The need for next-generation data management: Six key storage considerations for healthcare organisations

(Image credit: Image Credit: Pitney Bowes Software)

From retail and manufacturing to banking and transport, no industry has been exempt from the massive increase in data generation over the last few years. The healthcare sector specifically is currently facing a major spike for two main reasons: an aging population that is driving up the use of healthcare in North America and Europe and advances in medical imaging and genomic research that are introducing new, larger file types.

The scale of the data growth is highlighted in industry research from IDC which states that the amount of data generated by healthcare information and imaging systems will reach more than 2,300 exabytes by 2020, growing exponentially from just 153 exabytes in 2013.

That’s clearly a significant jump in a relatively short space of time. It also represents a significant challenge for traditional enterprise storage solutions which often struggle to keep up with the volume and complexity of data being generated today. To adequately manage this growth and futureproof their infrastructure, healthcare organisations have to look seriously at next-generation storage platforms, being sure to take six key considerations into account.

1)            Scalability

A significant portion of the data growth in the healthcare world has been driven by a rise in unstructured data from the likes of PET scans, MRIs, CT scans, and X-rays in PACS systems. With this in mind, it’s vital that any next-generation storage solution be able to scale easily and cost-effectively as the amount of unstructured data continues to increase. One of the best ways of meeting this challenge is to deploy modular, private cloud storage that is able to seamlessly scale to accommodate hundreds of petabytes of data across multiple data centres and still be managed centrally.

2)            Compliance

Operating in one of the most tightly regulated industries around, healthcare organisations have a big compliance challenge on their hands. They must abide by strict privacy regulations, meaning their storage solutions have to provide extensive security features that ensure they are fully compliant as deployments grow. For example, features such as role-based access controls with specified levels of access, audit trail logging, data encryption and transparent key management are all essential. These should then be supplemented by AES-256 server-side encryption for data stored at rest, SSL for data in transit (HTTPS) and WORM (Write Once Read Multiple) for storage of immutable data.

3)            Archive integration

One of the biggest data issues facing modern healthcare organisations is that patient records originate from many diverse systems, in many variations. Traditional records systems employ a variety of proprietary formats, which leads to information silos where records are locked in isolated archives. As a result, interoperability and information sharing is extremely difficult, impacting organisations’ ability to deliver patient data in real-time.

This is where the vendor neutral archive (VNA) comes into play. A VNA provides a common interface that gives multiple healthcare information platforms access to a shared storage environment, enabling organisations to consolidate the storage and management of dispersed records and images. A next-generation storage platform should offer flexible VNA integration, providing a central storage repository that lets organisations comprehensively view patient records in real-time.

4)            Data analytics with metadata tagging

With so much data to sift through, maximising the value of this data is harder than ever. As such, access to rich metadata is essential for allowing data scientists to search, analyse and discover new patterns in healthcare data. Machine learning and analytics can then be leveraged for pattern detection, drug and disease research and even diagnosing health conditions. Traditional NAS and SAN solutions fall short in this area, and healthcare organisations should consider next-generation storage platforms that contain built-in metadata tagging features.

5)            Data resiliency and protection

With medical data now carrying so much value and frequently being a target for cyber-attacks, robust data resiliency and protection features – either through replication or erasure coding – should be essential components of any storage solution. For example, erasure coding is used to fragment and spread data across different nodes, ensuring that it can be fully reconstructed in the event of node failure. This provides efficient data protection with maximum capacity utilisation, enabling organisations to respond quickly if something should happen.

6)            Multi-stakeholder accessibility

As in many other industries, healthcare organisations often have multiple different stakeholders from different teams that all need access to the same data. As such, next-generation storage platforms should offer granular access control, permission settings and audit logging capabilities to allow multiple users on a single shared infrastructure without compromising security. This ensures control and logically separate data access, meaning healthcare professionals, researchers and patients can securely access data from the same nodes without impacting operations. Administrators can also control quality of service (QOS) by limiting usage rates and setting quotas on a per-group, per-user basis.

Ultimately, there are several unique factors for healthcare organisations to consider when selecting a storage platform that is able to cope with today’s unprecedented increase in the amount of data that has to be managed and protected. Scalability is, of course, key to accommodating massive data volumes, but other aspects such as security, metadata tagging capabilities, VNA support, data protection and multi-tenancy are also now essential.

It’s certainly a challenge, but, by taking the time to select the right storage platform, healthcare organisations can focus on serving patients and driving new advancements in medicine.

Neil Stobart, Vice President, Global System Engineering, Cloudian
Image Credit: Pitney Bowes Software