Just how reliable is the digital IT infrastructure that supports your healthcare system operations?

Mitzi L. Amon • November 06, 2019

The second in a series of posts that explores the vital signs of a healthcare system’s digital and physical infrastructure, this blog takes a closer look at the connectivity and reliability of your network’s central nervous system—the digital infrastructure responsible for ensuring healthcare continuity.

The reliability of critical infrastructure is arguably the most important vital sign when it comes to ensuring continuity in healthcare. Functioning much like the human body’s central nervous system, your IT infrastructure must continuously communicate with, monitor, and protect power and thermal management systems in order to stop downtime before it happens and ensure that patient data and medical equipment are always available when and where they are needed.

As your healthcare system’s command and control center, your IT infrastructure is the link that connects medical staff with patient data stored on servers in the data center, a colocation environment, the cloud, or a hybrid solution. Its reliability is paramount as even a moment’s interruption could compromise the life-saving work of healthcare providers, leading to sometimes irreversible consequences.

Despite understanding the importance of improving network performance—a priority that is second only to ensuring data security and compliance, according to IDC’s 2019 Datacenter Operational Survey—downtime continues to be a big problem for data centers across industries, translating directly into problems including compromised patient safety, delays that diminish patient and provider satisfaction, and compliance-related issues. 

Preventing downtime and the ensuing business impact starts with creating a healthy, robust IT backbone or central nervous system that connects all components of your infrastructure and keeps everything running smoothly.

Healthcare organizations have three paths for ensuring the connectivity and reliability of their IT backbone:

  1. Upgrade and optimize your legacy data center.

    451 Research’s Voice of the Enterprise 2019 Annual Data Center Survey shows that aging infrastructure and keeping up with infrastructure demands are the top critical infrastructure challenges for healthcare organizations. If you are looking for ways to optimize your legacy data center, it may be time to upgrade key components or invest in technologies or services that help you monitor and manage the health of your infrastructure. As you plan for these investments, keep these tips in mind:

    • Consider investing in a recommissioning process. Industry experts will thoroughly review critical infrastructure systems and the integrations between them to help you identify areas for efficiency improvement and upgrades that will bring your legacy data center up to standard to meet today’s challenges.

    • Integrate intelligent products and solutions where possible to enable interoperability across systems and environments. Such solutions give your IT backbone the brainpower it needs to ensure connectivity; increase visibility, access, and control; and detect and quickly correct problems before they cause downtime.

    • Look for future-proof, intelligent UPS (uninterruptible power supply) systems that cover the backup power and power quality needs of your IT infrastructure. The best solutions will check five boxes:  1) intelligent (network connectivity and monitoring capabilities), 2) energy-efficient, 3) reliable, 4) modular, and 5) easy-to-maintain. Smart options are available that can essentially pay for themselves through energy savings while giving you the flexibility to add capacity on demand.

    • Choose thermal solutions that deliver the right cooling capacity while avoiding overcooling. The IDC survey reveals high levels of interest in smarter, advanced cooling technologies such as sensors, AI-driven cooling optimization, and liquid cooling technologies that can help data centers take a more proactive approach to environmental management while increasing efficiency. Containment is another strategy that’s gaining traction. It separates hot and cold airstreams to eliminate reconditioning the same air, thus boosting efficiency by 30% or more.

    • Monitoring and data analysis. Monitoring systems such as Vertiv Environet  allow you to keep tabs on power and cooling systems and environmental conditions, alerting operators when user-defined thresholds are exceeded. Monitoring solutions often include analytics capabilities that aid in faster, smarter decision making around maintenance, capacity planning, and energy usage, supporting continuity while also allowing data center managers to proactively improve energy management and ENERGY STAR® scores.

  2. Build new flexible, scalable, and efficient data centers.

    As delivery networks expand and emerging technologies increase loads and create more data, organizations need more space to manage IT. If it’s the right time to invest in a new data center, it’s the prime opportunity to make choices that will help future-proof your healthcare IT strategy, including:

    • Select intelligent power, thermal management, and monitoring solutions as well as racks, power distribution, and enclosures. By implementing intelligent hardware, software, and data center infrastructure management systems capable of monitoring your assets, right from the start, you’ll set the stage for better visibility, control, and planning capabilities that improve performance throughout the lifecycle of your data center. This translates into increased reliability and efficiency.

    • Take advantage of prefabricated solutions that can save time and money while still allowing for the customization and monitoring capabilities you need.

    • Standardize equipment from one vendor. Standardization is a growing trend. It reduces costs through increased buying power. At the same time, it streamlines buying processes, workflow procedures, and training requirements and often simplifies maintenance, generating efficiencies that go straight to the bottom line.

    • Invest in commissioning support. Commissioning can give you peace of mind that your new facility is planned, designed, installed, tested, operated, and maintained in ways that optimize performance throughout your data center’s lifecycle. This can save you considerable time, costs, and headaches down the road.

  3. Ensure proper protection and management of assets housed in a colocation environment or the cloud.

    According to the results of 451 Research’s Voice of the Enterprise survey, about two out of five healthcare organizations currently use cloud service providers, while just over a quarter rent space from a colocation provider. Most (70%) own and operate their own data centers. On-premise storage has traditionally been the preference because it gives greater control of data to IT administrators, and this control helps ensure compliance and easy access to the data when and where it’s needed. In other words, healthcare IT managers want the ‘brain’ of their operations to stay physically connected to the rest of the body.

    However, it’s entirely possible to protect and manage assets even when they are stored off-premise. Here are some strategies that can help:

    • Choose a colocation provider that prioritizes the same things you do: uptime, efficiency, compliance, and security. Critical features to look for include intelligent, energy-efficient power and cooling technologies along with DCIM software to monitor the entire facility, fault-tolerant designs for backup power and cooling solutions, proper equipment maintenance practices, on-site technicians, and a solid understanding of HIPAA compliance.

    • Maintain visibility into assets, wherever they are stored. Don’t make the mistake of relying on a ‘set it and forget it’ strategy. You still need visibility into off-premise assets along with the ability to monitor and manage them remotely. You can provide your cabinet equipped with features that improve security and efficiency, including biometric locks, smart PDUs that monitor power usage, and RFID technology that sends you alerts whenever an asset is accessed. Individual assets housed in the colocation space can also be equipped with monitoring capabilities, extending the nerves of your command and control center to communicate with each component of your network.

    • Remember that a move to a colocation or cloud environment does not have to be all-encompassing. If you are outgrowing your existing IT space or struggling to keep up with demand, a hybrid cloud solution can provide a way to tap into extra capacity for some assets. A recent article by Hit Infrastructure speaks to this growing trend, which allows healthcare organizations to store different types of data in different locations based on how much bandwidth the data requires, the sensitivity of the information, and how often it needs to be accessed.

Make sure your critical systems never miss a beat.

No matter where you choose to house your IT backbone—in a company-owned data center, a colocation environment, the cloud, or a hybrid strategy—ensuring its health and viability is a must. With the right infrastructure solutions, you can create a powerful central nervous system or command and control center that improves the connectivity and reliability of the digital infrastructure that powers everything your operation does each day to save lives.

To learn more about protecting your IT backbone, contact Vertiv or visit us at Vertiv.com/healthcare to discover how our solutions are helping more than 80% of U.S. healthcare systems achieve continuity for life. And be sure to stay tuned for our next post on growth at the healthcare edge.  

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