The “Cloud” and Healthcare: Match Made in Heaven?

First, what is this “cloud” everyone keeps talking about?

The cloud is a new term for a pretty old idea.  The cloud simply refers to applications and data running in a data center that is not located on your organizations premises.  Back in the day of large mainframes, companies would offer compute cycles of their mainframes to other companies.  In the late 1990’s, ASP (Application Service Provider) was the trendy buzzword.  Later, SaaS (Software as a Service), IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) and hosting were all used to describe this same idea.  Today, we refer to it as the cloud.  In actuality, most people have used the cloud in their daily lives without even realizing it.  If you have or had an email account with AOL, Hotmail, GMail, Yahoo or any other email service, then you have utilized the cloud.

Now that we know what the cloud is and that it is nothing new, why does the cloud make sense for healthcare?  To answer that question, let’s contrast the typical client/server model used by most healthcare organizations to what a cloud provider like Centrinet can offer.

First, when a new application is purchased, it has to have a server on which to run.  The server is a pretty serious investment that the organization wants to use for the next 5 years.  The server has to be purchased with enough CPU, memory and storage to still be viable in years 4 and 5, which adds to the up front cost of the hardware.  However, with the cloud, you pay for the resources you need when you need them.  With virtualization technology paired with the latest hardware, cloud service providers can increase the resources necessary to run your applications with a click of mouse.  This allows the customer to grow their organization without having to worry about server resources necessary to sustain the additional workload.

Second, servers are loud, hot and need quite a bit of electricity.  Most organizations have a separate room dedicated to their servers.  This room often requires additional cooling to keep the room temperature in the normal range.  Utilizing the cloud means that you no longer need to dedicate a specific room in your building to house the servers.  You also reduce utility costs by not having the servers on your premises.

Probably the biggest advantage of the cloud over the typical client/server model is disaster recovery and business continuity.  Most cloud providers offer a redundant data center that they can replicate your applications and data between.  While your applications run primarily out of one data center, there is a backup copy of all of your applications and data in the second data center.  In the typical client/server model, if your office has a water leak that takes down the server, you are down while the server is repaired and the data is restored from your hopefully recent backup.  This is probably a good time to mention that if your backup is in the same place as your server (and in our hypothetical scenario, under water) or even in the same building, then you don’t really have a backup.  A server repair and restore can take days or even a week.  Cloud providers offer secure, dedicated data centers to protect your information.  With your applications and data replicated to a second data center, even with a total loss of the primary data center, you can be backup up and running in far less time.

Finally, the real reason most healthcare organizations are skeptical about the cloud is security.  Trying to comply with regulations like HIPAA, HITECH, Omnibus or even PCI or Sarbanes-Oxley is very difficult.  Utilizing the cloud can make compliance a lot easier.  First, your systems run in a dedicated, protected and secure data center environment which is much safer than what most organizations can provide.  Second, with the virtualization technologies used by cloud providers, all of the data can be configured to stay in the data center.  This means that the client device, whether it be a PC, laptop or tablet doesn’t contain any application data or PHI.  With this in place, the loss or theft of one of your client devices no longer results in you having to report the release of information.

With all of this said, is the cloud and healthcare a match made in heaven?  Absolutely.  The cloud can allow your organization to reduce costs, effectively scale your IT resources as you grow, put in place a full disaster recovery plan and make your environment more secure thereby reducing the overall risk to your organization.

If you would like more information and to see how the cloud can help your organization save money, become more efficient and become more secure, contact Centrinet today.  One of our cloud experts will meet with you and tailor a solution to maximize your organization’s success.

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