Healthcare News & Insights

Private vs. public vs. hybrid cloud: Which is best for your digital strategy?

ThinkstockPhotos-470542178 (2)Cloud is a foundational framework for building, deploying and operating digital health care. It’s also a critical enabler of any hospital’s digital transformation. As a more agile infrastructure, cloud can offer faster innovation, enhanced workflows and access to greater knowledge for better patient care while maintaining security and required governance. In this guest post, Brendan Ziolo, head of large enterprise strategy at an IP networking and cloud technology company, helps hospital executives figure out which cloud strategy is best for their overall digital strategy.

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While most think of the public cloud when they hear the term, cloud can be implemented in different ways, including public, private and hybrid models. Hospitals should choose deployment models that best match their requirements in terms of security, costs and operational flexibility.

But this can be one of the biggest challenges facing organizations wanting to take advantage of cloud technology. Reason: Most healthcare organizations won’t move their entire operations away from their own private infrastructure, especially when they have legacy solutions, complex integrations or regulatory constraints.

Cloud deployment models

The good news is they can select a combination of cloud deployment models, depending on their needs and applications. In fact, there are tools that exist to ensure these diverse models can still be managed in a consistent fashion.

  • Public cloud is made available over the Internet to the general public or a large industry group and is owned by a cloud provider. Because public clouds lease infrastructure to a variety of clients, data or workloads may be on common systems, making identity, access control and encryption very important. Due to security concerns, healthcare providers have been reluctant to use public cloud.
  • Private cloud is operated by a single organization and access is restricted within that organization. Private clouds are run on private networks, for which bandwidth and communications are managed for an optimal experience. A private cloud is typically deployed on the healthcare provider’s premises but they can also be deployed off-premises as a virtual private cloud. In this case, healthcare organizations will need to work closely with the service provider to ensure security.
  • Hybrid cloud is made up of a series of different interoperable clouds that are linked together. Different types of clouds may be joined together under this arrangement, such as a private cloud and a public cloud service. The infrastructure is a composition of two or more clouds that remain unique entities, but are bound together by standardized or proprietary technology that enables data and application portability. This choice gives more flexibility than the private cloud model, but allows you to keep your most sensitive data on your own network.

What healthcare executives need

Public cloud can be cost effective and used for applications that don’t have strict security requirements. Public cloud can be faster to implement and eliminates on-going maintenance and management costs with a pay-as-you-go model. But before choosing a public cloud provider, it’s critical to check their profile, history, security practices and healthcare customer references. When security is paramount, facilities should choose a private cloud approach, with future hybrid deployments in mind.

Healthcare executives should choose private cloud when:

  1. They’re required to meet strict compliance and regulatory guidelines, and must be transparent and auditable. This is critical for hospitals. Government reform and regulations dictate data privacy and data sovereignty in healthcare delivery.
    Telemedicine and electronic health information sharing often overlap regional, state or national locations, which means that a cloud environment must be secured, automated and programmable in order to meet these requirements.
  2. They have made significant investments in data centers and health IT infrastructure across the care delivery system. To the extent possible, stakeholders should build from existing health IT infrastructure, increasing interoperability and functionality as needed.
  3. Their applications are mission-critical. Many healthcare applications are highly customized and critical to patient care and safety. These applications may also rely on specific hardware or on-premise equipment that requires speed and will not tolerate the network latency that occurs when using an off premises cloud provider.

Future-proof infrastructure

In a private cloud environment, software, storage and compute can become part of a single platform that’s connected through a private network. In this environment, healthcare IT departments can know which devices, operating systems and applications are running, how they’re configured, who’s using the devices and systems, what they’re doing and how data is moving across the environment. With visibility across all networked activity, IT departments can apply controls using analytics and automation for secure action and response across the entire system.

Designing a private cloud should always be done with hybrid interoperability in mind and using open standards. In the future, some applications may be determined to be suitable for a public cloud or may need to connect to another healthcare community cloud. By designing with a hybrid environment in mind, organizations can future-proof their infrastructure to ensure interoperability and make their environments more scalable.

Defined strategies

It is becoming common to see private clouds deployed in enterprises. In a recent survey of senior IT decision makers, conducted by Penn Schoen Berland (PSB), 72% of healthcare industry respondents said that they were using private cloud computing. Private cloud will deliver greater organizational agility, but this won’t be delivered by technology alone.

Healthcare organizations will need defined digital and cloud strategies with an understanding of the expected business outcomes. They’ll need to assess processes and understand the new skills that will be required to build a private cloud infrastructure and should set appropriate expectations in the beginning. By using private cloud healthcare companies can build an agile IT foundation that will meet regulatory requirements, automate and streamline processes, and deliver better patient care.

Brendan Ziolo is head of large enterprise strategy at Alcatel-Lucent, an IP networking and cloud technology company. He has almost 20 years of security and technology industry experience. 

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