Addressing the data storage challenges in healthcare

The healthcare industry has been one of the greatest beneficiaries of digital transformation in the last 12 months. Essential remote care services, critical real-time hyper-localised data in tracking pandemic trends, and the rapid rollout of a worldwide vaccine have been facilitated by digitalization.

Addressing the data storage challenges in healthcare
David Villa

This growing reliance on digital operations brings with it vast amounts of data – according to IDC in May 2020, more than 59 zettabytes (ZB) of data would be created, captured, copied, and consumed in the world last year alone[1]. This sudden and exponential increased digital demand has meant that the essential data infrastructure that healthcare relies on has come under enormous pressure and must handle critical data and workloads.


At the same time, improvements in technology, coupled with the convergence of cutting-edge research and data analytics have created a new opportunity in healthcare. Today’s clinical workloads require storage infrastructure advancements that meet their demands and deliver fast, high-quality patient outcomes. The system must be able to quickly access clinical applications, databases and deliver reports in near real-time.

ith requests from local hospitals, state governments and global groups such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) clamouring for models of data and forecasts, capturing and analysing such large data sets requires a storage infrastructure that is reliable and scalable at every level. Creating data-driven, science-based, actionable plans is not only vital to combatting COVID-19 but also in the prediction of future pandemics.

As an industry under mounting pressure, rapidly building its digital services, it is imperative that data is effectively managed and available to be utilised to its greatest effect. Future-proofing infrastructure to make the most of the use of technology such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) will also be a key priority. But what are the challenges facing healthcare with data storage and how can organisations solve them?

Storage at the edge and in the core

There is no ‘one solution fits all’ to solving data storage challenges in any industry, and in healthcare, this is certainly no different. The events of the last 12 months and in fact over recent years of digital transformation show there is a burgeoning need for hybrid storage systems to be implemented throughout the industry. In order to cope with the dynamic nature of how data is created in healthcare, the scale that it is needed for analysis, as well as the imperative nature of security, results in a variety of storage challenges and their subsequent solutions.

At a local, core level, organisations must have the correct hardware to store and monitor the increasing amounts of patient data. For example, the rise of smart video systems for remote patient monitoring has increased the proliferation of video data that is needed to be managed and stored to care for patients in a safe manner. At a wider regional level, the amount of data being produced is no longer viable to be kept on-site at every healthcare premise. The use of edge data centres will be key to ensuring secure and reliable storage of data while being easily accessible to an industry where emergency access is a necessity.

The combination of the edge and private and public cloud environments will continue to be of use to the healthcare industry, as trends and analysis continue to take place at a national and even international level. What cloud storage offers is both the ability to scale quickly as data grows, as well as enabling remote collaboration on data sources across organisations and at different locations. Utilising a hybrid model of cloud and edge storage, along with a robust core data infrastructure, means healthcare and research organisations can invest in solutions that offer the ability to index, preserve, and provide access to large files and vast amounts of data with flexibility and ease.

The importance of scalability and real-time visibility
The proliferation of healthcare data is only set to increase as more technology is brought into the industry and the demand for digital services increases. Achieving a dynamically scalable storage architecture to cope with the waves of data will not only provide flexibility in the present but future proof the infrastructure for years to come.

Ensuring the real-time visibility of data has been imperative to organisations in the industry. The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in immediate demand for large-scale data modelling and visualisation to be able to track spikes in cases. This dramatic increase in data being written and read requires a scalable file storage system to store large data sets, while simultaneously requiring performance for analysis and visualisation.

Legacy systems and software may be reliable and user friendly in the short term, but with the vast scale of the data testing their limits, organisations will want to ensure that the total cost of ownership (TCO) remains low, that they can scale cost-effectively and achieve the best performance density.

Solutions for today: IHME use case
Whilst organisations need to be planning for future storage infrastructure challenges, there is current technology at the core that can help alleviate pressure on the growing reliance on data. HDDs are the ideal solution to store the maximum amount of data offering large capacities, low power and exceptional reliability.

NVMe SSDs have optimised for high-performance data analytics thanks to their low latency that enables fast random read and write capabilities. This ultimately translates into faster data analysis on large scale data sets. At the same time, it enables a system to handle spikes of simultaneous access to the data.

An example of the effective use of data storage can be found within The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME). The organisation continues to play a key role in the research and analysis of the current pandemic. To respond to these urgent requests, IHME needed to produce large-scale data modelling for forecasts and include daily and cumulative COVID-19 death reports, infection and testing numbers, and social distancing information. Almost overnight, IHME needed massive additional data resources.

With a scalable storage solution, IHME gained the ability to rapidly store and analyse large databases from multiple customers, increasing the number of terabytes read, analysed and visualised for agencies and organisations to create data-driven, science-based, actionable plans to combat COVID-19.

Effective data storage empowers transformation

As healthcare digital transformation projects continue to roll out at speed, it is of paramount importance that data is collected and stored with security, scalability and reliability in mind.

In addition, the ability to correlate data with advanced technology such as AI and advanced treatment information and research can help deliver precise diagnoses, evaluations, and medicine to patients while possibly identifying future risk factors and diseases.

Whatever the focus of the healthcare organisation in question, data storage is the essential foundation for digital transformation and should be considered carefully, upfront, to ensure the best TCO for its intended use case and application.