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Navigating the Benefits, Challenges of Healthcare Hybrid Cloud

Healthcare hybrid cloud offers many benefits, however public cloud challenges need to be addressed in order to be successful.

healthcare hybrid cloud

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By Elizabeth O'Dowd

- Organizations are adopting more digital tools into their health IT infrastructures, which calls for a more flexible IT environment. Entities are looking to have the security and access of on-premises data centers while benefiting from the flexibility of the public cloud, resulting in healthcare hybrid cloud environments.

The healthcare industry has been hesitant to move to the cloud, but strictly on-premises solutions don’t offer the flexibility needed for a modern health IT infrastructure. Reluctant organizations are finding that they need the cloud to use tools that improve patient care and clinical workflow.

Cloud can help by expanding storage environments for long or short periods of time when organizations are creating projects or experiencing busy times of the year. Entities don’t need to spend the money to expand their on-premises infrastructure.

Moving to the cloud can also help organizations improve their infrastructure by adopting different digital transformation strategies that can only be done in the cloud. Patients and clinicians are growing to expect more advanced tools. Cloud allows organizations to step out of their on-premises boxes and be more innovated and accepting of evolving technology.

IT departments must appease patients and clinicians with faster and more innovative IT infrastructure. However, these departments are also hesitant to let go of their current infrastructure because data stored on-premises is under their control.

READ MORE: Overcoming Healthcare Hybrid Cloud Storage Challenges

ClearSky Data CEO Ellen Rubin told HITInfrastructure.com in a previous interview said that she encounters the dilemma of giving up on-premises control with most healthcare organizations considering a cloud solution.

“Healthcare is divided on their opinion of the cloud for data storage,” said Rubin. “Some are eager and excited to move to the cloud while others are struggling with how to make cloud storage work in a way that doesn’t put the data at a higher risk.”

In addition to cloud security concerns, organizations are also faced with justifying workload rebuilds and changing applications that are running smoothly in their traditional data center environment. Rebuilding workloads and applications for the cloud is a strenuous undertaking that makes a migration strategy particularly important.

“What you see happening is security teams weighing in on what workloads can safely move to the cloud,” Rubin explained. “It’s a negotiation trying to figure out which workloads an organization would consider moving to a cloud environment. Are there any new projects the IT department would be willing to start with in the cloud? Are there any workloads we can migrate off that feel less risky?”

“It’s hard,” she continued. “A lot of the time cloud service providers are being asked to help the customer make their transition to the cloud and work with them while they figure out their approach.”  

READ MORE: Comparing On-Premise, Cloud Healthcare Data Storage Solution

There are also varying opinions on the public cloud for healthcare as part of a hybrid strategy.

Nebraska Medicine Vice President of IT Brian Lancaster explained to HITInfrastructure.com that the key to reducing IT infrastructure costs while improving patient care and workflow is, in part, to move to the public cloud.

“The fundamental benefit of cloud is around its cost of the environment,” Lancaster stated. “But with the cost, there's a trade-off on risk, especially with security concerns.”

The public cloud is useful for developing new applications because of the flexibility it offers during the building and testing process, he added. Once the application is tested, it can be moved to the on-premises data center or a private cloud hosted on site if the organization does not wish to keep the public cloud.

However, not all healthcare IT professionals share the same opinion on the public cloud for a hybrid cloud strategy.

READ MORE: Comparing Public, Private, Hybrid Healthcare Cloud Storage

Moffitt Cancer Center CTO Tom Hull told HITInfrastrucure.com that the only true advantage of the public cloud is convenience.

“There are challenges with the public cloud. One is that it's an operational expenditure,” said Hull. “If I'm going to use a public cloud like AWS or Azure software and get those on an expense basis, I must predict what that's going to be every month.”

“That means my operational expenditures are going to go up, and that's not good,” he continued. “The challenges of correctly sizing what we have in our private cloud and then managing what parts to put in public cloud and how much public cloud space we’ll need is an architectural challenge.”

Hybrid cloud is a reality for healthcare organizations. While it offers many convivences, organizations need to be aware of public cloud demands and how to handle them. Establishing which applications and data are going to move to the cloud is a crucial first step to fleshing out a successful hybrid cloud strategy.

Once a strategy is established, entities can consider more cloud-based tools to make their IT infrastructure more flexible and future-proof.