Should health systems ditch the data center?

Data centers can be costly, requiring healthcare organizations to allocate funds toward investments in servers, routers, switches and various other infrastructure elements to sustain them, making CIOs want to get out of the business.

Renton, Wash.-based Providence decided to transition away from on-premise data centers five years ago, especially after recognizing that the operational aspect of running data centers wasn't a key differentiator for healthcare providers and after realizing how capital-intensive and time-intensive it was.  

"We're not going to out-compete our data center competition," B.J. Moore, CIO of the health system, told Becker's. "We can't compete for the data center talent. If you're in Seattle, and you're an amazing data center or network expert, you go work for Microsoft or Amazon and make a million dollars or you work for a nonprofit and run the data center. So we couldn't find the talent."

This caused Providence to begin its transition over to the cloud, as it was most promising in providing the health system with greater flexibility, scalability and innovation.

"The cloud is a better place to be because that's where all the innovation is happening," Mr. Moore said. "There was absolutely no need to be on-premises or to have a data center."

Providence is now operating on the cloud, specifically Microsoft Azure, and has transitioned 95% of non-Epic applications to the cloud. 

"We've got a lot of traffic on our web servers. With the cloud, we can add servers to make sure its performance meets our end-user needs," he said. "We also don't need that same compute power anymore, allowing us to dynamically scale that back and be able to grow and shrink to fulfill our needs. This has saved us a lot of money." 

According to Mr. Moore, if Providence was still on-premises, the health system would have to go buy a server, find the capital for that server and install it, a three-month process that now takes less than five minutes with the cloud.

Now, having already simplified and modernized their ecosystem by moving to the cloud, Providence is focusing on leveraging generative AI to enhance patient experiences and caregiver productivity.

"We've got five solutions already in production that we've written," Mr. Moore said. "And we have Nuance DAX in production as well as a Microsoft Co-Pilot production."

With the emergence of large language models and various innovative solutions exclusively based in the cloud, sticking to an on-premises setup could mean potentially overlooking the upcoming wave of innovation, according to Mr. Moore.

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