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Top Three Data Center Trends

Outsourcing, modularity and the hybrid cloud are top trends in healthcare data management.

Data center management is a fact of life in healthcare information technology.

Unfortunately, it's becoming more complicated, thanks to the continued digitization of medical records, a rise in the use of high-grade medical imagery, and the extended reach of many healthcare organizations across multiple hospital sites, clinics, and physician offices.

Here are three of the top trends in the data center market, along with some thoughts on how they intersect with healthcare IT and what they could mean for you.

1. Outsourcing is In
Data centers are moving off site. According to surveys conducted by Uptime Institute, a division of the 451 Group, nearly every enterprise-across industries, including healthcare, financial services, and manufacturing - is now hosting a percentage of its IT workloads in some type of third-party environment. There's been a major uptick in spending for co-location services over the past four years, and Uptime Institute doesn't believe investments will slow any time soon.

Outsourcing in general is nothing new to healthcare IT. Healthcare providers, for instance, are no longer developing homegrown electronic health records (EHR) solutions. Hospitals also have long since realized that there are alternatives to maintaining rooms full of servers on their own premises. Moving that technology -- and the attendant power, network connectivity and security requirements -- to a HIPAA-compliant, multi-tenant data center (MTDC) not only frees up valuable real estate, but also can reduce costs and improve performance. Another emerging option is having an EHR vendor host your records in its own secure facility.

SEE ALSO: Outsourcing Meaningful Use

2. Modularity on the Rise
Following in the footsteps of Amazon and Microsoft, a number of data center providers are making the move to a highly efficient and scalable modular design. According to one study, the modular data center sector will grow at a compound annual rate of 31.9 percent over the next five years, creating a market value of $26.02 billion by 2019. In an MTDC, this trend toward modularity means individual clients can invest in infrastructure only as needed, and even customize modules to meet their own specifications for elements like power, cooling, and connectivity.

The healthcare industry is attracted to modular design for several reasons. On top of efficiency and scalability, modules provide much greater security over traditional data center cages, a non-trivial concern for anyone tasked with safeguarding protected health information (PHI). Some organizations that opt against data center outsourcing are also finding that pre-fabricated units, outfitted for outdoor use, provide a streamlined approach to expanding their own facilities. According to 451 Research, pre-fabricated modular design is a potential stopgap or bridge for industries not yet ready to outsource or turn to the cloud - or pour concrete.

Top Three Data Center Trends 3. Hybrid Cloud Realizes Hype
Hybrid cloud has been a buzz-worthy phrase for years, but real-world implementations are now on the rise for three key reasons. First, more organizations are adopting public cloud services alongside existing private cloud deployments. This is thanks to a wider range of solutions now available, and a growing track record of success. Second, networking options for connecting public and private data centers are improving. And third, MTDCs are offering new services to facilitate hybrid cloud deployments, including network management support, and even complex application optimization.

Implications for Healthcare IT
To see how this plays out in healthcare IT, let's first clarify the terms. An outsourced data center (see above) is not necessarily a cloud deployment. At minimum, it is a matter of renting space, installing your own technology and paying for power. If that hardware and software also supports shared services and in so doing achieves economies of scale, it could also be called a cloud - though a private one. Using an EMR vendor's software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution, on the other hand, takes you into a public cloud. Leasing capacity on Amazon's Elastic Cloud Compute (EC2) platform in order to execute a data intensive workload would be another example of a public cloud.

"Data center management is a fact of life in healthcare information technology."

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Multiple industries, including healthcare, are using a combination of public and private data center resources. According to a the Dell Global Technology Adoption Index, which surveyed more than 2,000 IT decision-makers late last year, 96% of healthcare organizations are using or considering using the cloud in general, with a majority split between private cloud (43%) and hybrid cloud solutions (43%) If there are challenges to hybrid cloud today, it is likely support for advanced applications and interconnection between the cloud domains and applications. Interoperability among EHR vendors, for instance, was a hot topic at this year's HIMSS event.

Healthy Choices
These three data center trends are all applicable to healthcare, and in positive ways. Outsourced data centers reduce real-estate requirements, while cutting costs and boosting performance. Modular design increases efficiency and security and provides a viable onsite option for some organizations. The hybrid cloud, which embraces public "as-as-service" applications, carries the most challenges, but represents a healthy expansion of choice.

Shawn R. Carey is an executive co-founder of Keystone NAP and is responsible for the sales and marketing activities of the company, bringing with him more than 25 years of experience as a Cloud, Infrastructure-as-a-Service & IT Managed Services executive & entrepreneur, including roles in executive leadership, business operations, sales and marketing, channel development, product management, product development & strategy.

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