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Storage Cloud's Forecast—Clearing the Air

April 15, 2011
by Joe Marion
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Develop a strategy for the enterprise management of images

This past week saw a controversial announcement, and one that probably slipped under the radar. Iron Mountain has been through a real thunderstorm with respect to a press release over the weekend. In the meantime, Microsoft continues to muddy the waters with its own announcement. The real issue is – what do both have to do with how Information Technology services should view storage clouds with respect to imaging?

I will avoid the criticism leveled by some bloggers with respect to the merits of how Iron Mountain’s press release was managed, and instead focus on the positive in that for healthcare imaging, Iron Mountain has finally gotten it right! It seems the press releases of Iron Mountain’s shuttering of a couple product offerings that are totally outside of healthcare caused confusion with regard to Iron Mountain’s Digital Record Center (DRC) service. In the past, DRC had focused on providing disaster recovery image storage services using its data centers to store images. The technology employed involved HP’s version of Bycast, and as everyone knows, with NetApp’s acquisition of Bycast, both HP and IBM have pretty much withdrawn these offerings.

Iron Mountain’s response has been to expand its relationship with DeJarnette Research Systems, employing DeJarnette’s xDL Cross-Enterprise Document Librarian application, which moves Iron Mountain from simple disaster recovery to full-scale enterprise image management applications. Recalling my personal experience, I was engaged by a client to address their image archive/disaster recovery strategy. They were in the process of engaging Iron Mountain to act as a secondary disaster recovery copy of their radiology image data due to some end of life issues with the PACS archive. In the end, I convinced them that if they were going off site to store images, they should take a broader enterprise perspective to providing business continuity. This positioned them to address the inevitable addition of other imaging services, as well as to provide a mechanism for image access independent of the individual PACS. Iron Mountain understands the distinction, and I am pleased to see them move in this direction!

In the case of Microsoft, their announcement was equally confusing to me, in that on the surface it sounded as if they were joining the fray of those attempting to use cloud storage services as an alternative to the physical handling of CD’s. LifeImage, See My Radiology, and eMix come to mind, particularly since LifeImage and See My Radiology have relationships with Microsoft and Google to handle images in conjunction with their services. Upon further review, it appears that while Microsoft is touting the capability to manage DICOM images, it may very well be using the LifeImage application.

My point of clarification is that there are many different uses for the cloud in healthcare. Iron Mountain’s emphasis on providing enterprise-scale services for handling images is a legitimate application that can offer flexibility and real value to its clients, and is a logical extension of its current hard copy services. One stop shopping for film/document and digital image/document management can be a compelling argument – and even more so for Iron Mountain’s 2000+ existing healthcare customers. Similarly, Microsoft and Google offer legitimate applications for patients who want to manage their healthcare information. As from my own healthcare experiences, I like the aspect of patient control of access, and I believe these services will play a legitimate role in a digital world as imaging becomes part of ARRA/Meaningful Use.

My message to IT management? Develop a strategy for the enterprise management of images – from basic disaster recovery/business continuity all the way to patient involvement. And, the sooner the better! Storage clouds are a promising approach, and probably have much more financial incentive for success than commercial applications.

I am reminded though by a colleague about successful commercial cloud storage applications! For example, Symantec’s Norton 360 clientele have over 80 Petabytes of data stored in Symantec’s cloud. That’s a mind-boggling number! So, the real key is the value-add, and as best I can tell, there are plenty of value-add healthcare imaging opportunities!

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