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Containers to Become a Key Part of Health IT Infrastructure?

Many organizations are currently running, or are looking to deploy containers as part of their health IT infrastructure, says a recent survey.

By Elizabeth O'Dowd

Containers are proving useful in enterprise IT infrastructure and have potential to grow in healthcare IT infrastructure as well.

Containers benefit health IT infrastructure

Containers are not limited to one part of an organization’s IT infrastructure. According to a recent survey conducted by Cloud Foundry, enterprises that are currently using containers are using them for application development, sharing resources, versioned runtime environments, operating system environments, and to replace virtual machines (VMs).

Cloud Foundry surveyed IT developers and IT managers from companies with a minimum of 100 employees stationed in North America (34%), Europe (33%), and Asia (33%). Healthcare, insurance, financial services, automotive, and telecom industries were all represented.

Virtual containers act much like they do in the physical world, by separating data from other data based on predetermined characteristics. When migrating from one cloud storage model to another, it’s much easier to move data if it is contained in one place or separated from data that does not need to be moved.

When data is contained, developing applications to access that data becomes easier because it’s already isolated from unrelated data. Containers can be duplicated, moved, and act independently of each other.

READ MORE: Cloud Information Management Systems Aid HIT Infrastructure

Container adoption is steadily increasing as the widespread benefits are realized.

“As these organizations search for tools to enable their digital transformation, they increasingly land on containers as a technology to enable that shift to cloud native application architectures,” the survey authors stated. “Organizations are moving from the use of containers as a means of increasing density in existing infrastructure, to using them to increase the velocity of application development as well as the scalability of applications.”

Just over half the organization’s surveyed in the aforementioned survey are using them as application development environments, making app development the most popular use for containers.

Beyond the organizational benefits of containing data, developers are able place applications anywhere within the network (e.g., VMs, physical servers) without having to recalibrate settings and protocols. Developers are also able to more easily scale apps up or down as needed.

Some of the larger companies, such Amazon Web Services, have officially recognized the development benefits of containers and support them in the development of enterprise apps by providing container management solutions compatible with third party container standards.  

READ MORE: Cloud Foundry Aims to Solve Healthcare Developer Shortage

Containers provide heightened security naturally by separating data, which can be a particular benefit to the healthcare industry. Containing access to protected health information (PHI) by clearance level or department protects data in other containers. While the data in the breached container is still compromised, the other containers are virtually separated and unaware of each other making cross-penetration impossible.  

Container adoption is not a worry-free deployment. Respondents each selected two choices and listed the following among their biggest concerns:

  • Too complex to integrate into existing environment (45%)
  • Too many skilled staff needed to manage (35%)
  • Too much time/effort to manage (25%)
  • Not a big enough cost reduction (25%)
  • Not a big enough revenue driver (12%)
  • Not a big enough boost to development productivity (12%)

Integration into legacy IT infrastructures is a valid concern. Certain infrastructure solutions can be in place for years and still function as needed, but containers and virtual machines may not function as desired due to bandwidth restrictions, potential incomparability of physical servers, or lack of cloud platform deployment.

Half of respondents identified container management as their top challenge followed by monitoring. Containers can’t benefit an organization if they don’t have the resources to support the entire deployment. A container management solution is needed along with experienced IT staff to manage and monitor the containers.  

Managing containers can prove a particular challenge when an organization doesn’t have a platform-as-a-service (PaaS) or cloud application development platform in place already.

READ MORE: Pivot3 Releases Priority-Aware Hyper-Converged Infrastructure

The survey concluded that there is definitive value in container deployment for enterprise level organizations. IT decision makers who responded to the survey have their eyes on containers if they have not already embraced them with future plans to include containers in their IT infrastructure within the next several years.

Research analyst firm Gartner predicts that by 2020, 75 percent of enterprises will have adopted at least one mobile app development platform to accelerate their digital business transformation strategy, up from approximately 33% in 2015.

“Containers are being used as a tool by organizations to initiate continuous delivery practices as they embark on their digital transformation journey. While containers alone are not going to provide continuous delivery, they are a good start,” the survey stated.

Users prefer to manage containers with a platform and predicts digital transformation trends for the near future:

As the adoption of containers increases in an organization new challenges are exposed when managing containers at scale. Containers alone are not enough. Users at scale have made it clear - they prefer managing containers with a platform to a combination of orchestration tools. The report provides valuable insight into the current state of containers in organizations, as well as a hint of things to come. Organizations are undergoing a shift - a digital transformation. As organizations continue along this journey the role and their use of containers will evolve.

Containers are expected to rise across all industries including healthcare, but they cannot be deployed without proper platform, management and IT support.

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