Healthcare News & Insights

It takes more than technology to build a successful private cloud

ThinkstockPhotos-480756953Essential to any healthcare provider’s digital transformation is its cloud strategy. A comprehensive plan will include technology choices, but must encompass the knowledge and skills required by IT to ensure a successful cloud implementation. Digital transformation takes a significant investment in resources and time. In this guest post, Brendan Ziolo, head of large enterprise strategy at a multinational communications and information technology company, helps hospital executives set appropriate and realistic expectations.

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When properly implemented, cloud delivers capabilities that enhance innovation and provide greater flexibility and efficiency. But healthcare providers must make careful decisions as to which data, transactions and resources should remain on their own infrastructure. In determining which cloud deployment model is best for their digital strategy, many healthcare executives have chosen to build private clouds in order to:

  • Meet their strict compliance and regulatory guidelines
  • Leverage their current infrastructure investments, and
  • Provide mission critical applications that are vital to patient care and safety.

Big payoff for efforts

Building a private cloud infrastructure is a multi-year effort, and one not without challenges. But the effort can pay off in a big way for healthcare providers, practitioners and patients. While making the decision to deploy a private cloud is the first step, the next is for IT to conduct an objective assessment of its competencies in infrastructure and operational disciplines to understand whether the organization has the knowledge and technical capabilities necessary to build and maintain a private cloud infrastructure.

The IT team can extend existing core skill sets, as needed, but they will also need to develop or acquire new skill sets that meet emerging cloud demands. They also need to move away from focusing exclusively on the bits and bytes to looking at technology as a way to solve issues facing healthcare providers.

Specifically, the IT organization needs a comprehensive understanding of virtualization and how to deploy open, standards-based technologies that will accommodate future business needs. Compute and storage will need to be virtualized, and all applications will need to be evaluated to see if they’ll run in a virtualized environment or if they’ll require the availability and elasticity of a cloud environment.

Virtualized network

While most virtualization begins with storage or compute to improve utilization, IT must also understand that the network needs to be virtualized. Virtualization of the network is especially critical. It connects the servers and storage clusters that ensure the performance of applications in the cloud, as well as between the users and the data center that provides secure access to applications and patient information.

Without a virtualized network, certain challenges cannot be overcome and this is where many organizations are short on expertise. For example, servers that were once dedicated to a single application will be expected to run 40 or more virtual machines (VM) in a cloud environment. This shift directly impacts the network due to the explosion in the number of endpoints and is compounded by the dynamic nature of these VM instances. The network must be virtualized to become agile and in sync with the virtualized applications that it’s supporting, and the IT organization must have an understanding of software-defined-networking (SDN) to achieve this.

Software-defined-networking

SDN enables the network to be programmable through abstraction and more efficient through automation, improving the overall operational efficiency and security of the private cloud infrastructure and digital workflow. Healthcare IT organizations should adopt SDN because they have strict security requirements and SDN can provide advanced policies for repeatable network services and advanced security. SDN is available from several mainstream networking vendors who can provide the expertise needed for private cloud networking in a healthcare provider setting.

But it doesn’t end there. A private cloud infrastructure must be designed with future interoperability in mind and potential extensions to public or community clouds. Planning for this kind of hybrid cloud model can ensure that non-mission critical applications, which may reside in a public cloud outside of the private cloud infrastructure, can be safely utilized.

Designing a private cloud that’s based on open standards with multivendor functionality ensures there are no barriers to using any hypervisor, cloud management system or network hardware vendor. The infrastructure should be able to network across the provider’s private data centers and tie to remote offices while also being able to burst safely into public or community clouds as needed.

Supporting the move from a conventional “analog” healthcare provider to a “digital” healthcare provider can be a complicated process. An assessment of technology and IT skills are needed early in the process for a successful digital transformation with a private cloud deployment. The benefits that a healthcare organization will achieve are directly linked to both. By qualifying and acquiring the needed skills and technology, healthcare IT departments will realize greater success in their private cloud implementation and their organization’s digital transformation.

Brendan Ziolo is head of large enterprise strategy at Nokia. He has almost 20 years of security and technology industry experience. 

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