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Increased Cloud Demands Call for Health IT WAN Evolution

The increase of public cloud storage and applications strains traditional healthcare WANs and calls for a software-defined approach to assist evolving cloud technology.

By Elizabeth O'Dowd

- Wide area networks (WAN) connect clinicians and other medical professionals to their organization’s data center to retrieve documents and records needed to perform their jobs. As technology continues to advance in the healthcare industry, WANs are changing to meet evolving challenges. 

SD-WAN in healthcare

Cloud based WAN solutions are emerging to better connect users with cloud platforms. Healthcare organizations are adopting cloud-based technology for EHRs and to keep protected health information (PHI) secure. Supporting real-time services as a result of cloud-based infrastructure along with consistent improvements in application performance, are driving change in WAN solutions.

According to the State-of-The-WAN Report published by Webtorials, other factors that contribute the change in WAN are increased security, access to public cloud computing services, mobile support, movement of virtual machines between data centers, and cost reduction.

WANs extend over a large geographical area and are used to exchange data among network users, transmitting data between local area networks (LANs) and connecting LANs together to form a larger network. Enterprise WANs are typically built for a specific organization and are private.

With more remote and wireless devices accessing the WAN, secure connections are need to protect the network from unwanted visitors. These connections are typically established via virtual private networks (VPNs), which establishes an encrypted tunnel, or multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) which directs data from one network node to the other.

READ MORE: Successful Healthcare Cloud Depends on Network Connectivity

The two most dominant WAN services are internet-based services and MPLS services, the report found, and some of the biggest increases in those services include demand for public cloud access, support for mobile users, video, disaster recovery, and virtual desktops.

Report analysts suggest that the extent of services seen as a driver for MPLS is surprising because of the limited number of vendors that provide MPLS access. However, it can be justified to some extent when enterprise applications are located in the data center because of the inherently higher quality of service MPLS and enterprise applications require.

Public cloud application access was far and away the most demanded internet-based service. Enterprise IT professionals need to give up some level of control over data when using a public cloud solution. IT departments need better control and a more efficient way to access public cloud services without sacrificing security or any more control over organization data.  

Demands for a better way to access the public cloud has peaked interest in software-defined networking (SDN) in the WAN or SD-WAN. SDN functions using abstraction, simplifying the the complexity of a computer system by arranging and suppressing the complex features below the operation level. Programmers operate the SDN through a simplified interface which automates the complex features allowing the programmer to focus on simpler functions.  

SD-WAN centralizes the control function into a SDN controller and the controller abstracts the user’s private network services from the underlying IP network. This enables the user to operate their private network services through a centralized policy. SD-WAN is flexible and can adapt more easily to changing network conditions and bandwidth demands during peak hours.

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The report indicated that the two biggest factors driving interest in SDN were better utilization of network resources and the ability to perform traffic engineering with an end-to-end view of the network. While utilizing network resources can be experienced by implementing SDN in the LAN or the WAN, end-to-end network visibility can only be achieved by implementing SDN in the WAN.

SDN draws in organizations across all industries because of its flexibility and scalability. A report released by ZK Research earlier this year attributes evolving IT infrastructure technology as one of the major reasons why healthcare organizations have been slower to adopt SDN solutions.

“Historically, hospitals and other healthcare institutions have been slow to adopt new technology, as maintaining the status quo was viewed as safer than risking disruption from new technologies,” the report stated.

Healthcare organizations need to adopt and adapt to new IT infrastructure technology. The significance of the Internet of Things (IoT) is rising in the healthcare industry and patients are coming to expect accommodation of wearables and other health monitoring devices. Legacy health IT infrastructures cannot handle the rise in traffic from mobile devices and the amount of data being collected.

Healthcare organizations need to continue to enhance their networks to prevent long wait times for tests and diagnostics, patient admission delays, and coordination miscommunications between primary care physicians and other clinicians. The increase of records and other data stored in the cloud makes unreliable WAN a severe threat to operations and the quality of patient care.

READ MORE: Guest Networks, IoT Deployments Challenge Health Networks

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