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An HIT Moment with … Tony Cotterill

December 16, 2009 Interviews 2 Comments

An HIT Moment with ... is a quick interview with someone we find interesting. Tony Cotterill is president and CEO of BridgeHead Software.


Should data storage be a strategic issue to the average healthcare CIO who is knee deep in planning and budgeting for electronic medical records, interoperability, and Meaningful Use?

None of these top priority issues brought about by ARRA will succeed if the underlying storage of data is not fully managed. In fact, interoperability is founded on multi access to common data generated by one application and required by another. Without a data management strategy, a hospital that’s struggling to prove meaningful use will quickly find itself overwhelmed with digital patient data. Ironically, if these new electronic patient records can’t be accessed quickly, this may result in decreasing quality of care instead of the improvements that electronic medical records are supposed to bring.

A vendor-agnostic managed data store is fundamental to a hospital’s quest for a smooth running and useful electronic health record system.

If you were advising a CIO about storage and disaster recovery as these new applications come online, what would you tell them to think about, including cost, space, and growth?

First, I’d advise the CIO to look around the storage devices already in his/her data center and figure out how to maximize their utility, paying particular attention to the primary storage tier, which is the most expensive to maintain. We’ve done studies that reveal 60% or more of the data on tier 1 storage is static and hasn’t been accessed in more than 90 days. That data is being backed up nightly or even more frequently, so time and resources are being wasted.

Typically, archiving static data can delay the purchase of more tier-1 storage for 12 to 18 months by the space it frees up for reuse. Also, using archive alongside replication and backup as part of a DR strategy streamlines disaster recovery and enables optimized use of less expensive storage assets for static data.

Disaster recovery with multiple points-in-time copies is going to be become key as people migrate to the brave new world. Failures are inevitable and the last thing that anyone wants to do is to have to start again. The sheer volume of data that is now involved means that traditional backup and replication methods will not be fast enough for the frequency that is needed. Only by moving the unchanging data to a protected data store can you relive the pressure on backup to get the number of copies that you need.

Who are the main players in healthcare backup and archive solutions and what are their competitive differentiators?

The main players in healthcare backup tend to be the same ones you see in other industries: Symantec, EMC, CommVault, to name a few. In archiving, it’s these same players as well as other systems providers in partnership with middleware vendors (think HP MAS or IBM GMAS).

When you talk about competitive differentiators, it’s important to keep in mind that these vendors are all offering a horizontal technology (backup and archiving) into one of their many vertical markets, in this case healthcare, and to varying degrees they succeed or fail in addressing the unique needs of Healthcare IT. At BridgeHead, our only vertical is healthcare, so every day we wake up thinking about how we can improve our backup and archiving solutions to serve the needs of healthcare.

How is healthcare different from other industries in terms of data retention, retrieval, and recovery?

The basic requirements are the same — that is, different data types have different retention periods, privacy rules and access requirements. However, in healthcare, data retention requirements are somewhat unique in that there are multiple federal, state, and organizational regulations that govern how long data must be retained. Therefore, it’s essential that an organization’s data management tools be easily customizable to accommodate that variation.

As for retrieval and recovery, ease and speed of access are critical in healthcare since we’re talking about a patient’s health information, and potentially a life or death situation. Privacy is a particular conundrum in healthcare with a requirement for data sharing between healthcare professionals sparring against the need for patient privacy.

Storage devices use a lot of power. Are they an obstacle for organizations that want a greener data center?

‘Obstacle’ is putting it mildly. It’s really hard to create a greener data center when you’re dealing with such power-hungry devices, especially in the face of the rapid data growth that healthcare is experiencing. One of the topical ways of decreasing the local consumption of resources is to move the storage to the cloud, but are you really decreasing aggregate consumption under that model? An alternative strategy is to use storage virtualization to optimize the use of the devices that are already in place and, as a result, delay the next storage purchase for a year or even longer.

The goal with the data center — whether through a green initiative or not — should be to maximize storage capacity using as few resources as possible, so it behooves the CIO to research the consumption profile of the storage devices they’re considering before making a purchase. In fact when you consider that any data over 18 months old is unlikely to be accessed ever again you must ask the question, why do we have it mounted and spinning at all, why not have it offline on removable disk, optical disk, or tape. Access times in a tape library or jukebox are probably still quick enough for this kind of data.

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Currently there are "2 comments" on this Article:

  1. A proper backup archive restore strategy will speed up recovery time after disasters happen (and disasters will happen). It’s important to know that preventing and avoiding disasters is just as essential as being able to recover from them. Redundant power, cooling and server architectures can limit the impact of disasters or even completely eliminate them. I’m seeing more and more hospital data centers deploying dual bus power architectures in their data centers to maintain several 9’s of availability.

  2. I find great irony in the fact that redundant power, cooling and server architectures add failure points to the infrastructure. It’s always amusing to hear that a server went down because of a $10000 UPS hardware failure, where a dollar store power strip would have effectively been more reliable. Or when a misconfigured RAID array wipes all data on all drives. Or when the server can’t boot because all its drives are on the SAN. Or when nodes of an active/passive cluster lose connection to each other and start a rapidfire cycle of grabbing active status.

    I still think all these redundant systems are useful, especially when properly implemented, so I’m not trying to make any grand point above. I’m just saying it never gets old to hear that the most recent bout of downtime was caused by the downtime-preventing equipment or system itself. Never gets old.

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