Cloud computing is a hot topic. You may have recently noticed a few commercials on prime time TV advertising cloud computing technologies now available to consumers by companies such as Amazon and Microsoft. Software developers have long discussed the impact of cloud computing on technological development; however, given the electronic data exchange movement driven by HITECH and Meaningful Use, the health care industry may also be greatly influenced by this fundamental change in technology.
Cloud computing is likely one aspect of the future of our technological experience as consumers, but what exactly is it? How does it work and how is it different than the technology we currently have?
We asked a software developer at Corepoint Health to provide a healthcare IT perspective on this popular topic:
What is cloud computing and how does it relate to health IT?
Cloud computing is a fuzzy concept that isn’t well defined. A number of different companies refer to it in different ways. My understanding of cloud computing is that you hand off computing tasks or server management to another company and they host it on the “cloud.”
“Cloud computing is a model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction. This cloud model promotes availability and is composed of five essential characteristics, three service models, and four deployment models” (The NIST Definition of Cloud Computing).
Essentially, this means that rather than having a static number of servers, they can dedicate however many servers you need at any given time. For example, if website A, website B and website C are all on the same cloud and website A gets hammered; they’ll get more of the cloud’s computing potential at that time.
How does cloud computing relate to healthcare technology?
There’s a difference between software on the cloud and hardware on the cloud. Software, like Google docs for example, which can be accessed from any device isn’t a main beneficiary from cloud computing. Hardware is what I’ve been referring to for the most part.
William “Buddy” Gillespie, the VP & CTO of WellSpan Health, published an article titled, “Cloud Computing and Meaningful Use,” on HITECH Answers that discussed the impact of cloud computing on the health IT industry. In his article, he mentions requiring fast servers and abundant storage. Those are the two big benefits of the cloud rather than having your own server in the office.
In the cloud, I can use 100 computers to run calculations that would take a lot longer on my single server, and once my calculations are done someone else can use those 100 servers for something else. If it’s in the office it usually just sits there unused. Likewise with storage, in the cloud they can easily add or remove storage at any time, but with your own server you have to order new hard drives and install them.
Right now, the biggest drawback with cloud computing is latency, or how long it takes to get a response from the server. In an office it will be incredibly quick, but on the cloud it has to bounce around a while resources are allocated so the response can take up to a second.
The web has changed a lot over the last 5 years; we are unwilling to wait for page loads now. As consumers, our expectations of technology have grown immensely during this time and we’ve become very demanding. That’s why popular sites like Facebook had to be redesigned to never give the impression that it is refreshing.
Do you believe cloud computing will be the norm in the future, or is it all hype?
As the conversation continues regarding cloud computing in the marketplace, it will be interesting to witness its adoption. I agree with Gillespie in his article that cloud computing could offer a great deal of opportunity for small hospitals and remote hospitals and other healthcare facilities.
From a corporate perspective, I believe cloud computing will be the norm for a majority of companies because it doesn’t require a huge capital investment; for larger companies, however, it will depend on their business and security needs.