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Storage virtualization: More than a concept

By Dave Wilson

As pressure mounts to improve the interoperability and long-term value of all clinical data in today's healthcare environment, Canadian healthcare providers need to reconsider their approach to storage management to be more efficient, cost effective and innovative.

Every day, healthcare facilities gather and store medical information and images from each clinical department, resulting in exploding data growth and persistent storage problems. Exponential data growth in healthcare has historically been addressed by buying additional servers with attached disk storage. While this approach solves immediate storage needs, it only delays long-term demands by leaving healthcare providers with islands of storage, each dedicated to different applications. It also increases data management complexity and drives up capital and operations costs.

Adding to the challenge, most patient data contains additional underlying data – called metadata – that is stored in a static, proprietary format that is inaccessible to other applications and therefore remains unutilized. This can leave healthcare providers unable to take full advantage of their data – and the application silos the data resides in – when making important patient care decisions.

Storage virtualization however offers a new approach to storage management – one that allows healthcare providers to make more efficient use of their available resources and substantially lower the amount of storage and storage networking hardware that needs to be purchased.

By transforming existing silos of multi-vendor storage into a shared pool of resources that can be centrally managed using one set of tools, storage virtualization enables healthcare providers to align storage tiers with business needs and dynamically provision storage with the right performance and capacity characteristics, as needed. Existing assets are re-invigorated as IT can now reclaim, utilize, and optimize space that was previously wasted.

A new storage virtualization solution for healthcare that was recently introduced by Hitachi Data Systems can also create a metadata repository based on any information system, giving healthcare providers a consolidated view of all relevant patient information. Designed to help improve decision making and resulting patient care, Hitachi Clinical Repository (HCR) is an information management solution that transforms raw medical data and images into meaningful information, independent of source applications.

Unlike current vendor neutral archives that focus only on medical images, HCR consolidates all patient data, standardizes the formats across disparate applications and then provides this data to electronic health records and portals in a single, unified view that can then be mined intelligently and distributed centrally and securely. By seamlessly consolidating and presenting all relevant health and business data in a single, longitudinal record, healthcare providers can get the most comprehensive view of their patients, regardless of which information system the data resides in.

As an example, Klinikum Wels-Grieskirchen, one of the largest hospitals in Austria with more than 3,500 employees across 4 locations, needed a way to make its complex and siloed processes more automated and efficient. It now uses HCR to consolidate patient information for its lab, radiology and unstructured content management systems, and associated metadata, to provide a consolidated view to its National eHealth application and the hospital’s own clinician portal.

With the right solutions in place, storage virtualization can also help healthcare providers:

Defer investment in storage
Healthcare providers will always need to acquire more storage, but optimizing the use of storage across all departments becomes a facility-wide strategy that saves all departments in the long run.

Bring old equipment back to life
By virtualizing old archives, the modern capabilities of new technology can be inherited. This extends the life of old gear while enabling healthcare organizations to benefit from new features.

Make administration and management easier
The virtualization of disparate silos enables IT managers to manage backups, migrations and tiering from a single interface. Having the ability to transfer all of new technology’s capabilities to the older equipment and managing it from a single point is like buying new equipment without the hassles.

Storage virtualization is a practical and effective way for Canadian healthcare providers to manage the complexity of data growth and growing demands for a higher level of accessibility to patient information. While its use is an emergent concept in today's healthcare environment, storage virtualization is a reality that healthcare providers need to consider as a way to improve the delivery of patient care.

Dave Wilson is Senior Director, Global Health & Life Sciences at Hitachi Data Systems. To learn more about HDS healthcare solutions, visit:

Posted May 5, 2011