Flash storage poised to benefit healthcare IT

The economics of flash storage are changing, and the healthcare industry is in a perfect position to take advantage of these changes to solve multiple challenges.

Healthcare has an exploding data storage problem. Increased use of electronic health records (EHRs) and digital images (among other issues) has healthcare CIOs struggling for cost-effective storage solutions, including the cloud and aggressive data-tiering.

The issue with these solutions is that the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is very specific and rigorous about putting data in the cloud. Choosing the wrong partner could expose you to risk and fines. And, surprisingly, with the exception of “cold” data — which is usually held on tape and other cheap storage solutions — flash storage is starting to be more economically viable for tier 1 storage, and possibly for lower tiers as well.

It isn’t just that flash storage is getting cheaper (though it is). It’s also that flash storage lets you save money on the surrounding infrastructure. On a pure GB/dollar point of view, spinning disks are still cheaper than flash storage, but that’s not the right way to look at it anymore.

Flash storage lowers your storage footprint by 84 percent, saving you money both in terms of physical space and environmental costs. Because of its 90 percent lower latency, flash allows you to run more virtual machines and fewer physical servers, further reducing costs. Flash storage also allows better storage utilization and better scalability.

And perhaps the most overlooked part of all of this is that, because of all the savings above, you often lower licensing costs because you are running less hardware. Add it all up, and the case for flash improves significantly.

Benefits of using flash storage in healthcare

The obvious first benefit of using flash storage in healthcare is that it gives you the opportunity to make more data readily available with low latency and at lower costs than other solutions. This is not merely a matter of convenience, it is an actual necessity in healthcare.

Reforms around the Affordable Care Act put more emphasis than ever on preventive care. The emphasis for health professionals is on follow-up care to prevent patient re-hospitalizations and on intervening with chronic diseases before they become acute. In other words, more data will be “hot” and an increasing number of departments within a healthcare organization will be accessing that hot data. Flash is a good way to respond to these changing methods of accessing your data.

Another major benefit to bringing more flash into healthcare is its advantages to virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI). Virtual desktops are an attractive solution in a healthcare environment, and flash’s low latency is ideal for it. VDI allows use of EHRs in a much more secure environment. Terminals throughout the hospital (sometimes left unattended by necessity) are no longer physical points of access to privileged data and sensitive networks. Administrators can manage access and permissions better with VDI, and more easily update terminals. This is especially valuable for remote clinics, where IT professionals are not always available to easily secure and update remote terminals. A secure virtual desktop makes HIPAA violations far less likely.

Another reason flash storage is beneficial for healthcare environments is because it scales fast. Mass casualty and trauma events can tax systems and quickly use up system resources. Flash, with its low latency and ease of use with virtual machines, allows hospitals to spin up storage quickly in response to emergencies.

Future potential for flash storage in healthcare

In the near future, you will also see flash storage used in medical research, as well as in the growing field of personalized medicine. Particularly resource-intensive functions, such as genome mapping, will become more common in both research and personalized medicine. These advances will mean that medicine will be prescribed, in part, based on a patient’s genetic makeup. For instance, some medication has been known to work on some people and blocked in other people with certain inhibiting genes. Previously, this medication would fail to be approved by governing bodies.

However, personalized medicine and big data might soon be giving a new lease on life to these drugs. The data storage needs to accommodate these advances will increase exponentially, and Flash will serve as a major component in meeting the challenge. Now is the time to build your internal capabilities and infrastructure in preparation for the future data storage needs of healthcare.

How much you use flash depends partially on your type of environment. Some healthcare enterprises will be able to use cheaper options for some or all of their storage needs. But the economics of flash are changing. Less hardware, less physical space, less latency, combined with more scalability and power means flash, and even all-flash storage arrays, may be the right solution for a healthcare CIOs needs.

Dell Inc.
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