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Utilizing Healthcare App Containers for Application Management

Healthcare app container adoption is critical, but slow as organizations struggle to integrate them with legacy solutions.

Source: Thinkstock

By Elizabeth O'Dowd

- Healthcare organizations are demanding more applications as they increase mobility and add flexibility to their IT infrastructure. Healthcare app containers are emerging as a key way to manage and deploy applications as scale.

Although app development is a driving force for containers, containers are not limiting one part of an organization’s IT infrastructure. Enterprises that are currently using containers are using them for application development, sharing resources, versioned runtime environments, operating system environments, and to replace virtual machines (VMs), according to a survey conducted by Cloud Foundry.

Virtual containers act much like they do in the physical world, by separating data from other data based on predetermined characteristics. When migrating from one cloud storage model to another, it’s much easier to move data if it is contained in one place or separated from data that does not need to be moved.

When data is contained, developing applications to access that data becomes easier because it’s already isolated from unrelated data. Containers can be duplicated, moved, and act independently of each other.

Container adoption is steadily increasing as the widespread benefits are realized.

“As these organizations search for tools to enable their digital transformation, they increasingly land on containers as a technology to enable that shift to cloud native application architectures,” the Cloud Foundry survey authors stated. “Organizations are moving from the use of containers as a means of increasing density in existing infrastructure, to using them to increase the velocity of application development as well as the scalability of applications.”

Containers provide heightened security by design by separating data. Containing access to PHI by clearance level or department protects data in other containers. While the data in the breached container is still compromised, the other containers are virtually separated and unaware of each other, making cross-penetration impossible.  

The benefits of containers are clear but there are deployment challenges organizations need to be aware of before committing to wide-spread adoption.

Containers can sometimes be too complex to integrate into existing environments or too many skilled staff are needed to manage the containers, the survey found in terms of potential challenges.

Integration into legacy IT infrastructures is a valid concern. Certain infrastructure solutions can be in place for years and still function as needed, but containers and virtual machines may not function as desired due to bandwidth restrictions, potential incomparability of physical servers, or lack of cloud platform deployment.

These challenges have been proven to hinder container adoption. Cloud Foundry’s follow up survey expressed that while containers are vital to the growth of IT infrastructure, adoption has been slow.

"We saw the excitement around containers and their potential —yet this excitement was constrained by the complex challenges of deploying, managing and orchestrating containers at scale," Cloud Foundry Foundation Executive Director Abby Kearns said in a statement.

"In our follow-up we see the same steady growth in interest, but actual adoption of containers has still failed to accelerate,” Kearns continued. “We believe the gradual or even glacial adoption of containers in production reflects more on the central challenge. The challenges of container management are real, and loom larger at scale."

Despite the minimal growth of enterprise containers over the past year, report authors predicted an increased rate of uptake in container technology over the coming year. Researchers maintained that as container technology becomes more mature, so do the ways of overcoming management and orchestration challenges.

There is definitive value in container deployment in healthcare even with the challenges that prevent organizations from getting there. Most organizations are rolling out containers despite the challenges or have plans to integrate them into their health IT infrastructure.

“Containers are being used as a tool by organizations to initiate continuous delivery practices as they embark on their digital transformation journey. While containers alone are not going to provide continuous delivery, they are a good start,” the survey stated.

The recent slow adoption of containers should not discourage organizations from seeking out the technology as a way to manage their applications. Containers have value in health IT and van help entities embrace evolving technology. 

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