Healthcare Prescribes Storage

Vertical market profile: Medical advances and regulations drive storage

February 10, 2006

4 Min Read
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Driven primarily by compliance regulations and new medical tools that create large digital files, the healthcare industry has gone from storage laggard to stalwart.

Hospitals and other health facilities need to rapidly increase their storage capacities to keep up with new medical developments. Theyre also willing to give new storage technologies an early try and are commonly among early adopters of IP SANs, virtual tape libraries (VTLs), and continous data protection (CDP).

“For many years, healthcare did not fully realize the opportunity that technology can bring,” said Bill Lazarus, VP of IT architecture at St. Joseph Health System in Orange, Calif., in a talk last fall. (See Admins: Know Thy Data. “[Now] we’re bringing a whole population of clinical users that are used to manual processes for decades online with new state-of-the-art applications.”

Those new applications include picture archiving communications systems (PACS) and multislice Computed Tomography (CT) scans. PACS digitally store cardiology and radiology tests, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) results, and other large files. Multislice CTs allow faster brain scans and can focus on thinner slices of tissue than previous CTs -- and could require up to 1 Gbyte of storage per exam. Other new systems include storage hogs like 3D Ultrasound and digital mammography machines. (See Healthcare Seeks Storage Rx.)

New medical technology isn't the only thing driving the boom in healthcare storage. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which forces organizations to keep patient records for decades, is a piece of legislation storage vendors hold dear -- even if it's failing in its mission. (See Research Finds HIPAA Ineffective and Toothless Indeed.)It all adds up to a booming market. Research firm Frost & Sullivan forecasts healthcare storage will grow to $1.3 billion by 2008. Progress is evident in news of equipment adoptions. (See NetApp Helps Byram Meet HIPAA, Providence Health Embraces EMC NAS, Healthcare Group Heals Exchange, Hospital Saves With Server Shakeup, and HP Intros Medical Solutions.)

The situation makes for sizeable IT awards. For example, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) last April signed an eight-year, $402 million deal with IBM that covers its entire IT infrastructure. (See New SANs Heal UPMC Constraints.) UPMC Storage projects include moving to three IBM DS8300 enterprise and two DS6800 midrange SANs,and will probably include SAN Volume Controller (SVC) for virtualization, email archiving, new directors, and perhaps NAS filers. UPMC’s storage capacity is already at 300 Tbytes and is growing 50 percent per year.

Typical installations involve multiple suppliers. Northeast Health, a not-for-profit healthcare conglomerate in upstate New York, put together an enterprise-scope disaster recovery plan a few years back to make sure it could retrieve all of its data in case of outage. VP of corporate MIS Chris Baldwin implemented SANs at two sites using gear from EMC, McData, and Dell, and backed them up with BridgeHead and Meditech software. (See Health Center Sees Double .)

Big vendors aren't the only ones cashing in. Perhaps because they didn’t have large legacy systems to begin with, many healthcare organizations are willing to try new technologies from young companies. IP SAN startups EqualLogic, Intransa, and LeftHand Networks list healthcare as a key vertical market. (See HIPAA Helps EqualLogic, EqualLogic Expands in Health Care, Dynamic Health picks Intransa, and LeftHand Reports Progress.)

Other new technologies are taking root in healthcare: With his healthcare network’s SAN growing an average of 24 Tbytes a year, Baptist Memorial Healthcare IS systems engineer Hal Weiss turned to VTL from Copan Systems in 2004 and CDP from Revivio last year to back up and restore data. (See Hospital Prescribes VTL, CDP.) That gave him an early seat on two of storage’s fastest growing bandwagons.Because healthcare organizations deal with many images that do not change after they’re stored -- such as test results and billing information -- content addressable storage (CAS) and other archiving systems also make sense. (See CAS at a Crossroads, The Case Against CAS, and IBM, Bycast Offer Grid Medical Archive).

Onaro, which has a SAN change management product, counts healthcare as one of its early strong verticals. (See Healthy SAN Manages Change and Healthcare Industry Prescribes Onaro.) And unstructured data management startup StoredIQ came out of stealth mode last September to claim four customers all in healthcare. (See Peekaboo, StoredIQ!.)

As with other verticals, healthcare includes fans of managed services. Last year the New Jersey Hospital Association took advantage of an online backup service offered by IPR International based on EVault software created specifically for hospitals. (See NJHA, IPR Partner and Service Providers Target Healthcare.)

— Dave Raffo, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

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