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How Healthcare Providers Can Benefit from Cloud Data Migration

As health IT infrastructure demands grow, organizations are implementing cloud data migration to provide a more cost effective and flexible infrastructure environment.

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Healthcare organizations seeking a flexible and secure strategy for storing and accessing their data assets are increasingly turning to cloud data migration.  

While lower setup and maintenance costs are one of the initial attractions of cloud storage, organizations can also benefit from the flexibility that a cloud data migration project can offer.  

Value-based care, population health management, and an increasingly mobile user base demand a storage infrastructure that scales up easily without requiring undue investments in time and capital.

According to a HIMSS survey, cloud is already becoming the preferred deployment option for healthcare applications. Organizations have tripled their reliance on cloud computing since 2014, expanding their infrastructure to encompass a number of critical initiatives, including backup and disaster recovery, consumer engagement, and revenue cycle management.

“Cloud solutions are an extension of a healthcare organization’s communications infrastructure and connecting to the cloud is as mission critical as the platform itself,” said survey analysts. “Connectivity should easily ‘scale up,’ as more applications are moved to the cloud or more compute cycles are accessed for analytics.”

In order to take advantage of what the cloud has to offer, however, organizations need to properly plan for the healthcare data migration process.  Developing a data migration roadmap includes deciding which applications and datasets need to migrate to the cloud and what tools and technologies are available to ease the migration process.


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Challenges of cloud data migration

Healthcare organizations have a history of not realizing exactly how difficult it is to migrate to the cloud, according to ClearSky Data CEO Ellen Rubin.

“Initially, organizations underestimated how hard it would be to deploy real IT infrastructure in the cloud,” said Rubin. “They didn’t think about data migration, latency, or rebuilding applications for the cloud. These are the things that organizations have been learning the hard way over the past several years.”

The cloud is much different than what IT administrators are used to deploying in their legacy infrastructure environments. Organizations should start with a strong understanding of the skills and processes involved before and after the migration occurs, including management and maintenance requirements.

“Organizations are now much smarter because they have tried different cloud tactics and solutions to varying degrees of success,” Rubin explained. “They realize that managing the cloud is managing infrastructure, too, even though the data is not in an organization’s data center and they don’t have to scale or handle data on-premise.”

The network requirements of data migration also present an obstacle for many healthcare organizations.

“The ability to just move data in terms of the bandwidth that would be available for a large, heavy movement to the cloud or from the cloud is where things get ugly,” Rubin said.

“An organization has to be willing to invest to upgrade and scale their network. In some ways, it’s a short-term problem. If you have a dataset and you’ve moved it, then you’re done because everything that happens with the data from that point is in the cloud.”

Traditional wireless infrastructure cannot typically handle the stress of a full-scale migration. Organizations need to decide if they will take the steps to upgrade their network for the migration, or use one of the migration tools many of the major cloud vendors provide.

Upgrading the wireless network has many benefits beyond the migration and should be considered first for the overall strength of the IT infrastructure. However, it can be a massive expense that many organizations cannot afford at the same time as a cloud migration.

Many vendors offer services to help organizations migrate. Vendors are generally willing to work with organizations struggling with bandwidth restrictions.

After the initial infrastructure requirements are assessed, organizations can then determine which applications will benefit the most from migrating to the cloud. 


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Migrating healthcare applications to the cloud

Healthcare organizations typically begin the migration process by moving apps to the cloud. According to Rubin, very few healthcare organizations choose to migrate all of their infrastructure to the cloud, making hybrid environments very common among healthcare organizations.

Full archive migrations are expensive and many organizations don’t see the need to spend the money moving data they do not use regularly. Applications benefit from being deployed in the cloud which is why many organizations choose to migrate applications to the cloud first.

Organizations need to consider their current environment and determine which applications would better serve users if they were deployed in the cloud.

“There will come a time when running a legacy app will simply no longer make any sense, said HealthITSecurity.com contributor Bill Kleyman. Yes, even if it ‘still works,’ it might nevertheless be time to migrate.”

Cloud-based applications give IT departments relief because they provide access to software development kits (SDKs) and other infrastructure tools that may not be available in their current IT infrastructure. Cloud-based apps also give organizations easy access to updates, which is especially important in healthcare for security purposes.

Migrating applications to the cloud also gives entities the option to scale the app up while using tools provided by the cloud vendor.

Each organization is different, but several key motivators in app migration remain consistent across all entities.

According to the Cloud Standards Consumer Council motives include business agility and flexibility, improved responsiveness, broader reach, better analytics on application usage, improved availability, and reduced or reallocated costs.

The Cloud Standards Consumer Council also advises that organizations take six essential steps to ensure apps are migrated successfully.

Assess applications and workloads.  Assessing applications and workloads requires organizations to first understand the impact migrating the app will have on business transformation, service levels, and costs. It also includes determining if the application needs to be upgraded and how easily it can be redesigned for the cloud.

Organizations need to understand the integration and compatibility requirements for each application they consider migrating. The apps must also account for performance, resiliency, high availability, and disaster recovery.

Build the business case. Organizations need to build a business case by analyzing the business impact, service levels, and cost. Entities need to weigh the difference between ongoing cloud service costs and on-premise hosting, along with license management, service management, application deployment, testing, and the human resources required to manage the app.

Entities must plan for licensing changes due to migration. Licensing costs can increase massively when migrating to cloud. Organizations should review their licensing contracts and adjust accordingly before migrating, which will save organizations from surprise fees that can put a migration project over-budget.

User satisfaction and engagement must also be considered to determine if the app will be successful after it’s migrated, justifying the costs. Revenue impact along with the cost of handling peak loads and time-to-market improvements are also major factors determining the value of migrating certain apps to the cloud. Service levels including application availability, performance, security, privacy, and compliance also need to be analyzed.

Develop the technical approach.  Developing a technical approach requires that organizations consider all the technical skills and tools involved in app migration and lifecycle management. Organizations need to have IT staff with cloud service skills to manage the apps in the cloud.

Security protocols also need to be to be compatible with the migration and integrate into the new cloud deployment. Organizations also need to determine if the app can benefit from cloud scalability if they decide to build onto the app in the future.

Adopt a flexible integration model. Organizations should adopt a flexible integration model that addresses the integration between the migrated application, the applications remaining on-premise, and IT services.

Entities also need to outline what to do if they encounter issues during migration and have a failover plan in place.

Address security and privacy requirements. Security and privacy requirements also need to be addressed. Applying a risk management method and mapping the migrated app to security classifications will ensure clinical data is still protected post migration. Getting the cloud service provider to sign a business associate agreement is also required to ensure data is protected.

Manage the migration- The apps need to be installed and configured and integrations completed. A mock migration can be done to uncover potential issues before the migrated app is fully deployed.

Many steps are involved in healthcare app migration, but there are tools and available to ensure that the apps transition smoothly to their new cloud environment. 


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Source: Thinkstock

Tools and technologies to consider for healthcare data migration

Vendor migration services and virtualized infrastructure are several ways organizations can ease the migration process.

Most major cloud service vendors have a data migration service for customers migrating to their cloud to help organizations keep costs down and reduce the need to invest in tools that will not be used continuously.

Vendor migration services typically simplify certain aspects of the migration to take the strain off of IT staff and eliminate the need for cloud specialists managing every aspect of the migration. The services automate certain parts of the migration process such as testing and scheduling.

Virtualization is also worth considering for organizations looking to consolidate health IT systems and develop a more future-proof infrastructure.

Virtualized environments are generally easier to migrate so if an organization predicts it’s likely they will migrate large amounts of data again in the future, a virtualized environment might be better to implement sooner rather than later.

Virtualization is becoming a popular storage solution for many healthcare organizations because it saves space by abstracting data from a disk, which essentially separates it from the physical server. The separation allows organizations to move the data from one environment to another with little disruption.

Cloud migration is a complex yet necessary undertaking for healthcare organizations. Proper planning and consideration workloads and applications allow organizations to embrace the cloud for future data expansion and flexibility.

Planning and preparing for cloud data migration by considering the network impact as well as the future possibilities the technology allows will help guide organizations to success cloud deployments. Planning the migration with the cloud service provider can ease the transition and cut costs by providing infrastructure tools. Moving away from legacy on-premise solutions will give organizations scalability and flexibility while cutting overall costs. 

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