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Hyperconverged infrastructure – is healthcare ready?

In over 30 years of healthcare IT experience, there has been at least one constant: the need to deliver solutions quickly and more cost effectively.

This requirement has only escalated over the last few years as health systems are implementing enterprise wide EHRs that require more technology performance and consume significant budget resources. In most cases, the technology and infrastructure teams are being asked to deliver highly resilient platforms in less time while simultaneously reducing capital and operating costs.

Hyperconverged infrastructure is not a magic bullet by any measure, however, it can help to deliver some of the expectations and simplify the life of senior IT leaders.

Where all the complexity came from

Let’s first consider legacy data center management. With traditional infrastructure investments, the technologies were siloed (servers, storage and networking).

In many cases, these siloed technologies were provided by different vendors. This created complexities in managing the environment, nevermind when expanding or upgrading the technologies. Extensive testing was required to ensure that each of the components would continue to interoperate throughout the upgrade process. These silos added overhead as skilled staff and maintenance contracts were required for each of the components. Lastly, it was difficult to have predictable budgeting since the costs to scale were not linear.

This is one of the reasons that legacy datacenters are more difficult to manage – lots of costly moving parts and skill sets.

What the vendors have done

As a result of these complexities and challenges, some vendors got together and created what is known as a converged infrastructure.

This was a bit of a stepping stone or evolution of legacy infrastructure and it resolved some of the complexities – the technologies were prepackaged and validated for compatibility, but still required multiple vendors. Convergence improved compatibility issues and allowed for a single management platform, but still lacked scalability and cost effectiveness, particularly as virtualization matured.

The push for virtualization has quickly driven the technology market toward hyperconvergence – a single vendor solution delivers on the promise of convergence while eliminating the limitations.

Let’s look at what hyperconvered infrastructure is and how it can be leveraged to be a part of your future plans to reduce costs and deliver better solutions with more agility. 

Hyperconvergence building blocks

Hyperconverged infrastructure is a single vendor solution based on technology building blocks that integrate the silos of old. In one of these building blocks, you have servers, storage and networking tightly integrated in one manageable configuration.  

These technology resources are software defined for full agility.  As a result, you can reduce the costs and time associated with upgrades and expansion. It’s also very predictable in terms of budgeting and the investments can be quickly scaled to meet your needs in a smaller datacenter footprint. A devil’s advocate, however, could point out that while the configurations are fully tested, sometimes these available configurations take a little longer to be generally available on the market. Likewise, the configurations tend to support general purpose use, meaning less common requirements are not easily accommodated.  

Pitfalls to avoid

So what else can go wrong? There are a few potential risks when investing in hyperconvergence. 

The first and foremost is the vendor that you select. You want to be sure that you pick a vendor that you can count on for being in business and providing top notch support. You also want to be sure that this vendor invests properly in research and development but has a strong culture of change management so that they do not introduce changes too rapidly which could impact your stability.

Lastly, you have to be cautious about companies that could be acquired by larger firms where you have to worry about the product lifecycle.  These risks are not limited to just hyperconvergence vendors, but become more acute when you have one vendor providing so many of the technologies in one package.

Make sure that your teams are selecting the right vendors with the proper due diligence process.

Hyperconvergence: It’s where healthcare is headed

Having looked at the pros and cons, it’s my opinion that the time is now for hyperconvergence in the healthcare provider setting.

With industry analysts estimating that the global hyperconverged market will reach nearly $14 billion by 2023, it should be part of your infrastructure technology strategic plan, at a minimum.

In a best case scenario, your teams are already piloting or implementing this type of technology as it’s ready for prime time and can best position your organization for other initiatives like hybrid cloud and virtual desktop environments.

Harnessing the benefits of hyperconvergence can enable you to manage a highly resilient infrastructure platform in a more cost effective manner.

John Donohue is Associate Vice President – Enterprise Infrastructure Services at Penn Medicine.

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