Clouds roll in to handle stratospheric capacity needs

With PACS and other diagnostic imaging files quickly diminishing healthcare data storage capacities, providers are scrambling to find a much larger repository to handle their needs. More and more, that means gravitating toward the cloud, IT vendors say.

Massive data generation, along with requirements for accessibility and long-term storage capacity, is necessitating healthcare’s migration to virtual storage in the many cloud systems available today. Russ Kennedy, vice president of product strategy and marketing for Chicago-based Cleversafe, says the astronomical amounts of healthcare data make cloud storage the only choice for providers. Kennedy cited a 2008 International Data Corporation digital study on the amount of data out there and determined that there were 800 exabytes at that time. One exabyte is equal to one million terabytes. In that study, IDC predicted that there would be 35,000 exabytes in the total digital universe by the year 2020.

Healthcare’s share of that amount, Kennedy said, is currently 500 petabytes (with one petabyte equaling 1,000 terabytes), and that will grow to 50 times that total by 2020.

“Providers now need a storage methodology that can accommodate this explosion of data,” Kennedy said. “The RAID (redundant array of independent disks) method is limited and can no longer handle it.”

Conversely, Cleversafe’s cloud storage system uses information dispersal algorithms, a process that slices data into unrecognizable pieces and disperses it across multiple locations.

“By using this kind of encryption and secret sharing, we’re able to create a cost-effective way to safely secure massive amounts of data at the highest level,” Kennedy said. “So not only does this system allow providers to prevent data leaks and solve security issues, but they can also and eliminate any unexpected outages which saves a ton of time, money and headaches in the end.”

Yet the expanded capacity of storage devices also presents a new type of risk, said Fadi Albatal, vice president of marketing for Melville, N.Y.-based FalconStore Software.

“The problem of data loss is massively amplified,” he said. “Now we have three terabyte disks available in storage systems, which means the loss of one hard drive could result in the loss of massive amount of records – an extreme cost to any healthcare provider. Healthcare institutions can no longer back up and recover the data in a timely manner. Even in a RAID protection set, the time it will take to rebuild a lost drive is very disruptive to any business operation. All these challenges are pushing storage providers, like FalconStor, to think of new ways to manage the data and the infrastructure that is hosting it.”