When oncologists at Carolinas HealthCare System go before a tumor board review to discuss patient cases, they are looking for feedback on treatment plans and clinical trials. During their presentations, the doctors show their peers genetic data, pathology reports, lab results and physicians' notes -- all of which is at their fingertips because it is stored in a Hadoop cloud on Microsoft Azure.
This is the nonprofit hospital network's first big foray into the cloud, and it has prompted careful consideration about how CHS both protects and manages its data off-premises.
The two big areas that CHS needed to tackle were networking and governance issues, says Chris Danzi, assistant vice president of information and analytics services (IAS) at CHS. The hospital system has more than 62,000 employees and operates 39 hospitals and 900 other care locations in the Southeast.
One obvious difference between managing data internally and off-premises is that in the cloud, the data could be housed hundreds of miles away. "You're talking about moving data across the distance," says Danzi, "so you have to have a circuit and secure network to connect you to that." Moving gigabytes of data to a cloud provider every night required the healthcare network to contract with a telecom carrier and buy a secure dedicated line.
In the year since it migrated data to the cloud, CHS has been using a VPN, which it is about to replace with a private connection to Azure. This will allow the healthcare network to also use the line for its Office 365 system.
"The other thing you have to consider is not only did I buy this nice circuit to have better speed, but you have to segment it for the interactive users who will want real-time access vs. the big bulk file transfers you'll be doing," Danzi explains.
Managing data in the cloud is different from managing it on-premises, he says, in terms of employee skills, how you set up your data governance program and how you enable some of your technology infrastructure.
"Those are areas that all have to be entirely rethought from the perspective of someone who may be seeking to steal your data," Danzi says. "We've mastered that pretty well on-premises and now we're transferring data and storing it in different places so we have to rethink it again. And constantly. You have to rethink it constantly because you hear every day about new, clever ways to breach data. But it's worth it."
More companies opting for off-premises data storage
There's little doubt the cloud is becoming an integral part of many organizations' IT and data environments. A recent IDC survey revealed that an increasing number of organizations are integrating data in hybrid and cloud-only environments rather than keeping data strictly on-premises, says Stewart Bond, IDC's research director of data integration software.
Data in the cloud could be in a software-as-a-service (SaaS) application, a platform-as-a-service (PaaS) system or contained within databases and file servers implemented in infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) offerings, Bond says. Accessing data in SaaS applications often requires the use of an API. And using web services to access data is very different from using a SQL script against a relational application database, he explains.
"In PaaS environments, the implementation will dictate if a web services API is required, or if SQL or NoSQL methods can be used to access the data," Bond says. Data sitting in IaaS environments likely can be accessed using programming constructs that would also work against on-premises data sources, but that access would need to occur over a secure communications channel. In any event, master data management technology is helpful to reconcile between multiple disparate silos of data.
Echoing Danzi, Erez Yarkoni, incoming president of the Technology Business Management (TBM) Council, says when considering the steps involved with how cloud data will be managed, first and foremost, organizations need to plan very carefully for network capacity.
"The obvious things we took for granted when data was all right in our data center [are changing] and basically, you're extending your network footprint and you have to be extremely careful about how you design it," says Yarkoni, who previously served as CIO of both Telstra and T-Mobile. That adds another element "that could be very costly if you don't plan carefully on egress and regress to and from your environment, and to and from the clouds themselves and how people interact with your information you put into the cloud," he says.