Guest Column | August 12, 2019

Living On The Edge: How Hybrid Cloud Storage Solves Healthcare's Data Challenges

By Laz Vekiarides, ClearSky Data

Data Governance, Security Concerns Drive Adoption Of Private Cloud Solutions

Facts are facts, and while you have to accept them, you don’t always have to live with them. Case in point are healthcare’s data challenges. Complete medical records must be readily accessible for care teams to take prompt and effective action. Included in that is the ability to view images, which are growing both in volume and size. Key applications must perform reliably and without delay, too. Further, healthcare has regulations like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Fines and ruined reputations follow when you fail to meet privacy and security requirements.

The cloud would seem to provide a solution to the capacity and access challenges. But many in healthcare have been wary about using the cloud for critical patient data and applications. That’s not just understandable, it’s prudent: the public cloud alone falls short on meeting industry demands, especially when it comes to performance: the cloud has a serious latency problem. This latency is unavoidable because the enormous facilities built by big public cloud providers are typically situated in rural locations, hundreds, sometimes thousands of miles from customer clusters in metro areas. The real estate is cheap, so that helps bring storage costs down. That’s the good news. But the bad news is that you can’t change the speed of light. No matter how big your connection is, that kind of distance introduces unavoidable latency.

To overcome this, data processing and other network activities must be moved closer to endpoints. By bringing edge computing into the mix, a hybrid storage-as-a-service approach can be created that can handle accessibility, scalability and regulatory obstacles, while still providing the benefits of the cloud.

Here’s what healthcare organizations should think about when considering this route.

Reliance And Compliance

To be a viable and reliable option in healthcare, a hybrid storage-as-a-service system must be secure. To achieve this, it must cover end-to-end encryption of data, both in-transit and at-rest. To make access of in-transit data virtually impossible, dedicated private lines should be used for each customer as well.

In addition, downtime can place patients in jeopardy. Strong backup and disaster recovery (DR) are imperative, and if service drops, it should take minutes, not hours to get up-and-running again. Being able to do so shouldn’t fall on the healthcare organizations, either, financially or operationally. The right provider will build data protection functionality into the service, and backup should automatically occur in the background. Data recoverability shouldn’t create yet another concern for an already busy healthcare IT team.

Full auditing logging and control is required for proving compliance, too. To that end, a provider should ensure you have all the reporting capabilities you need to meet every applicable regulatory standard, as well as any further requirements from partners that sponsor medical research.

You want to be able to easily prove it, and not lose it in the process.

Speed And Need

The data that healthcare is required to store and manage is growing fast. Modern imaging produces massive amounts, particularly those huge, single files used in picture archiving and communication systems. As imaging transition from two dimensions to three, file size can subsequently increase by a factor of 10 or more – so the need for additional capacity is only going to climb. And that’s on top of the general rule of thumb that an organization’s data will roughly double every two to three years.

Scaling an on-premises data center to accommodate this rate of growth is not sustainable. Organizations would need to buy far more capacity than they’d need for a year, or, purchase more every 18 months or so.

Hybrid storage-as-a-service should be designed to provide whatever capacity is needed, and when more is called for, it should only take a few clicks to acquire. And provider should make scaling down just as easy as scaling up. After all, a healthcare organization’s structure can change. The short of it is, a customer should only pay for the amount of storage it requires at any given time and not have to over-purchase in anticipation of future needs. And the healthcare organization shouldn’t be on the hook for paying egress fees to a cloud provider to access their data. The service provider should provide a predictable cost.

Scale and speed are the need, and the right storage-as-a-service system should be able to deliver.

Living On The Edge

Finally, a storage-as-a-service architecture should be specifically designed to provide rapid data and application availability and performance. To do this, the architecture must combine the edge and the cloud with intelligence to ensure data is exactly where it needs to be when it’s needed. Because when lives are at stake, fast performance is essential.

With the right storage-as-a-service system, healthcare organizations can safely venture into the public cloud. In doing so, they can not only avoid the cost and IT headaches of large on-premises storage systems, they can overcome low latency.

For healthcare, it’s abundantly clear that the phrase “living on the edge” has taken on new meaning.

About The Author

Laz Vekiarides is CTO of ClearSky Data.