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Healthcare Object Storage Adds Scalability for Increasing Data

Exploring healthcare object storage can help organizations discover how to use the data they collect and make it actionable.

healthcare object storage

Source: Thinkstock

By Elizabeth O'Dowd

- Healthcare data storage continues to be a concern as the amount of data produced by patients, clinicians, and organizations grows exponentially. Sequence data is doubling every seven to nine months as entities add tools to their health IT infrastructure. Healthcare object storage is one option organizations should consider as they scale up.

Cloud storage is one of the top ways organizations are adding scalability and flexibility to their data storage solutions, but there are several cloud storage options available to meet the different demands of different healthcare organizations.

Object storage is one form of cloud or on-premises storage that organizations should consider, especially if they have a lot of large format files.

Research analyst firm Gartner defines object storage as, “devices and software that house data in structures called ‘objects,’ and serve clients data via RESTful HTTP APIs, such as Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3) and OpenStack Swift.”

These object storage systems are based on a “shared nothing architecture and support object and/or scale-out file technology to address requirements for unstructured data growth,” Gartner continued.

READ MORE: Healthcare Data Storage Options: On-Premise, Cloud and Hybrid Data Storage

“A shared nothing architecture is a distributed computing architecture in which each node is independent and self-sufficient, and there is no single point of contention across the system.” 

The rate at which data is growing exceeds 50 percent year over year, according to Gartner’s coverage of object storage. Organizations need to look to solutions that are scalable and future proof. Entities need to think about the overall impact of their data center design and how it will apply to large data sets.

Healthcare organizations in particular are prone to growing data sets. Regulatory rules require entities to keep patient data for a certain number of years and some organizations may choose to keep data as long as the patient is alive. This includes EHRs, notes, and images that all take up space.

Key Information Systems Director of Cloud Service Clayton Weise sees potential in object storage to benefit the healthcare industry and move organizations away from dated legacy solutions, such as tapes.

“Object storage provides an inexpensive way to store vast pools of data, multiple petabytes up to exabyte scale within a single space,” Weise explained to HITInfrastructure.com in a previous interview. “The data stored using object is always accessible, unlike tape where I have to know the serial number, track the tape, and physically retrieve it.”

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Many organizations still use tapes to archive data because it’s considered more secure. However, retrieving data from tape is not easy and if a tape is misplaced or mistakenly overridden, there is no way to easily find a lost tape or retrieve overwritten data.

Object storage offers healthcare organizations cost and convenience advantages. While tape is cheaper per terabyte comparatively, object becomes a more viable option once management costs are factored in.

Data stored using object storage is always accessible, which makes it much easier to retrieve. Object storage manages data as objects instead of files or blocks. These objects are stored in a storage pool that does not have a hierarchical structure.

Object storage retrieves data using unique identifiers so it can be stored anywhere in the storage pool and used more effectively for data analytics.

“We’re starting to see some interest and understanding of object storage as a viable alternative to tape,” Weise noted. “Another use is for vendor neutral archives (VNAs) and picture archiving and communication systems (PACS), where you’re keeping medical images for extended periods of time.”

READ MORE: Overcoming Healthcare Hybrid Cloud Storage Challenges

Object storage also caters to healthcare analytics because of the volume of data it can handle from connected medical devices and Internet of Things (IoT) devices. Object storage also keeps its change history so there is always historical data to go back to.

Organizations should first consider their capacity needs before considering object storage. Entities need to have data on a large enough scale that it makes sense to deploy and object storage solution.

Organizations also need to consider how many applications they need to support and if the application supports the use of object storage.

“It is a completely different way to access data which is important to take into consideration,” said Weise. “Right now, organizations are thinking about data in terms of block and file. The biggest thing is how to bridge that gap and what to do with all the unstructured data currently sitting in storage and move it to object.”

As the amount of data continues to grow, organizations need to consider evaluating different storage options to make sure they can store and access all the data being produced. Using object storage to store analytics data is one way to make sure that the data is actionable in the future.

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