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The Modern Healthcare Storage Environment: How To Balance Storage Capacity, Performance, And Cost

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The need for efficient, reliable, and cost-effective storage solutions has never been greater. Healthcare providers are awash in data from:

  • increased digitization of information
  • increased adoption of electronic medical records (EMRs)
  • the migration to cloud-based solutions
  • data collection requirements related to regulatory compliance, reporting, payer interactions, and adoption of patient portals.

As the amount of data healthcare users create continues to grow, so does the need for more robust security and better storage management. Today’s IT departments face competing demands to increase storage capacity, boost application performance, and reduce the cost-per-gigabyte of storing and maintaining digital information – all while providing rapid access to the data that increasingly drives healthcare decision making.

In hospitals and other healthcare organizations, IT staff are tasked with helping providers and other entities collect, store, manage, access, and protect a rapidly expanding amount of patient data. This sensitive protected health information (PHI) must be kept secure in order to meet the privacy requirements of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). At the same time, this information is being used for Big Data analytics and data mining.

Data has become a critical tool in healthcare delivery, but existing data center hardware may not be up to the task of allowing rapid access and analysis. The servers and other devices that rely on mechanical HDD (hard disk drives) can impede responsiveness and slow down important applications, while also increasing support costs.

Healthcare Storage Challenges

According to IDC Research, healthcare’s digital assets are growing at 48 percent annually, faster than the average annual growth of data in other industries. IDC put total healthcare data at 153 exabytes in 2013, and it is expected to reach 2,314 exabytes by 2020. Over the same period, electronic medical record penetration is expected to reach 95 percent.

A typical hospital may generate multiple terabytes of patient and image data annually, and while the cost-per-gigabyte of local storage servers has fallen, the massive volume of healthcare data generated by a single facility is still an expensive proposition.

For healthcare organizations, data storage presents a number of challenges. First, databases are perpetually getting bigger because EMR data for each patient increases each year. The type of data being stored and managed also continues to expand as new regulations are introduced and new payer-reporting requirements emerge.

Hospitals also increasingly rely on this data for Big Data analysis to help spot health trends and improve care – a technology sector that could expand to more than $34.27 billion by 2022. As more payers (both public and private) shift to outcomes-based reimbursement schemes, healthcare providers will be even more reliant on data for tracking and documenting patient outcomes.

Current storage devices in healthcare data centers have not kept pace. Often this hardware can’t deliver the performance required for EMR analysis, fast retrieval of diagnostic images, and managing large data sets.

That’s primarily because of the shortcomings of HDDs. Even servers with large amounts of memory or CPU resources may not be able to retrieve data fast enough for optimal application performance in these environments. The longer latency and response times associated with HDD read/write operations can impede productivity.

SSDs vs. HDDs: A Faster Storage Alternative

SSDs (solid state drives) differ from HDDs in that they use integrated circuit assemblies as memory to store data persistently, and they have no moving mechanical parts. That makes them highly resistant to physical shock, much quieter than HDDs, and more energy efficient.

SSDs are also available in smaller form factors including 2.5-inch modules and even smaller mSATA (Mini Serial ATA) and M.2 devices that are available in a variety of sizes. Traditional HDDs are available in 2.5-and 3.5-inch form factors and are heavier than SSDs.

For healthcare organizations looking for faster application or database performance, SSDs are as much as three times faster than traditional HDDs. With the release of newer NVMe (non-volatile memory express)-based SSDs, that performance improvement increases to 10 times faster.

Transactional database lookups from a local SSD are also faster than multi-node lookups in a cluster environment. While SSDs may have more latency compared to DRAM, the network latencies across multiple nodes (which can be between 5 and 125 microseconds, depending on the infrastructure) slow down searches on HDD-based equipment. This provides faster performance overall.

For example, the Samsung PM863a and SM863a enterprise-class SSDs can replace enterprise HDD on existing infrastructures. The PM/SM863a SSDs are based on Samsung’s third-generation V-NAND technology and provide high capacities up to 3.84 TB in the 2.5-inch form factor. Boasting exceptional performance, endurance and power efficiency, the Samsung SATA (Serial ATA) 2.5-inch PM/SM863a and SSDs deliver superb IOPS (input/output operations per second) consistency, latency and QoS (quality of service). These high-performance SSDs provide the essentials for 24/7 data center environments.

Samsung’s SSDs also provide power-loss protection safeguards from data corruption and dynamic thermal guard algorithms to help prevent thermal shutdown.

Benefits of SSDs

The durability and improved performance of SSDs can enhance healthcare application performance in a number of ways. In addition to lower latency and improved user experience, SSDs can also save costs and reduce the IT maintenance burden.

SSDs can reduce harmful server or data center disruptions. According to the Ponemon Institute, the average total cost per minute of unplanned data center downtime was $9,000 in 2015 and has been rising steadily each year.

Because of the mechanical nature of HDD systems, their performance degrades over time as more data is stored or written to the disk. By replacing HDDs with SSDs, users can improve the performance of their existing systems without having to replace all of their hardware.

SSDs have a failure rate of just 0.5 percent – the mean time between failures rate for SSDs is 1.5 million hours, compared to 0.5 million hours for HDDs. SSDs also provide a high quality of service (QoS) and performance-monitoring capabilities so staff can proactively detect errors and failures. Because SSDs have no moving parts, there is no mechanical wear on the drives. SSDs can also withstand 10 times the amount of vibration an HDD can, and they are shock resistant up to 1,500 Gs (compared to less than 70 Gs with HDDs).

Enterprise-grade SSDs are optimized for 24/7 operation and are designed for both read-intensive and write-intensive workloads. They are also built for sustained performance with strong IOPS, a measure of how quickly and frequently a drive can process I/O requests. SSDs can vastly outperform HDDs when it comes to IOPS. As network performance has improved, HDD-based servers have become a bottleneck because they simply can’t match the speed of the network; SSDs can meet these performance demands. 

The capabilities of the Samsung SSDs described above bear this out. With sequential R/W (read/write) speeds up to 520/480 MB/s and 4 KB random R/W speeds up to 97K/24K IOPS, the PM863a delivers robust performance under various heavy workloads. With a higher level of endurance than the PM863a, the SM863a is the ideal choice for write-intensive applications, such as servers for OLTP (online transaction processing), e-mails and databases. The SM863a delivers sequential R/W speeds up to 510/485 MB/s and 4 KB random R/W IOPS up to 95K/28K.

Generating a better performance-to-power ratio than HDDs, the PM863a reduces data center operating costs, resulting in lower TCO (total cost of ownership). Furthermore, by using the same 2.5-inch SATA interface, and with capacity options up to 3.84 TB for the PM863a and 1.9 TB for the SM863a, IT managers can scale up their data centers using existing infrastructure.

SSDs also offer a low probability of data corruption with end-to-end protection during data transfer, and they provide power-loss protection to prevent the loss of data during an outage. AES 256-bit hardware-based encryption also ensures increased data security.

Finally, SSDs provide lower power consumption than HDDs – a critical consideration for data centers that want to reduce energy usage (and cost) as part of their green initiatives.

Seamless Access to Patient Care

By making it easier and faster to transfer and access large amounts of data among stakeholders, SSDs can help healthcare organizations improve Big Data analysis. This type of analysis helps providers improve care for individual patients and populations by identifying effective treatments faster and spotting population trends.

In fact, Hadoop, NoSQL, and other types of transactional databases can see tremendous performance improvements using SSDs. This improves response times and makes it easier for researchers and staff to find and analyze the information they need, then generate results.

Cost Savings for the Data Center

SSDs also offer cost and space advantages for the healthcare data center. While SSDs are still somewhat more expensive than HDDs, they offer long-term cost savings that ultimately make them the more cost-effective storage solution.

Healthcare organizations can also deploy much more storage on less hardware by using SSDs. DRAM is expensive, and most servers cannot be provisioned with more than 2 to 4 TB of RAM. That means a single server with 20 to 50 TB of SSD storage can replace as many as 24 HDD servers (each with 2 to 4TB of RAM) at a lower cost.

Using this approach, clusters of two to four SSD servers would have enough redundancy for healthcare databases and be easier for the data center staff to manage.

In addition, while HDDs are cheaper on a cost-per-gigabyte-of-storage basis, SSDs still offer a lower total cost of ownership (TCO). That’s because they can lower the cost of electricity in the data center and reduce cooling needs. The hardware needs replacement less frequently because there are no moving parts, and having fewer servers means the storage solution takes up a smaller physical footprint.

Because SSDs are more reliable and robust, they also require less support and IT labor.

Conclusion

The healthcare sector generates and stores more data than just about any other industry – 30 percent of all the digital data that currently exists is, in fact, healthcare data. And that volume is growing every year.

At the same time, healthcare organizations, insurers, government agencies, and other are finding new and exciting ways to mine that data to improve outcomes, reduce costs, and measure effectiveness.

The need for fast, reliable storage is increasing in the healthcare sector, but existing infrastructure that relies on spinning HDDs can bog down effective data use and impede access to that data.

SSD-based storage solutions provide clear advantages in speed and reliability that can reduce costs, increase productivity, and improve patient care. By adopting these more reliable platforms, healthcare organizations can deploy greater amounts of storage with a lower total investment and ensure they have a reliable storage solution that will meet their needs in the future.

Connection is a Fortune 1000 National Technology Solutions Provider that has been trusted for more than 35 years to connect people with technology to enhance growth, elevate productivity, and empower innovation. Twice recognized by Forbes as one of “America’s Most Trustworthy Companies,” our mission is to provide customers with the expert guidance, state-of-the-art tools, and exceptional service to solve their IT challenges. Today, we serve our customers through our staff of highly trained Account Managers, our team of on-staff experts, and our efficient procurement websites. For more information, visit: http://www.connection.com/health.