Oct 02 2020

How Kubernetes Paves the Way for Secure Innovation in Healthcare

The platform offers organizations more visibility and control over their container environment as they face heightened pressure to rapidly innovate.

Software plays a pivotal role in healthcare by enabling organizations to leverage technology to improve communications, deliver faster services and reduce overall costs.

But it also creates complex IT infrastructures that rely on a multitude of applications to get even small jobs done, and any new app deployments must fit within this elaborate environment.

An increasing number of organizations are now turning to containers — a standard unit of software that packs up code and all its dependencies — to address this problem and streamline the way forward. Gartner predicts that by 2022, more than 75 percent of global businesses will be running containerized applications in production, a number that’s up significantly from fewer than 30 percent today.

To properly manage and connect all of those containerized workloads and services to ensure there’s no downtime, organizations should consider Kubernetes.

Since it was first released by Google in 2015, Kubernetes has become the gold standard for container management. And while it has seen widespread adoption across industries — a recent VMware study found that close to 60 percent of surveyed organizations were using Kubernetes in production — healthcare has struggled to effectively implement the platform, often due to resourcing and compliance concerns.

Healthcare organizations that can overcome these hurdles, experts say, will find that Kubernetes can increase their innovation and allow them to build HIPAA-compliant healthcare solutions more rapidly.

READ MORE: Discover five things made possible in healthcare thanks to the cloud.

What Is Kubernetes?

Kubernetes is a portable, extensible, open-source container orchestration system that helps systems administrators automate computer application deployment, scaling and management.

As noted by the Kubernetes authors:

Kubernetes provides you with a framework to run distributed systems resiliently. It takes care of scaling and failover for your application, provides deployment patterns, and more.

The platform, originally designed by Google in 2014, is now maintained by the Cloud Native Computing Foundation. Its vast ecosystem is rapidly expanding, with many of today’s cloud service providers offering Kubernetes-based Platform or Infrastructure as a Service on which it can be deployed.

What Does Kubernetes Mean for Healthcare?

Despite the fact that Kubernetes is still very young, a deeper look at the technology reveals how it can help healthcare organizations innovate, providing them with greater security, faster application deployment, lower costs and scalability.

Take healthcare’s incessant need for greater development agility and continuity, for instance. Organizations face increasing pressure to innovate more quickly and be more customer-focused while simultaneously minimizing downtime and its impact.

By automating application testing and deployment through Kubernetes, healthcare organizations can reduce time to market and offer more transparency into production pipelines.

Furthermore, if an application needs to be updated, systems administrators can easily clone the container, create a new identification tag for it and shut down the old one, all through the Kubernetes platform. Changes like this help not only reduce but also eliminate downtime, which has become a major pain point in healthcare organizations.

The platform even allows admins to set conditions that ramp applications up or down based on user demand.

“By balancing incoming loads better, organizations can make better use of their physical resources,” Matt Ferrari, CTO for ClearDATA, writes in Forbes. “It also eliminates the need for manual intervention entirely, boosting productivity for health care IT teams.”

While healthcare still must work to gain experience and build expertise in Kubernetes, the platform as a whole is certainly worth IT leaders’ consideration based on its immediate benefits to organizations and relatively manageable implementation.

Overcoming Compliance and Security Concerns of Kubernetes

Despite the array of opportunities that containerized applications offer, health IT leaders still face a slew of regulatory and compliance hurdles in implementing them. This often leaves IT teams having to choose between growth and innovation or security and compliance.

However, with Kubernetes, these goals can now be one and the same.

Container technology can often help healthcare organizations avoid some of the most common security headaches they face, such as malware and operating system patching.

“Each time a new version of an application is deployed, the existing container cluster is destroyed, and new nodes and clusters are redeployed,” a recent white paper from ClearDATA explains.

This, in turn, eliminates the need for systems administrators to constantly make sure security patches are run, operating systems are up to date and long-hidden malware isn’t sitting on the underlying infrastructure.

Despite the hesitation by IT leaders to implement such new technology, Kubernetes itself helps to minimize human error via automation. And because the platform is self-monitoring and self-healing, it also minimizes operational vulnerabilities.

By providing a secure framework for data protection, containerized applications and Kubernetes have the potential to keep healthcare organizations safe and secure while ensuring patients have greater access to their personal health information.

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