Networking News

4 Ways to Plan for Changes in Health IT Infrastructure

“Dell happens to own four recovery architectures and EMC owns three. All products are not going to be retained."

By Frank Irving

- Just as doubt clouds major financial markets, sub-markets — such as health IT infrastructure — react the same way to ambiguity. Consider, as a case in point, computer maker Dell’s plans to acquire data storage vendor EMC and its potential impact on hospital customers.

“If you had asked anybody a year ago, when Dell was just going private, whether the company would take on $64 billion in debt [to acquire] a company as substantial as EMC, generally the market would have said, ‘You’re kidding yourself.’ However, they’re moving ahead,” observed Stephen Matheson, vice president of product management for Bridgehead Software.

Matheson, who spoke with HealthITInteroperability this week, brings a unique perspective, having previously worked directly for EMC and currently in conjunction with Dell through Bridgehead reseller partnerships.

“This is going to be a time of uncertainty, and it’s probably going to take one or two years to work itself out,” he said, referring to what he describes as EMC and Dell’s “full overlapping suite of products” in spinning-disk arrays, de-duplication devices and back-up appliances.

“Dell happens to own four recovery architectures and EMC owns three. All products are not going to be retained,” observed Matheson.

And this won’t be the last time that an infrastructure vendor changes, he predicts, citing IBM’s rumored intent to sell off its storage division. In light of expected transition, Matheson offered four areas for hospital IT executives to analyze as they prepare for the reality of market upheaval.

1. Can you establish a heterogeneous storage environment? Consider implementing a management layer that sits below the applications and above the storage infrastructure. This approach allows you, through policies, to decide where data should reside and in how many different types, according to Matheson. Accordingly, organizations — especially those with large data footprints who may want to retain certain data or put it in data warehouses — can insulate themselves from the next migration.

2. Can you migrate data while supporting multiple devices in the background? A hospital keeping data for long-term retention on a flash storage platform should be able silently automate the movement of the data to satisfy a business case, such as migrating to a cloud platform. “It should be a matter of policy-driven migration that allows the customer to keep data on the most expedient and cost-effective platform,” explained Matheson.

3. Can you maximize the value of the data you retain? Consider whether retained data can be indexed by third-party software. “You may be able to ‘listen’ to an HL7 feed and thereby index data and store it so it doesn’t have to be recreated,” explained Matheson. The more you can index data — whether contained in email, SharePoint documents or discharge summaries, for instance — the more valuable it becomes, he added.

4. Can you share information between applications? If Application A creates the data, is there a way it can be made available to application B? Alternatively, if you no longer want Application A, is there a way the data can be subsumed by Application B so that the data is still accessible when the original application is retired?

Preparing for these scenarios should take the sting out of future migrations, said Matheson.

“If there’s a management layer on top of storage, the migration won’t matter. It’s effectively the commoditization of storage. We think the Dell-EMC acquisition is really bringing that commoditization forward,” he concluded. “It doesn’t mean you can’t buy hardware or storage. It simply means that you should have a mechanism so that your dependency on a particular platform is relieved and you don’t have to worry about outages or downtime or migration.”



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