Cloud computing is a popular topic in IT circles today, and with this year’s Interoperability Showcase at HIMSS, the cloud’s impact on Interoperability will be an interesting topic of discussion. In healthcare circles, cloud computing conjures up fears for protecting private healthcare information and security concerns. There is a business case for a special type of cloud computing for healthcare called a Managed Private Cloud. A Managed Private Cloud could address the security concerns and deliver:
- cost reduction
- the ability to scale, and
- better utilization of IT resources.
Cost reduction in healthcare organizations is clearly at the top of the list. The cost reductions derived from cloud computing aren’t new technologies, but a combination of existing technologies. Virtualization drives higher utilization of resources and thus lowers capital expenses. Standardization also lowers capital and labor costs, and automation reduces the management costs. In addition, automation automates many of the manual tasks, especially related to system integration and interoperability and their associated costs. The other key aspect of cloud computing is availability and stability both of which improve the end-user satisfaction and reduce lost productivity.
The concept of a Managed Private Cloud is different from the public cloud that many people understand from Amazon and Google. A Managed Private Cloud would have the advantages of cloud computing but be owned by the enterprise (your healthcare organization), be capable of mission-critical applications, handle packaged applications and have high security compliance because it is controlled by your owners – your organization. But there is one big difference – a Managed Private Cloud is typically third-party operated and removes the challenge of managing the virtual infrastructure from your organization. This concept is a very different way of receiving and using compute application resources. It is especially important when there are needs to scale up and down depending on compute needs.
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Let’s examine a key application for the use of a Managed Private Cloud – system integration and interoperability. Most healthcare organizations tackle this challenge by provisioning their own hardware, wrestling with operating systems, loading software and meeting the infrastructure management challenges on a day to day basis. By contrast, a Managed Private Cloud maintains the hardware infrastructure, the operating systems, the storage management and infrastructure support activities. This utility allows the customer to focus on the real task at hand – creating the connections between disparate systems and external partners.
Scale-ability is an important feature of the Managed Private Cloud. The Managed Private Cloud can scale up a development, testing or next version production environment as needed or on-demand. More importantly, it can scale down as well. As integrated EMR applications take over the silo’ed software systems that are currently integrated, then the managed infrastructure can be reduced along with their associated costs. Time savings are significant from the Managed Private Cloud due to better utilization of resources to avoid waiting on the acquisition of new hardware or loading of operating systems (provisioning) just to get a project started. This environment is ideal for organizations that prefer to prototype new applications then scale them up to production.
Moving away from the traditional approach of pulling hardware resources together and deploying them in support of a business function workload, essentially one project at a time actually contributes to the silos that make interoperability costly for many healthcare organizations. More importantly, the Managed Private Cloud is designed for the 24x7x365 nature of healthcare, especially with a high degree of system integration. This is a task that is very challenging for an internal IT team, especially in geographic areas where IT infrastructure skills are scarce or costly due to competition for talent.
A Managed Private Cloud is a better use of IT resources when a healthcare organization is considering a healthcare information exchange (HIE), particularly if the HIE involves multiple hospitals, private practices and laboratories. Cloud technology has unique advantages to support this need: economies of scale, better resource utilization and the security of a private organizational ownership. The connections to the various units of the organization from the Managed Private Cloud would be secure, private and, yet, always available. The burden of the infrastructure provisioning and day-to-day management of the environments wouldn’t fall on the largest hospital or organizational unit.
In summary, the Managed Private Cloud is a prime time idea for healthcare and due to its design can address the security, compliance and other cloud concerns while delivering cost reductions, the ability to scale, and better utilization of IT resources. Interoperability projects, especially HIEs, have a great affinity for the cloud computing model both technically and from a risk/reward perspective. Just like good interoperability is about adopting standards, standardizing the provisioning for IT projects will lead to better economics.
If you would like to discuss this idea or other healthcare-related topics, please stop by Perficient’s booth (#3681) at HIMSS on Monday, February 21, 2011 from 1:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. or Tuesday, February 22, 2011 from 2:00 – 5:00 p.m. See you there!