With all the talk about switching from data centers to cloud-based computing, it seems like the cloud is an etherial magic bullet for every problem that healthcare IT might face, from reduced costs to improved flexibility. Not so fast, says Steve Jacobs, president of Velocity Data Centers, a firm that provides private cloud solutions.
While "there are some definite business advantages to operating in a cloud IT environment, the risks are very real and concerning," says Jacobs. For all of the pros of cloud-based solutions floating around, he points out that some of the cons can be big nails in the coffin for any organization that relies as much on data as healthcare does.
Here are four reasons providers should consider delaying making the jump to the cloud.
1. Data security. While proponents of cloud computing tout government- and industry-level standards of encryption and security, that doesn't mean an organization becomes impenetrable once they migrate to the cloud. Mighty as a cloud company's barriers might be, Jacobs notes that data breaches and security failures are all too common. Should the unthinkable happen, the healthcare organization – not the cloud provider – is going to have to take the hit.
"When a breach occurs, the responsibility to handle that fallout falls upon the healthcare provider," says Jacobs. "Even though the public cloud was the one that had the breach, it's the hospital that has to stand there and say, 'Oops, we messed up.'"
Jacobs also notes that who is responsible for the mistake is of little concern to the end consumer, which in a healthcare environment is ultimately the patient. If they feel concerned that the security of their data is inadequate, they will lose trust in their provider.
2. Service levels. One only needs to look in the recent news for further examples of the sometimes fragile nature of a public cloud. With Superstorm Sandy, "there were data centers that were flooded, generators that ran out of fuel," says Jacobs. "Who's systems are returned to service first?" Jacobs says that there is a dark joke in the IT world, "He who holds the biggest contract is returned to service first."
Cloud providers do not necessarily have the staff or resources to get every client back online within a reasonable amount of time, and pure economics dictate that clients with a larger service agreement (who would be on the hook for more downtime reimbursement) are going to see a faster return to service. While that may not be a problem for large institutions, smaller hospitals are smaller clients and may not see the same speedy return to service as their larger counterparts.