COVID causes ‘mad rush to the cloud’

Quick choices for telehealth delivery and in other fast-response segments were necessary, and now execs are re-examining those choices.

Cloud migration should be thought out and used to help a healthcare organization realize its business goals, according to Marc Mangus, principal specialist solution architect at Red Hat, an open-source software cloud service provider.

But the response to the COVID pandemic short-circuited measured choices, out of necessity or desperation.

When COVID hit, healthcare organizations were completely overwhelmed overnight, with capacity, and they had to do something, Mangus says. That’s when they started identifying the low-hanging fruit, which for many of them, was telehealth. Use of the cloud was the natural way to accelerate telehealth, but many didn’t do their due diligence up front.

“There was this mad rush to the cloud,” Mangus says. During that time, CIOs moved a lot of resources to the cloud without changing them, or with minimal changes. They also launched turnkey solutions, like telehealth. Looking back now, they realize they’ve made things way more complicated and way more expensive.

After the migration is already made, sometimes it’s too late for things to be optimal, Mangus says. "When you start thinking about having a needs-based approach to rushing to the cloud, because you have to, and switching it to a more thoughtful, proactive approach to designing what you have to fit the cloud in a native way so that you can derive all the value--those are the kind of things that are taking place now.” Also, a lot of pressure has been put on governance, risk and compliance as the cloud was thrown into the mix.


Another problem with moving to the cloud with as little change as possible, is, many times an organization had already paid for “hardware, a data center, power, and whatever”—and when they move it to the cloud, it’s consumption-based pricing, Mangus says. “So, they're either paying as they go, or they’re throwing down a contract that they've committed to: but it's almost like they're paying for it again.”

Mangus acknowledges that sometimes migrating to the cloud without planning and optimization is the only way an organization can get things moving. “It’s a first step to get a toehold.” But what he’s seen is sometimes that drags on way too long. And now assets are just sitting in the cloud consuming money. “The answer to that is to revisit everything you can in terms of those workloads, to recast them, reformat them, reprogram them to be cloud native,” he says.

One way to be more cloud native is to use containers, Mangus says. These “mini-virtual machines,” can be included in applications as they are moved to the cloud. “They contain the absolute minimum footprint of an operating system. It makes the environment where they're running their applications, their workloads, denser, if you will, so [a healthcare organization] can get more running on the same hardware and pay the same amount of money,” he says.

Tim Brown, chief business information officer at Infor, a cloud software provider, says security is top-of- mind for CIOs right now. The high cost of managing security is a big problem for healthcare. CIOs are finding some relief for their concerns with the cloud. “There is comfort in that cloud providers have world-class security teams. They have a level of talent that healthcare CIOs wouldn’t necessarily have within their own four walls,” he says.

Brown predicts that cloud migration may change some of the roles in IT departments and in hospitals. Maintaining a system in the cloud will require reliance on different service providers. The types of consulting services a healthcare organization will need is going to change. Healthcare CIOs will form close partnerships with these providers of services, for the tech or components they support, he says.

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