- Storing electronic health data is one of the more precarious decisions that needs to be made when deciding on a new health IT infrastructure or upgrading a current one. Along with the network, data storage is one of the largest technical undertakings of any healthcare organization. Whether to store data in the cloud or on an on-premise server can define how users access it and how an IT department manages end-user access.
There are three major ways of storing data: on-premise, cloud, or hybrid. All three of these options are currently being used in the healthcare industry by institutions of all sizes. Each situation is unique based on location, amount of data, and available resources, all of which need to be evaluated before any decision is made.
How to store data begins with the IT department: Is the current IT department able to handle a scalable data center and does the IT budget allow for the growth of the department if needed? The answer to whether an organization can afford to host on-premise servers is a large part of why organizations will reevaluate their data centers in favor of cloud storage or hybrid storage. While this isn’t the only factor, many healthcare organizations have strict budgets that may need to be spent elsewhere.
The following concepts can help evaluate current storage methods and determine if a change or upgrade is needed:
- Scalability: How much data can the data center hold? How easy will it be to add more storage to a current solution? At what rate is new data being permanently stored?
- Security: What security methods are in place? What kinds of threats are most common? Could improving the data center or changing to a new storage method help alleviate these issues?
- Manageability: How many people does it take to manage the data center? Is the management tool as efficient and effective as it could be?
- Future-proof: Is the data center currently up-to-date? Will the hardware and software be able to handle future upgrades?
Answering these questions will help determine if a change of storage strategy needs to be made or simply a part of a current solution needs to be replaced. The good thing about data storage is that the entire infrastructure doesn’t need to be changed all at once. Slowly migrating to the cloud or continuing to store some data on-premise can be done as long as an organization feels it’s not an impediment to data access or management.
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Organizations currently making changes to their storage infrastructure are most likely moving to cloud storage. Like most other types of enterprise solutions, storing data in the cloud tends to be the answer to many current and future concerns. Scaling a cloud solution isn’t too complicated and the lack of hardware makes deployment much less expensive. Remote users can access data in the cloud from anywhere through a VPN, allowing better workflow and mobilization. Data is also safe from physical threats in the server room where fires can be common, and backing up data can be automated in the cloud.
Moving to the cloud can seem like a no-brainer, but there are concerns with cloud technology as a sole health data storage method. The chance of security breaches can increase as a result of unauthorized access by users via the internet. Internet service interruptions can cripple an entire organization from accessing essential data. Cloud providers can also limit the amount of control IT workers have over the management and maintenance of the cloud.
While most data centers are moving to the cloud, physical servers still have value. Physical servers don’t depend on internet bandwidth for speed of service and allow faster access to larger files. IT also has more control over the applications using data and the end-users who are accessing it.
Drawbacks of on-premise storage are mostly physical and cost related. Servers take up plenty of room, and many organizations just don’t have the footprint. Server rooms also use high amounts of energy between running the hardware and keeping the room cool. Hardware is also expensive to purchase and replace, and it takes experienced professionals to monitor. Another major drawback is software updates that need to be made and will require significant time to complete with more downtime for the server during updates.
Not every enterprise needs to commit to cloud or on-premise storage completely and there are also benefits to creating a hybrid data storage solution. Storing data that is accessed and changed frequently by many end-users in the cloud ensures that it is always available onsite and remotely and takes advantage of the characteristics that make cloud data storage an attractive solution. Storing larger, more permanent files on a physical server will make them quicker to access when needed and safe from any data breaches that may come as a result of cloud access.
No data is ever completely safe from being lost physically or digitally. Choosing a health data storage option has more to do with what works for an organization in terms of space, budget, and staff and less to do with which option appears to be the most secure. Data needs to be stored in a way that is compatible with other healthcare technology solutions in place to ensure data can be accessed without interruption.