After years of tentative adoption, the cloud is finally starting to take off in healthcare. According to Technavio, the healthcare cloud computing market is set to grow at a rate of 22 percent through 2022, as organizations continue to move data — including sensitive information — to the cloud.
But as acronyms like SaaS, IaaS and PaaS pile up, it can be difficult to know what cloud solution makes the most sense for a healthcare organization’s particular infrastructure and needs — especially with protected health information (PHI) in the mix.
Two popular options for healthcare organizations are multicloud and hybrid cloud, but the terms are sure to breed confusion for those not intimately familiar with cloud architectures. Here, we lay out the differences and strengths of each.
What Is Hybrid Cloud?
With PHI to consider, many healthcare organizations balk at the idea of placing all data into a public cloud. But private cloud, despite offering control and visibility over data, doesn’t afford the scalability and flexibility that public cloud can deliver. Hence, many healthcare organizations have begun turning to a hybrid cloud model, which includes a mixture of public and private cloud services.
The Benefits of Hybrid Cloud Management in Healthcare
As laid out in the CDW white paper “Hybrid Clouds Deliver the Best of Both Worlds,” hybrid cloud models offer several benefits for healthcare organizations, including flexibility, on-demand resources and effective workload management.
For example, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center saw gains in flexibility when it chose to tap public cloud for backup, disaster recovery and test environments alongside building a new private data center.
“We want the flexibility to grow and expand, as well as contract, depending on the business situation,” Chris Carmody, UPMC’s senior vice president of enterprise infrastructure, tells HealthTech. “We also want to control our data and place it in the public cloud when needed and pull it back in when necessary.”
Moreover, the choice to provision some of its resources to the cloud helped the organization save millions.
“Ultimately, it only cost us tens of thousands of dollars per year to run those applications in Azure versus having to make that huge capital investment,” Carmody says, noting it would have cost $1.2 million to introduce the necessary hardware and software to the data center. “Our hybrid cloud approach allowed us to move workloads into the public cloud and back again.”
Meanwhile, University of Utah Health saw immediate benefits in management when CTO Jim Livingston sought to introduce a hybrid cloud model. By tapping data center automation tools alongside hybrid cloud, he was able to easily manage the environment as necessary.
“You could move data from this platform to a low-cost cloud storage service for data archiving and long-term backup, then move it back on-premises if you need to,” he says. “You just set the policy and it automates the process.”
Hybrid cloud doesn’t just improve IT, however; it can also have tangible impacts on patient outcomes. Stonegate Senior Living, for example, tapped hyperconvergence alongside a hybrid cloud model to simplify its architecture and improve analytics capabilities, which helped to improve patient care.
What Is Multicloud?
Not all clouds are created equal; hence, why some healthcare organizations choose to tap several cloud models or providers, such as Google Cloud or Microsoft Azure, at the same time. Multicloud solutions can offer providers more flexibility and scalability in their infrastructure and, in fact, a recent report from Kentik found that 58 percent of businesses are making use of multiple clouds.
“In a hypothetical multicloud environment, a healthcare provider might select one company for backup, a second for testing and development/research and a third for disaster recovery,” CDW Cloud Client Executive Sandra Blettner explains in a blog post.
What sets multicloud apart from hybrid cloud is that multicloud environments aren’t guaranteed to be interoperable, and thus data typically isn’t shared between the cloud environments involved. With hybrid clouds, data is shuffled between public and private environments depending on need.
What to Know When Approaching Multicloud Management
There are some downsides to a multicloud approach, however. According to Blettner, it is more difficult to maintain security across multiple clouds, and it is also more difficult to integrate services that require large amounts of data, such as artificial intelligence and analytics.
But there are also several advantages. For example: A common challenge with cloud environments is that organizations often struggle to control costs as lack of visibility, cloud sprawl and other factors let costs spiral out of control. But a well-maintained multicloud setup gives organizations more granular cost control.
“Cloud service providers set usage rates for individual services, but businesses that utilize multiple clouds can pick and choose which services they use based on which provider offers the best rates for those services,” former healthcare CIO Brien Posey explains in a post on TechTarget.
Further, Posey notes that using multiple cloud environments can be a way for providers to spread resources across provider data centers, decreasing the likelihood they’ll be impacted during a disaster. Moreover, this same diversification can offer improved data privacy.
The important thing to consider for organizations seeking to adopt a multicloud strategy, however, is to plan ahead.
“Healthcare organizations must consider all of the pros and cons of a multicloud strategy before going all in on the technology,” says Blettner. “Action without analysis could cause confusion among end users, and possibly negate any potential cost savings or ROI.”