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Virtualization News

Software-Defined Networking Aids HIT Infrastructure Advancement

Software-defined networking gives healthcare organizations a more flexible and scalable health IT environment

Source: Thinkstock

By Elizabeth O'Dowd

- Healthcare organizations are looking to software-defined networking (SDN) to reduce the size of their health IT network infrastructure and allow IT administrators to have more control over the networks.

Research and Markets predicts that the SDN market will reach $70 billion by 2024 due to the benefits it offers organizations. As healthcare organizations continue to advance their health IT infrastructures with more advanced technology, the need to centralize IT systems becomes vital to successful future deployments.

SDN uses abstraction to simplify 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 and allows the programmer to focus on simpler functions.  

The simplified interface gives IT administrators more visibility and control over their network infrastructure, allowing them to make adjustments quicker. The SDN connects the applications, routers, and switches, so information can easily move between them. SDN gives IT administrators a better view of the network, which allows them to deploy applications at a faster pace.

SDNs are appealing to the healthcare industry because of the way it functions. SDNs are agile and let IT administrators control the network dynamically to meet traffic flow needs, depending on the time of day.

The centrally managed network simplifies the management process by giving IT administrators a full view of the network. SDNs also contain automated programs that can configure, manage, secure, and optimize network resources. This allows organizations to save money on redundant IT infrastructure tools.

Another Research and Markets report recently identified healthcare as the industry vertical most likely to deploy SDN technology. As healthcare organizations adapt to electronic health records (EHRs) and cloud computing, networks need to be able to handle the increased amount of traffic.

While healthcare is expected to adopt SNDs more rapidly over the next several years, some organizations still struggle with the advanced technology.

While the healthcare industry has generally accepted cloud computing as a standard IT infrastructure technology, virtualizing parts of the infrastructure is still a young technology.

A ZK Research report released last year attributes evolving infrastructure as one of the major reasons why healthcare organizations have been slower to adopt SDN technology.

“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 hesitate to adopt different technology because of the risks associated with HIPAA rules and regulations. In any cloud or virtual environment, organizations are required to analyze potential risks to healthcare data. 

When considering moving from a legacy network and implementing virtualization, organizations may find that threats to healthcare data are different with virtualization, and may require more time and money to fully assess. Too many changes all at once can sometimes make adopting new technology, such as SDN and other variants of virtualization, difficult to justify.

Despite hesitations, it’s important for healthcare organizations to consider the long-term benefits of virtualized solutions.

ZK Research states that healthcare IT departments  are under tremendous pressure to enable a digital strategy.

“The network will play a key role in the shift to digital healthcare, as most of the enabling technologies are network centric,” according to ZK Research. “It’s time for the networks in healthcare institutions to evolve away from legacy architectures to a software-defined network.”

SNDs can provide healthcare organizations with high-performing, low cost networks. With the continued adoption of healthcare mobile devices and other health IT systems, an organization’s network must be capable of flexibly and efficiently handling the multiple systems.