At the intersection of big data and cloud computing: Analytics

December 17, 2012 in Medical Technology

Two of today’s most prominent trends in healthcare – big data and cloud computing – are fated to intertwine in ways that will bolster health data analytics.

Indeed, it’s already happening at UPMC. The provider has been making big use of the cloud to manage its huge and ever-growing piles of data as part of a long-term partnership with IBM to completely revamp its storage and analytics of huge volumes of patient and research data, all leading up to the medical center’s $100 million personalized care initiative, announced Oct. 1.

UPMC has a deployed a dynamic virtualized infrastructure that shortened information backup times by 20 percent and recovery times by half, officials said. IBM helped with storage and server virtualization, enabling the network to be more flexible to accommodate exponential data growth at UPMC’s 20 hospitals and 400 outpatient locations. A key part of this is a private cloud that supports mission-critical applications.

Back when UPMC made the first moves toward virtualization in 2005, “We probably had a little more than a million unique patient records in our EHR and lab systems,” said Christian Carmody, vice president of the Information Services Division at UPMC. “Where we sit today, we’re at 7.3 million unique patient records.”

[This article was drawn from “Navigating the Cloud,” a free e-supplement containing this and other must-read information about cloud computing in healthcare.]

Big data, to be certain. But it’s not just about volume. “The richness of that data has ballooned as well,” Carmody added. “We’ve experienced a tremendous amount of organic growth as we’ve merged with different hospitals over that timeframe.”

And the need for data storage “just keeps going up,” he said. “We’re at probably four petabytes of data today, and we anticipate that at the end of this agreement with IBM, this next four years, that we’re going to grow to 19 petabytes.”

The good news? “We’ve turned the corner as far as trying to get physicians to adopt technology,” Carmody said. The challenge? “They are now reliant upon it, and they want more.” And that means more data.

Luckily, that’s something UPMC has been anticipating for nigh on a decade. We had the “foresight and vision … to virtualize our environment,” Carmody said. “We were dealing with issues of organic growth and running out of datacenter space back when we were doing the first deal with IBM.

“Now we’re on the cusp of this concept of big data, which to us is this 10-plus years of electronic health record data, the financial data, and the upcoming use and inclusion of genomic data into our environment,” Carmody added. “The combination of all those different elements, being run through a superior analytics program, is what we’re challenged with as we move forward.”

Big data and cloud considerations

Most of the cloud solutions being adopted in healthcare are private clouds, but hybrid clouds are also becoming more accepted, depending on the application and usage pattern, said Greg Caressi, senior vice president, healthcare and life sciences, at Frost Sullivan. Public cloud solutions are deployed in healthcare, but are more rare, he added.

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