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Comparing Public, Private, Hybrid Healthcare Cloud Storage

Identifying healthcare data storage needs will help organizations choose public, private, or hybrid cloud storage.

By Elizabeth O'Dowd

One of the biggest hesitations healthcare organizations have when deciding on health data storage is the security of the cloud. It’s important to consider that the data storage decision is more than simply between cloud or on-premise storage, given the many forms the former can take. The three major types of cloud storage used in enterprise deployments are public, private, and hybrid cloud.

Choosing public, private, or hybrid cloud.

Understanding the data center needs of organization needs has nearly as much value as security concerns when making the final decision. If an organization currently using or looking to implement user applications or mobility, cloud storage may be the better choice. Organizations looking to save on hardware and data center maintenance also stand to benefit from cloud data storage.

There is currently no definitive study of the success or failure of a full application of a cloud environment in a healthcare setting, but there are case studies of individual implementations — is neither good nor bad news for organizations considering healthcare cloud computing.

Public cloud data storage is the source of most cloud-related apprehension. Healthcare institutions do not want to store their data on the same server as every other client a particular vendor provides the same services for. While there are many safeguards in place by both the organization and the cloud vendor, the health IT department can lack the comfortable amount of control traditionally found in on-premise servers.

Accessibility, low maintenance, and scalability are the leading benefits of public cloud storage. For the most part, any Wi-Fi enabled devices can access corporate data on the public cloud from anywhere. Coupled with a decreased need for hardware, a pay-per-user model is cost effective for organizations with strict budget constraints. Developers can design apps for certain public cloud environments more easily, making deployment times faster and development cheaper. The vendor maintains the public cloud server, so additional health IT staff are not needed to manage the data center.

Public cloud is the most scalable data storage solution. Storage space can be added or dropped as the size of an organization changes. However, the biggest drawback of public cloud is outages. If internet service is lost, the entire organization won’t be able to access the resources needed to continue functioning and have to rely on backup services to maintain clinical operations.

Private cloud gives organizations more control over where their data resides and its accessibility to users. The public cloud service model is safe enough, but the private cloud gives the health IT department direct control over the contents stored in the cloud. Healthcare organizations may benefit from private cloud because they can keep a close eye on protected health information (PHI).

The biggest drawback of private cloud storage is the cost. Initial deployment and customization are costly; scalability can be difficult. Private cloud also requires dedicated IT staff to manage the private cloud infrastructure, making it a difficult option for smaller practices.

Hybrid cloud storage combines public and private cloud service models. Data accessed most frequently by employees can be stored in the public cloud, benefiting mobile users and giving IT a break on having to manage that data. More sensitive data that requires a certain clearance level or data that isn’t accessed as frequently can be stored in the private cloud. Hybrid cloud isn’t as cost effective as public cloud, but it can save on scalability costs and IT staff.

Initial deployment and choosing the elements to make up the hybrid cloud make adopting the solution difficult. It isn’t as simple as drawing a line and separating public cloud data from private cloud data. Organizations with a small IT department with no CIO may not be able to successfully deploy a hybrid cloud service model.  

Public, private, and hybrid cloud all have their benefits for health IT infrastructure and it’s important to note that whether data is stored on premise or in the cloud, the risk of a data breach remains the same. Considering the right storage solution a particular organization in terms of convenience and budget may carry more weight  than which solutions are the most secure.

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