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Identifying IaaS Improvements for Health IT Infrastructure

Healthcare organizations interested in IaaS options need to first evaluate what is needed from their infrastructure and what different IaaS solutions can provide.

By Elizabeth O'Dowd

- Healthcare organizations looking to advance their IT infrastructure with cloud technology are considering infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) options, but IT decision-makers must first identify their infrastructure needs and the potential for IaaS solutions to meet them. 

IaaS in healthcare

The cloud isn’t a single, all-inclusive concept especially when it comes to IaaS. Healthcare organizations do not need to move their entire IT infrastructure to the cloud when considering IaaS options. Organizations may only want or need a single piece of their infrastructure in the cloud.

Deciding what needs to be moved to the cloud is the first step. Similar to how software-as-a-service (SaaS) moves software to the cloud (e.g., webmail, EHRs, word processors), IaaS moves infrastructure resources to the cloud. IaaS resources include servers, storage, network, security, and OS licensing.

Identifying what an organization needs is the first step to realizing a cloud-based infrastructure. IaaS offers many different solutions to accommodate virtual needs, however, there is no single IaaS solution that will bring an entire infrastructure to the cloud.

According to the Northwest Regional Telehealth Resource Center, IaaS is a solid option for organizations that are:

  • Facing the expense of a technology or hardware refresh.  
  • Ready to implement EHR solutions that require complex environments.
  • Short-staffed due to changing needs or loss of experienced IT professionals.  
  • Desiring a disaster recovery environment outside their own region.  
  • Concerned about ePHI security or other compliance issues (HIPAA compliant providers).
  • Seeking a more predictable cost structure.

IaaS essentially takes the physical deployment and on-site maintenance out of the IT infrastructure. For example, IaaS server solutions allow organizations to rent off-site servers for an agreed upon scheduled payment. This payment includes server maintenance which takes the worry and effort out of the hands of on-site staff. As an organization grows, more server space can be rented.

Organizations unable to afford the advanced on-premise solutions to replace legacy systems can look to an IaaS solutions as a cost effective alternative. Instead of owning the hardware and performing maintenance, the vendor maintains the solution. Repairs or reconfigurations don’t need to be performed on-site, saving organizations time and money on technicians. IaaS allows for a more predictable cost structure because unexpected service malfunctions are rare and repairs are included in the flat rate paid every payment period.

Disaster recovery options are also appealing especially to organizations susceptible to tumultuous conditions such as hurricanes, floods, or earthquakes. This past October saw several backup and disaster recovery providers, including Axcient, offer complimentary services to businesses without disaster recovery solutions affected by Hurricane Matthew, emphasizing the advantage of backing up data in the cloud  in the event physical servers become damaged.

Each vendor is unique in their IaaS offerings with some offering just one solution and others offering a bundle of IaaS solutions through the same deployment. For example, VMware offers many IaaS solutions that work together and organizations can choose to deploy as many or as few as they want depending on their needs.

With any cloud deployment, HIPAA compliance is always a concern. Organizations are required to to conduct a risk assessment of their organization to ensure that all aspects of the health IT infrastructure meet HIPAA’s administrative, physical, and technical safeguards.

Implementing IaaS solutions makes it easier for organizations to add additional cloud deployments onto their infrastructure smoothly. Many solution providers boast "vendor agnostic" virtual solutions that are built to be compatible with many different IaaS solutions so they can be used together in the same infrastructure environment. It’s important for organizations to be sure that every aspect of their IaaS environment is HIPAA compliant especially when multiple vendors are being used.

Organizations with the desire to have more control over their cloud environment than just implementing a SaaS solution, and are looking to cut down on staff and hardware costs will benefit from IaaS solutions.

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