To Reach the Cloud, Healthcare Will First Need a Solid Infrastructure Maintenance Strategy

    January 11, 2016

    By Per Bauer

    The healthcare industry has its sights set on the cloud — however, it will need a thorough understanding of its entire IT infrastructure to avoid excessive costs.

    The cloud has been arguably the most-hyped technology in recent years. The healthcare industry is just the latest to explore making the shift from on-site physical systems for its renowned benefits, including revolutionized data storage, seamless information sharing, no costs related to physical hardware, etc.

    But as healthcare moves skyward, will the cloud’s performance match industry expectations? If companies don’t properly evaluate the needs of their IT systems, the move could cost major healthcare players much more than necessary.

    Even so, many CIOs and IT professionals in the industry have taken cloud adoption as a matter of course, and healthcare cloud services are poised to grow nearly $6 billion by 2020 as a result, according to Markets and Markets. Of course, the seamless transfer of patient information and data-driven care are critical for improved treatment, but the industry must first determine if its specific IT needs demand the cloud as a solution. Otherwise, there’s virtually no way to ensure that you’re making a return on your cloud investment.

    Is the Cloud Always Best?

    No business should think to move to the cloud, or even virtualize their systems, until it understands how well its IT capacity can support its services — what are your peaks and valleys, and when when are they expected to occur?

    This is difficult for any company, but especially so for healthcare providers, whose systems are famously fragmented. Where digital systems have overtaken paper legacies, they are often organized inconsistently, siloed on a per-department basis.

    Forbes explains that this is largely due to the fact that HIPAA laws prevent medical records from being freely shared (a very good thing), but which vastly complicates how systems operate. Without the use of advanced algorithms, manually computing the efficiency of such IT infrastructures is a huge challenge.

    An added layer of complexity comes from the necessity for secure systems — 2015 saw healthcare data breaches that affected over 100 million people in the U.S., according to Security Intelligence. While most of these incidences were due to physical breaches (stolen laptop information, for instance, as opposed to a hack), the cloud carries specific risks which much be navigated in HIPAA-compliant fashion. Is the cost of this complexity worth it? It depends.

    Matching Service to Process

    A healthcare provider must know how specific IT workloads are allocated to which servers, and at which times, to understand the true cost of IT. And while some processes work well in a diffused, virtualized environment, others perform better on physical systems — for instance, Wells Fargo has chosen to virtualize just 60% of its servers because many functions don’t run efficiently in the cloud, as TechTarget reports. Will you move every service to the cloud? On a public or private architecture?

    In many ways, leaping to the cloud is putting the cart before the horse — it works very well in many situations, but if your infrastructure doesn’t require the cloud, there is no guarantee that you’ll save any money (or that you won’t spend much more than intended). The best strategy is to first evaluate your IT needs and progress, and then fit the server solution to the problem. A solid infrastructure maintenance strategy is the only way to properly account for your services and confidently ensure that you only pay for what you need.

    (Main image credit: paul bica/flickr)

    Category: cloud-computing