Healthcare News & Insights

Why the network matters for a successful cloud deployment

ThinkstockPhotos-453612803According to a 2015 IT decision makers survey conducted by Penn Schoen Berland, 75% of hospital IT executives reported expense cuts. However, like their peers in other sectors, healthcare chief information officers (CIOs) and chief technology officers (CTOs) continue to face pressure to meet rising expectations of patients and practitioners. Brendan Ziolo, head of large enterprise strategy at a multinational communications and information technology company, explains how hospitals can improve the speed and quality of their care using cloud based services. 

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Cloud based services allow hospitals to share patient information in real-time across practitioners, locations and devices. By implementing a private cloud, healthcare providers will further optimize their operations, gain competitive differentiation, meet regulatory requirements and achieve greater control.

Virtualized network

A critical factor in delivering a high-performing cloud environment is a virtualized network. Typically, traditional network infrastructures don’t provide the level of automation, programmability or multi-tenancy required to support agile and secure cloud deployments for a healthcare provider’s digital transformation. The network needs to be secure while agile enough to handle a hybrid environment.

In a private cloud environment, the servers that were once dedicated to a single application are now expected to run 40 (or more) virtual machines. This shift directly impacts the network due to the explosion in the number of virtual endpoints and is compounded by the dynamic nature of virtual machine instances. For the network to keep up and not be the bottleneck, it must also be virtualized to become more agile and in-sync with the virtualized applications that it’s supporting.

To be viable, the ideal cloud network infrastructure must provide these essential attributes:

  • Automation and customization so the network responds immediately to application needs and evolves over time with close fit to the application’s lifecycle.
  • Flexibility and reach to eliminate networking boundaries that restrict placement of workloads and applications.
  • Control and performance to ensure visibility and deterministic service behavior, as a best-effort cloud is insufficient for regulated healthcare adoption.
  • Unifying services policy across data centers, wide area network and locations to eliminate errors and delays in the development, deployment and time to deliver new applications.

Software-defined networking

To meet these attributes, the IT organization should also understand and leverage software-defined networking (SDN). A dynamic network technology that’s programmable through abstraction and more efficient through automation, improving the overall operational efficiency and security of the private cloud infrastructure and digital workflow.

SDN can deliver many benefits to address the challenges of a digital healthcare organization’s IT department, including:

  • Much simpler manageability and scalability, freeing up IT personnel and resources for more strategic purposes, while enabling the overall organization to be more responsive to the needs of patients, clinicians, administrators and other employees.
  • Improved security and compliance management with granular control that supports consistent policy management and enables secure authentication at the user, application and device levels. This is becoming increasingly important as healthcare organizations continue to embrace mobile solutions for clinicians and other providers.
  • Enhanced disaster recovery capabilities with a virtualized approach to network deployment that allows the IT organization to restore networks with greater speed and accuracy to ensure higher availability of critical applications and services.
  • A more agile environment for testing and development with a network platform that’s simple to deploy and manage, ensuring that network changes are no longer a bottleneck for developing new applications but instead an asset for fast and agile deployment.
  • Support for open, heterogeneous environments in stark contrast to the proprietary platforms that are still a surprisingly large part of today’s legacy network environment.

Seamless overlay

SDN can seamlessly overlay an existing network and unify, automate and secure the private healthcare cloud. It is virtualized, centralized, intelligent and configurable on the fly. Through virtualization, resources are efficiently managed and automatically organized, making the healthcare organization more efficient, agile and innovative.

By providing a seamless overlay without requiring forklift-like upgrades, the SDN approach accelerates an organization’s time to the cloud. It also allows IT managers to integrate the many specialized devices and complex systems that have accumulated over time and through acquisitions.

Because it’s an overlay, SDN helps control costs since healthcare organizations are abled to use their existing network. It also allows multiple virtual networks to share the network to increase utilization and return on investment (ROI).

SDN allows networks to be consumed just as compute and storage resources are – through virtualization. It decouples the way network services are consumed from how they’re instantiated.

With SDN, no purpose-built networking hardware is required because all components are virtualized. By replacing ties to the physical network element with a set of required network attributes and by enabling centralized programming of network resources, the SDN overlay effectively enables the cloud.

Data center networking challenges

SDN also addresses the challenges of data center networking, which has traditionally been delivered primarily through virtual LANs (vLANs). vLANs can handle the basic functions of network virtualization, but they’re closely coupled to the physical network and, therefore, cannot scale or be agile enough to meet cloud requirements.

SDN provides a way to manage both virtualized and bare-metal applications and devices from a single console, making workloads and their corresponding data highly mobile anywhere within the cloud. An SDN solution makes network resources fully consumable, enabling a seamless and scalable infrastructure that can flex in response to the demands of patient care.

SDN is the key to enabling a secure and flexible cloud-ready healthcare network. With SDN binding all the elements of the IT environment together in a manageable way, a full range of healthcare cloud capabilities can then be activated, satisfying all of a healthcare provider’s requirements.

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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