Will the cloud replace data centers? Health system IT execs weigh in

Even if traditional data-center tasks are all moved to the cloud, there will still be a need for on-site infrastructure that will ultimately require what looks like a traditional data center, according to health system CIOs. 

Becker's spoke to six health system IT leaders to discuss if the presumption that the cloud will absorb the data center stands true. 

James Wellman. Chief Digital and Information Officer of Blanchard Valley Health System (Findlay, Ohio): Speaking from a community health point of view, I think data centers will shrink, or continue to shrink, but not disappear, as they still have value in our daily operations. 

There is benefit in keeping a hardened location where we can provide local caching to optimize performance of some remote or cloud-based systems.

Additionally, we still have a need for emergency downtime servers, plus we often house our core switches and other communications systems in our data center.

Daniel Uzupis. CIO of Jefferson County Health Center (Fairfield, Iowa): The cloud isn't meant to replace data centers so much as it's meant to supplement datacenters. 

The purpose of a datacenter depends entirely upon an organization's risk appetite, business impact analysis and business continuity planning — all of which is contingent upon cost-to-value ratio. 

The use of cloud-based services for smaller healthcare organizations and federally qualified health centers may seem inexpensive and low risk in a metropolitan area with resilient and redundant infrastructure, but in suburban and rural areas the cloud is both a luxury and a risk with most infrastructure sparse and above ground. 

With improvements in virtualization, the need for security-defined perimeter and virtual desktop infrastructure to support remote/hybrid work and telehealth, moving infrastructure to the cloud is as costly or more costly than a data center but without anything tangible. 

After all, capitalized data center hardware — regardless of the expense — is still an asset. 

Scaling is easy with either the cloud or virtualization, but it depends on whether you need to reign in your operations or capital budget. 

The questions organizations need to ask themselves relate to service availability, resiliency and cost. But, cost is difficult to determine as you need to identify both quantitative and qualitative measurements: how expensive is the solution and does it offer value to employees and/or patients? 

Sunil Dadlani. CIO at Atlantic Health System (Morristown, N.J): No! Data centers will still exist but the workloads will systematically shift more towards the cloud as organizations will continue to adopt the mindset of "cloud must" to "cloud first."  

What remains on-premises are business processes that are mission-critical and require greater oversight and more detailed levels of control.

Rich Rogers. Senior Vice President and CIO of PrismaHealth (Greenville, S.C.): In healthcare, I believe the full migration to the cloud will occur over a number of years. 

Health systems like PrismaHealth, have migrated our core systems to the cloud in the last several years, but still have hundreds of systems and physical and virtual servers hosted on premise. 

While we have a "cloud first" preference for new systems, it will take years to plan and justify the migration of all legacy departmental and niche systems to the cloud environment.

In addition, certain systems present challenges in a cloud environment. An example would be enterprise imaging systems. Because of the large file sizes and requirement to serve up images rapidly to support specialist workflow, these systems account for 80 percent of our enterprise storage volumes in healthcare.

Darrell Bodnar. CIO of North County Healthcare (Whitefield, N.H.): Eventually they may, but there are many instances where redundant connectivity is still not reliable and there always seems to be a need for a local footprint for certain applications. 

I do believe the hybrid model is continuing to grow and that more workloads will move to cloud offerings. Every organization, service line and application suite is different, but at North Country Healthcare about 40 percent of our workloads are cloud based and within the next five years that will probably grow to around 75 percent. 

Muhammad Siddiqui. Vice President and CIO of Reid Health (Richmond, Ind.): Even if the traditional data-center tasks are elevated to the cloud, we will still need on-site infrastructure that will ultimately require the traditional data-center approach.  

Combining the agility of the clouds with the geographic distribution and high performance of localized computing will eventually energize the data centers to perform better.

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