Cloud front breezes along briskly

The cloud serves as both a conduit and repository for data.

With its ease of installment, functional versatility, cost effectiveness and seemingly limitless capacity, cloud computing is taking the healthcare IT landscape by storm. There are many different deployments happening at facilities across the industry as providers search for ways to improve their computing power, inject vitality into established systems and utilize the cloud's potential for clinical, financial and administrative purposes.

"Cloud computing is definitely a high growth area," says Paul Burke, director of revenue cycle technology for Chadds Ford, Pa.-based IMA Consulting. "It serves as both a conduit and repository for data. For hospitals that are still using 25-year-old technology, hooking up to the cloud provides a wealth of new functionality and enables them to squeeze more mileage out of those systems."

Migration to the cloud over the past decade initially started slowly, with hospitals typically adopting claims processing applications, Burke said. As PCs became more affordable and Internet access more prevalent, he said, these applications took off.

Perhaps the best performance improvement the cloud provides is speed, Burke said.

"Cloud apps can now sit on top of legacy systems and provide downloadable reports in 30 seconds, compared to days with a mainframe," he said.

Cloud clusters

As abstract as the cloud concept may seem, it contains a wealth of concrete computing strength for those who can harness it. For instance, computational biologist Victor Ruotti recently plugged into a virtual power source of magnificent proportions.

Ruotti works at the Morgridge Institute for Research in Madison, Wis., as part of the regenerative biology team studying human embryonic stem cells. As the winner of the Cycle Computing (Greenwich, Conn.) Big Science Challenge, Ruotti received the financial means to use the cloud as a supercomputer for constructing a massive knowledge-based indexing system for stem cells and their derivatives. The ambitious project consisted of running more than 1 million computing hours against 78 terabytes of data  -  a total of 115 years of computer run time  -  in one week.

The landmark index will allow researchers to quickly classify the cells based on their expression pattern and identify genes and regions of the genome that are critical for establishing and maintaining cell states that have potential for clinical applications.

"This is truly an outside-the-box inventive piece of research," said Cycle CEO Jason Stowe. "Victor wanted to move the needle on this important field of clinical study and hopefully the results he generated will be something that can be put into practice."

The sheer scope of the project  -  a complex series of stem cell sequencing  -  needed a cyber-boost that is beyond what most institutions have available to them, Ruotti said.