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UPMC Beefs Up IT Infrastructure to Meet Burgeoning Data Storage Needs

September 5, 2013
by John DeGaspari
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Plans call for virtualization and moving to a hybrid cloud environment

Next month marks one year since the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) health system launched its enterprise analytics initiative, a five-year plan that it says will foster personalized medicine. Part of that plan is to build an enterprise data warehouse for the 20-plus hospital system that will bring together various types of data that so far have been difficult to integrate and analyze. That ambitious plan is in addition to coping with rapid organic growth of electronic of all kinds of data. How is UPMC making sure that it has the IT infrastructure to meet those data storage needs?

Chris Carmody, UPMC’s vice president of enterprise infrastructure services, provides some perspective. He notes that data storage requirements in healthcare are doubling every 18 months, UPMC currently stores 5 petabytes of enterprise data, a figure he expects to grow to 20 petabytes by the year 2016. That growth encompasses all types of data, from structured data in the electronic medical record (EMR) to unstructured data and imaging data, he says.

Part of UPMC’s strategy is move from a primarily private model cloud storage model to a hybrid model, Carmody says. He notes that presently UPMC uses the hybrid model only minimally, noting that there is organizational support for moving to the hybrid model. “We recognize that the explosion in demand from a data perspective has grown pretty large, so we are looking from a strategic perspective at the hybrid environment, to offload some of that storage need into the external cloud,” he says, adding that it would ensure that security and redundancy was provided for.

One challenge to managing a large volume of data is being able to manage its growth. To do that it is working with application vendors to purge data that is no longer necessary, Carmody says, adding that this is a necessary step to ensuring the performance of the application systems. “We work with a lot of vendors, and we pay close attention, from a storage perspective, on which systems are consuming the most resources. As we see a spike in our measurement, we pay close attention in investigating and evaluating as best we can what we need to do next to control that,” he says.

Carmody also notes that another concern, from a purely infrastructure point of view, is power consumption. He sees a shift from spinning disks to solid-state drives, which will consume less power while still delivering on the performance needs of its systems and applications, he says.

To support its data analytics initiative, UPMC is building an enterprise data warehouse that will store data from many sources, including the electronic medical record, laboratory systems and radiology systems. “We will pull that data in, and apply algorithms and analytics programs over that data to provide insights into what is happening with a specific patient or what’s happening with an entire population,” he says. The initiative will bring together data from sources that have never before been in one place, he says.

“That will be the biggest draw in terms of how we are organizing the data,” he says. “As a technologist supporting that environment, my focus is on the end user—the doctor, the nurse, the researcher. That’s what we are preparing for and planning, to enable them as we have these new sets of applications and insights from our enterprise analytics program in our environment,” he says.

For more on how provider organizations are meeting data storage challenges, turn to the October issue of Healthcare Informatics.