Jan 27 2022

How a Hybrid Cloud Strategy Helps Organizations Navigate the Transition to the Cloud

More hospitals and health systems are moving to a hybrid cloud model for increased flexibility. Without a well-defined strategy in place, organizations may face unforeseen complexities and hidden costs.

Healthcare leaders are bullish on hybrid public-private cloud. Nearly 95 percent of respondents to the 2020 Nutanix Enterprise Cloud Index survey said it is their preferred IT operating model. That’s 9 percentage points higher than the average for all industries. Healthcare organizations are embracing a hybrid cloud model to better support remote employees, manage data, conduct more robust analytics and ensure data security.

But this model can pose a challenge to organizations that are unprepared to make the transition to the cloud. Hidden costs in contracts may leave enterprises spending anywhere from two to six times as much to use the public cloud as they do to maintain on-premises infrastructure.

That’s why it’s important for healthcare organizations to take the two-pronged approach of first developing a hybrid cloud strategy and then using a cloud management platform, as this provides the flexibility to manage and migrate data and applications with less disruption to business and clinical operations.

“It’s easy for intelligent IT leaders to carve out what makes sense to host onsite and what makes sense to host publicly — but you need to decide this in advance,” says Joseph Wolfgram, CTO for healthcare at Nutanix. “The savviest leaders think about this at the very beginning of their transition to the cloud.”

DISCOVER: Explore how Nutanix's cloud solutions provide agility and security to healthcare.

The Risks of Going All-In with Public Cloud or On-Premises

The hybrid cloud approach makes sense because both the public cloud and on-premises data centers have their drawbacks, Wolfgram says.

Locating everything on-premises results in high capital expenditures for infrastructure that may not be used regularly and may even be retired without ever being used. Plus, Wolfgram says, operating a single, on-premises data center makes effective disaster recovery nearly impossible.

The public cloud offers the advantage of elastic scalability, but this won’t always be valuable for healthcare organizations, he says. The return on investment is highest when using public cloud to establish a data backup or for scaling up to run a high-compute analysis. On the other hand, the public cloud is a poor choice for any applications where latency is a concern.

LEARN MORE: Nutanix's Cheryl Rodenfels discusses the future of cloud in healthcare.

The other challenge is how contracts with public cloud service providers (CSPs) are structured. There may be a low initial buy-in, but costs can quickly rise. Contracts typically include tiered pricing based on the amount of data stored and compute workloads used, or for data transferred off the cloud, also known as data egress.

“If you hit a certain limit on data egress, then you shift to a different usage tier. Unless you read your contract closely, it’s hard to know when things will escalate,” Wolfgram says.

Organizations also encounter unexpected costs when they opt to pull applications off the public cloud and bring them back onsite — a process that at least 73 percent of organizations are considering, according to the Nutanix survey.

“There’s some downtime and some application disruption,” Wolfgram says. “And it’s not just a direct IT cost. There’s a cost across the entire health system — you may not be able to access patient information for hours, or even days.”

The Benefits of a Hybrid Cloud Management Platform

A hybrid cloud strategy will define how an organization decides whether to host a given application on its private cloud or on a public cloud such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, or Google Cloud Platform.

It’s important for organizations transitioning to the cloud to scrutinize each provider’s opening offer, Wolfgram says. This is as much a legal exercise as it is a technical one — determining, in the contract, when and where cost escalation will happen at the compute level, for the number of virtual machines supported, for the amount of data moving in and out, and so on. Because each provider will have different terms, the applications that work best with each cloud service will vary, he says.

Once the choice is made, IT leaders may be tempted to use the management tools offered by the CSP. This sounds good in theory, Wolfgram says, but an organization that chooses to use all three CSPs based on their various strengths will soon find itself using three sets of tools — plus whatever tools it uses to manage its private cloud. Not only does this make cloud management complex, it also increases costs.

Joseph Wolfgram
Leaders shouldn’t be thinking only about defense. They also need to think about how quickly they can recover.”

Joseph Wolfgram CTO for Healthcare, Nutanix

Enter the hybrid cloud management platform. These platforms provide an operating system layer on top of both the public cloud instances and the on-premises data center. In essence, this allows a healthcare organization to lease hardware infrastructure from public cloud providers while managing all other aspects of its cloud deployment, Wolfgram says.

“With the management platform, you don’t need to use proprietary cloud management tools. You go in with something you and your team already know, and you manage your onsite cloud the same way you manage Google, Azure and AWS,” he says.

A cloud management platform gives IT teams flexibility to move applications from the public cloud to on-premises infrastructure with one click. Otherwise, Wolfgram says, “it becomes virtually unmanageable for the existing IT team, and then the costs go out of control without much warning.”

The hybrid cloud management platform also offers an added layer of security — a critical need as healthcare systems look to protect against ransomware attacks. A platform offers three key security benefits: backups that are immutable to changes, encryption at rest using a unique algorithm, and hourly security snapshots designed to occupy minimal disk space. This protects data that’s stored on a multitenant public cloud, and it enables recovery from an attack within hours instead of days or months, Wolfgram says.

“Ransomware recovery is a matter of when, not if, because healthcare is too big of an attack target,” he says. “Leaders shouldn’t be thinking only about defense. They also need to think about how quickly they can recover.”

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