform core systems to help offer self-service to clients and provide them an easy way to build out infrastructures in the cloud. These capabilities let IT administrators deploy hundreds of servers and services within minutes, something that has attracted many system administrators to consider cloud services offered by VMWare, Microsoft and Amazon Web Services.
Despite the popularity of the cloud, there are still many scenarios where shifting systems to the cloud is not cost-effective. In the past, compliance requirements have forced some organizations to turn down the opportunity to shift their data to a vendor's public cloud. As a result, cloud providers began to offer access to some of their best features to IT departments to run in their local environments.
Blending private and public cloud platforms
There are some vendors that offer software-defined platforms in which the hardware layer is abstracted, and system administrators are simply managing the deployment and provisioning of systems from a Web portal. Microsoft is one vendor that joined those ranks. During its 2015 Ignite event in Chicago, the company announced Microsoft Azure Stack to the public, which recently became available for download. The new platform allows IT departments to convert much of their hardware -- storage and servers, for example -- into a private cloud by enabling access to a number of key features and capabilities that Microsoft Azure offers through its public cloud platform.
The following list represents only some of what IT administrators will be able to accomplish with this platform through a Web portal: easy provisioning and deployment of virtual machines, virtual networks, software-based load balancers, virtual private network gateways, and storage capabilities and application programming interfaces to enable automation for systems deployments. The general availability of the platform is planned for the last quarter of 2016.
A common question that some IT analysts wonder is why a vendor gives away its platform and allows their clients to create their own private cloud instead of getting them to move to public cloud platforms. The fact is, providing the platform to clients lets them have a cloud-enabled internal environment that offers the same management experience available in the public cloud.
The introduction of Microsoft's new product will likely contribute to wider acceptance of private cloud. By addressing some of the gaps seen in both private and public cloud platforms, Microsoft can offer a hospital's IT department a clear roadmap that will allow them to confidently move away from thinking of their environment in terms of servers and different storage units. Now IT teams should be able to focus more on maximizing their value to the whole organization, rather than frequently thinking about which systems and servers they should be managing.
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