EDW Cloud Hosting: Is It Right for Your Health System?

cloud hostingIn today’s technology industry, hosting data in the cloud is the hot option. Healthcare, which tends to lag behind other industries in technology adoption, is also beginning to embrace the cloud.

Moving to the cloud will have a big impact in the healthcare enterprise data warehouse (EDW) market. Why? Because traditionally, healthcare organizations have hosted their EDW on hospital-owned servers in their own data center environment. But in the last couple of years, we’ve started to see a change. As healthcare organizations realize that cloud environments are secure and meet strict regulatory requirements, such as HIPAA, they are more ready and willing to trust their data to the cloud.

In this commentary, I’ll discuss some of the benefits of a cloud-based EDW and outline criteria to help you determine whether a cloud-based EDW is right for your organization.

EDW Hosting Options

Before delving into the cloud, I want to make sure you’re aware of all the EDW hosting options available to you. Choosing a hosting model is a big decision for any organization. Health Catalyst offers three models:

  • A vendor-hosted solution in the cloud. With this model, the vendor connects your data sources to a secure, HIPAA-compliant environment in the cloud.
  • A vendor appliance hosted by the client. The vendor purchases the base hardware, customizes it, and installs the appropriate software offsite. Then the vendor delivers this preconfigured hardware to your data center. Ongoing maintenance, such as nightly backups of that hardware platform, becomes your responsibility.
  • A client-hosted solution. Many clients choose this model. The vendor will help you understand which hardware is best for your system; then you purchase the hardware and software licenses, set it up, and host it in your own data center.

Regardless of which model you choose, a good vendor will work with your server administration team to understand the size and footprint of your environment. As you go through the decision-making process together, your vendor will look at your data volumes, the expected growth rate of those volumes, IT resources, organizational IT security policies, and budget. They will also help to ensure the ultimate solution meets the data warehousing needs of your organization.

Benefits of a Cloud-Based EDW

Cost and Convenience

One of the main benefits of turning your EDW over to your vendor’s data center is that you don’t have to buy, manage, maintain, or worry about hardware and software assets residing in your own data center. This saves you a lot of time, money, and hassle. With a cloud EDW, you don’t have to:

  • Devote capital dollars to purchasing the necessary hardware. You don’t have to wait in line for your capital expenditure to be approved or be passed over as your organization prioritizes other items over the EDW. Instead, the EDW becomes a predictable operating expense.
  • Have the IT resources on staff to manage and maintain the hardware. Many organizations — particularly smaller hospitals and physician groups — simply don’t have the IT staff to handle EDW maintenance (including implementation, upgrades, and nightly backups). Furthermore, their limited staff might be IT generalists who lack the depth of expertise necessary to handle database related tasks.
  • Pay for data center expenses. You won’t need to budget for expenses such as electricity for cooling and hardware or software support contracts from multiple vendors.

Speed of Implementation

In several Health Catalyst commentaries and case studies, we’ve pointed out that we can have an organization’s healthcare EDW up and running in as few as 90 days. Our unique, late-binding architecture and streamlined implementation processes make that possible.

But the truth is that not all of our clients get up and running that quickly — and the biggest reason for this is that it takes these organizations a long time to purchase the necessary hardware. We have found that waiting for a purchase order to be approved and subsequent hardware and software installation can be a major bottleneck in the implementation process. I worked with two clients just recently that have struggled with this: one took six months to get the hardware in place; the other discovered they didn’t have the capital dollars to meet the hardware requirement. Not surprisingly, the implementations for both these organizations have been significantly delayed. But with a cloud EDW, hardware delays are a nonissue.

Another reason why the cloud speeds the implementation process is because we, the vendor, have already structured our hosting environment in such a way that we know it is going to work smoothly with our EDW software. We have a lot of expertise deploying our software into our clients’ data center environments, and we’re quick. But each organization’s environment is a little different, and each IT shop does things a little differently. Therefore, it is always faster for us to implement and upgrade our software in our own environment.

Consider the Cloud If You Meet These Criteria

I imagine those benefits make the cloud sound like a pretty strong option, but it’s not right for every organization. For example, large IDNs generally have the resources, data centers, and expertise necessary to host an EDW themselves, and they tend to choose that route.

Your organization is a good candidate for a cloud-based EDW if you:

  • Are a physician practice group
  • Have limited capital expenditure available
  • Have a small IT department
  • Have other large, strategic IT initiatives that you’re trying to achieve in the same timeframe as the EDW
  • Have specific timeframes for meeting quality and cost metrics and need to get started immediately
  • Don’t have any space left in your data center

By hosting your EDW in the cloud, you move the deep technical tasks of implementing and maintaining the system onto the shoulders of your vendor. And you can focus 100 percent on improving the cost and quality of care.

What EDW hosting options have you considered and why? Are you comfortable storing your data in the cloud?

Powerpoint Slides

Would you like to use or share these concepts?  Download this EDW Cloud Hosting presentation highlighting the key main points.

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