What to look for when considering cloud-based infrastructure services and XaaS

Penn Medicine Associate CIO John Donohue outlines IaaS upsides and looks at the emergence of a new option, XaaS, as in Anything as a Service.
By John P. Donohue
06:12 AM

The shift to “as a service” type offerings began with Software as a Service (SaaS). Then Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) followed by Platform as a Service (PaaS) started to gain traction. All three of these options represent the variety of ways in which healthcare organizations can use cloud computing for virtual provisioning.  

I think we are going to continue to see more “as a service” coming to the market in the future and, most recently, I’ve even seen a reference to XaaS or Anything/Everything as a Service.

XaaS, which offers additional services like network and security, may actually deliver the true power of the cloud approach to computing.

Many things in the information technology space seem to come full circle. One could argue, for instance, that IaaS has its roots in the early days of computing where students and others rented time on large computers. Web hosting could also be considered part of the evolution of cloud computing and IaaS.  

These shifts have taken place over time as economic benefits have driven the choice between an organization owning their own infrastructure versus leverage that of a provider that can take advantage of the economies of scale. In any case, there are many advantages to an IaaS model in today’s world.

In simple terms, IaaS enables virtualized computing resources that are provisioned over the internet. In most cases with IaaS, a provider hosts all the different infrastructure components (compute, storage, networking, etc.) required to support a user’s applications. The hosting provider also manages the operational needs of such infrastructure like maintenance, upgrades and backups.

Many organizations either cannot afford or don’t want to be in the data center or hardware business.  IaaS allows these hospitals and systems to get rolling with less investment and risk. For larger and often tech-savvy health networks, IaaS options can be a better way to provide scalable infrastructure resources that meet variable on demand requirements. The IaaS model can also be beneficial in the sense that it allows organizations to keep up with current technologies and patching levels (read: enhanced security) by leveraging the hosting vendor’s resources and expertise.

That ability to scale up and down dynamically as business needs dictate through such tools is a real benefit as “time to market” decreases significantly. The “pay as you go” approach is also a real plus as organization can access just the resources they need in an economical manner. 

The tools are also in place to chargeback their internal customers for the services that are being provided in an IaaS environment.

When organizations consider IaaS, they should also look at the benefits associated with the automation or orchestration capabilities that hosted services typically deliver.

It seems to be early days in terms of cloud or IaaS adoption in healthcare, but that is changing quickly.

Analyst firms have already estimated that over 80 percent of healthcare organizations are now leveraging the cloud. That means it’s only a matter of time before more start to adopt the “as a service” model.  

As healthcare organizations head down this route, it will be important to make sure a Business Associate Agreement is in place with the vendor. Organizations will want to carefully vet the information security capabilities of the cloud provider to ensure that they are adequately protected. It will also be important to negotiate a friendly exit strategy in the event that organizations want to bring the technology back in house or shift to another vendor that can do more for less.

In my opinion, the efficacy of cloud computing and specifically IaaS will continue to grow as the demand for more compute power, more bandwidth and more storage challenges organizations where information technology is not a core competency.

IaaS providers, in turn, will be able to further leverage economies of scale to deliver stable, scalable, robust platforms at economical pricing models.

Whether that means XaaS will join the lexicon of –as-a-service options, well, only time will tell if customers embrace XaaS large-scale and mission critical applications.

John Donohue is associate CIO of technology and infrastructure at Penn Medicine.

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