Can IT cure health care's hybrid cloud woes?

By Leon Adato, Head Geek, SolarWinds
Thursday, 23 July, 2020

Can IT cure health care's hybrid cloud woes?

The next technological leap for health care may not be robotics or telemedicine but something far more familiar: the hybrid cloud.

As revealed in the recent SolarWinds IT Trends Report, IT professionals are focusing less on emerging technologies (27%) and more on hybrid IT (41%) and security (38%). Spurred by customer expectations and regulatory standards, over 44% of healthcare players are set to implement hybrid cloud systems within the next three to five years — but can IT teams manage this onset of complexity while keeping their networks as pristine and efficient as an operating theatre?

The answer is, of course, yes. But only with decisive action, proper tools and the right mindset can IT teams meet the escalating needs of health care while wrangling with the many standards and regulations of the industry.

Compliance: a bitter pill to swallow

Behind the challenge of cloud complexity hides a greater foe: compliance. Indeed, pressure to comply with industry standards surrounding service quality and data security is what drives health care’s current digital transformation. But when digital operations inevitably scale, IT teams will face the unenviable challenge of ensuring compliance as they deal with multiple clouds, greater data volumes and more networked devices than they can possibly track. And when you’re dealing with lives, it only takes a failure or two to tip things over.

So what can healthcare IT teams do? The way I see it, they have two paths. The first is to grit their teeth and ‘build’ compliance into every aspect of their networks, which reduces the speed of scalability and incurs higher costs. Alternatively, they could ‘buy’ this level of compliance. There’s no shortage of industry-certified vendors or providers out there offering solutions — like data security and monitoring — to meet the industry’s strict standards. In fact, going down this route will be an increasingly viable way for IT teams to transfer the burden of compliance to knowledgeable and better-prepared partners, even as they focus on delivering cloud stability and performance to medical staff whenever and wherever they need it.

Prevention is better than a cure

Of course, you can’t talk about compliance without raising the issue of network and data security in the cloud. The shockingly high frequency of data breaches in health care suggests a need to rethink cybersecurity, particularly as cloud adoption ramps up. The issues of cost, time and complexity shouldn’t dominate boardroom decisions when it comes to network security. As healthcare operations become increasingly digitised and reach the brink of their capacity fighting the ongoing global pandemic, they’ll face threats and dangers unfamiliar to even the most seasoned healthcare executives.

Diligent network monitoring remains the only sensible and effective method of ensuring sufficient levels of security. This is especially true as healthcare workers gain the ability to work more remotely; the rate of technical change in the industry is continuing its breakneck pace, introducing everything from new and more complex IoT solutions to technologies relying on AI and machine learning. Compliant-ready tools for network monitoring — provided by industry vendors like SolarWinds — will allow IT teams to obtain greater network visibility and implement the following best practices:

Analyse data flows: Using NetFlow analysis, IT teams should quickly identify suspicious and potentially malicious spikes in unwelcome types of traffic or traffic going to a questionable external destination. NetFlow will also help keep an eye on areas of the network potentially reaching peak capacity.

Monitor every object: Every virtual instance on the cloud — whatever its digital nature — must have its state and performance parameters monitored around the clock for continued compliance.

Trace applications: In an environment where any slowdown or disruption could cost lives, application tracing of actual application traffic (versus synthetic transactions) allows rapid root cause identification for network problems and aids in quick resolution.

Log all data traffic: This is a requirement for any cybersecurity effort, as it allows IT teams to easily identify and aggregate traffic and user access patterns for analysis.

Plan for the worst

IT teams should govern their hybrid infrastructures with the assumption they could eventually fail. This means redundancy and preventive measures, like backup and disaster recovery, come second only to cybersecurity in terms of importance. This is especially true in health care, where equipment failures cost more than time and money.

It’s vital for IT teams to consolidate the configuration data of all mission-critical systems and services connecting to — and even within — their cloud-based infrastructures. This repository allows for speedy restoration of the virtual network to its absolute best state within minutes of an outage. This is one of the easiest and most overlooked methods for backing up systems and it isn’t difficult to perform with the solutions offered by cloud providers. In practice, it should allow IT teams to ensure a level of operational compliance, even as they troubleshoot a breach or kick-start a full system restore.

When it comes to digital transformation and the adoption of hybrid infrastructure, we’re still in the early days for the healthcare sector. But considering present healthcare challenges and ever-dwindling resources, this trend is set to accelerate, and IT teams should be prepared for the accompanying complexity in the network and in compliance.

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