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Putting Your Eggs In More Than One Basket?

February 17, 2010
by Joe Marion
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One of my recent engagements involves a site wrestling with storage capacity and end of life issues with a PACS. It seems today you need a crystal ball to forecast when to add additional storage capacity before the hardware becomes obsolete. The trick is to avoid purchasing too much excess capacity too soon, versus risking equipment obsolescence and an inability to acquire additional capacity without replacing the entire platform.

Fortunately, there are a growing number of options available to IT departments that can help in avoiding the obsolescence pitfall. One option receiving a lot of attention lately is the concept of cloud storage. There are multiple iterations, but fundamentally, one can look at this as the old “own versus rent” tradeoff. The case for owning has classically been made on the basis of it being lower-cost over the life of the equipment. The case for renting has classically been based on trading ownership for flexibility, both in capacity and cost. Remote storage has been looked at for disaster recovery, and business continuity applications, but it has recently gained traction as a primary storage option.

This recent engagement has enlightened me in terms of a few “twists” with respect to the addition of cloud storage to one’s image storage basket. For one, the storage company bears the risk for assuring that sufficient capacity is available to accommodate everyone’s needs. Since the storage entity is larger than any of its individual clients, the argument is that they can acquire the infrastructure for less, due to economies of scale. Similarly, there is less risk to justifying capital acquisitions as they can be spread across a number of clients with varying growth requirements, thereby spreading the risk.

Often overlooked is the reduction in service maintenance expense that remote or cloud storage providers can offer. These can be significant, particularly if buried within the cost of a PACS. Again, the service provider assumes responsibility and has a larger base over which to spread maintenance contracts individually for storage. More than likely much of this equipment is leased, so there is the added advantage of a greater incentive on the part of the service provider for obsolescence protection, as it is the provider’s responsibility to keep the infrastructure current.

In today’s volatile healthcare market, with the uncertainty cast by ARRA/Meaningful Use, anyone with image storage capacity issues should be looking at all their options. It seems that considering cloud storage in the mix might be prudent for facilities faced with potential on-site storage issues – that is until the requirements for imaging are clearer in terms of Meaningful Use. The use of cloud storage services can free up capital to be applied to more urgent ARRA/Meaningful Use priorities.

I am sure there are counter-arguments for local storage alternatives. I would be interested in whether anyone has taken an objective look at the business case for both, and if so, can it be shared? As CIO’s struggle with a balancing act as to where to place priorities, it seems this type of information would be in high demand.

As usual, I look forward to your comments.

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