Virtualization News

Using Virtual Machines to Benefit from the Healthcare Cloud

Virtual machines use cloud computing to get the most out of technology resources used in health IT infrastructure.

By Elizabeth O'Dowd

Virtual machines are becoming more useful to health IT infrastructure in light of the growing popularity of cloud computing in the healthcare industry. Increased mobile device usage makes cloud computing necessary to efficiently retrieve data.

Virtual machines improve healthcare cloud

When software-as-a-service (SaaS) service models are being used, the hardware needed to run traditional software on-premise is no longer as important, which allows organizations to cut down on hardware spending and instead utilize virtual machines.

In the healthcare industry, virtual machine (VM) technology can provide benefits to energy and hardware costs, efficiency, security, and maintenance. As users express a desire to be more mobile in the workplace, the opportunity to implement virtualization is significant to every employee within an organization. What’s more, patients are coming to expect more personalized care that comes from the quick retrieval of accurate records made possible by end-user usability. VMs are the key to a truly modern healthcare organization, and understanding how they operate is critical to the success of deploying any virtualization solution.

VMs are most simply described as computers within computers. They take strain off hardware and can be consolidated into one place for better monitoring and ease of access. This allows IT to better monitor security events making HIPAA compliance easier to maintain. Instead of building a security wall around every device accessing the network, all electronic health data is protected in the data center.

The term virtual machine was first defined by Gerald J. Popek and Robert P. Goldberg as “an efficient, isolated duplicate of a real machine. A virtual machine can support individual processes or a complete system depending on the abstraction level where virtualization occurs.”

The abstraction level is where the virtual machine takes over for the physical machine with hypervisors being the most common type of virtualization.The hypervisor runs and manages VMs on a centralized host machine (on-premise server, cloud server or device) so it can be accessed by all users.

Hypervisors can run more than one VM on a host machine resulting in desktop virtualization and virtual desktop infrastructure (VMI) technology. Data is no longer stored on the device used to access it (i.e., thin client) which enables smaller and less powerful devices to access the same information. The VM can be on the device used to access the data or installed in the cloud and accessed via a gateway.

Along with efficiency, VMs offer another level of security. All user desktops are stored on the host machine, allowing IT to manage every user at once. Likewise, this level of control cuts down reaction time when malware is detected, potentially protecting records that would have been compromised. VMs prevent shadow IT by giving users a way to securely access data remotely and eliminates security threats from unauthorized or personal mobile devices accessing the network. Telecommuters are also able to securely access the same data as on-premise users over a public internet connection via a virtual private network (VPN).

Budgets are always a concern for healthcare organizations and saving wherever possible is crucial. Implementing VMs can save on energy bills when mobile devices and low-power computers are being used. Less IT staff is needed to manage a VM system because there is less physical maintenance required.

The benefits of virtual machines for healthcare organizations are clear, but it takes time and investment to implement especially in larger facilities such as hospitals where VMs can make a huge impact if deployed correctly. Outright cost and network planning are two factors that need to be considered when looking into VM technology but VMs are a future-proof technology that utilizes the growing presence of cloud technology in the healthcare industry.

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