Across “health care, Laboratory Information management systems (LIMS), hospitals, pharmaceuticals, drug discovery research & development”, automated platforms and applications cloud computing (computing on demand via the Internet) has become inescapable.
Its initial appeal has often been the huge capacity of outside data storage through file-sharing services that now include Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, Amazon Web Services or Apple iCloud. But software as a service (SaaS) that no longer has to be locally installed is swiftly becoming an even more important part of cloud computing.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology defines cloud service as a “pool” of configurable computing resources—networks, servers, storage, software, services—where the user generally has no control over or knowledge of the exact location of the provided services. This pool of resources is accessible by a variety of platforms and is appointed based on user demand.
Cloud computing enables the immediate delivery of computing power, database storage space, IT applications and resources via the internet. The data is hosted on remote servers rather than at a local server. One of the most mentioned advantages of cloud computing is the significant reduction of IT infrastructure cost and related cost of hiring skilled personnel.
For example, in laboratories environment due to the large amount of data generated and the need to minimize expenses, cloud computing might be a good solution. A Laboratory Information Management Systems (LIMS) provides a comprehensive, well rounded system to eliminate repetitive tasks in daily life of laboratories such as manual data management, paper-based notebooks, reporting, sample tracking and such. Each step within a LIMS system generates a large amount of data that needs to be stored for further use or analysis.
The deployment of traditional LIMS involves expensive IT infrastructure and a team of skilled IT personnel to handle the setup and maintenance of the servers. In order to minimize expenses and save time and resources, vendors and developers started accepting cloud technology to host their LIMS. A cloud-based LIMS significantly reduces the requirement of IT resources. Most laboratories are now switching from a traditional LIMS to a SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) based LIMS hosted on the cloud.
The primary advantage of using cloud servers is the ability to get storage and processing power as needed, which is helpful for large sets of data and cost-efficient for users, who can be charged on a pay-per-use model.
Another example, smaller community hospitals / smaller laboratories could benefit the most from cloud services as well, if they don’t have the data center for storage and don’t want to hire all the people and do all the maintenance, they may want to use the cloud ahead of large institutions with massive infrastructures and much larger data needs. Some of their apps require storing tens of terabytes of data, and that’s not something they’re going to buy cheap on the cloud. So, it seems smaller hospitals / clinics or laboratories may be earlier adopters of cloud computing than the larger academic hospitals or large pharmaceuticals.
However, there are a few points to be considered:
Cloud Provider and Hosting Options
Most cloud-based automated LIMS providers use SaaS as the delivery method with the product hosted on the cloud. As a laboratory considering to migrate their LIMS to the cloud, the knowledge about the various hosting options available can help to choose the right service provider. A cloud can be either a public cloud or a private cloud, with the main difference being that the responsibility of managing a public cloud lies with the provider. A public cloud can further be a single tenant or a multi-tenant cloud (where data from multiple clients are hosted on the same server). Making a choice of proceeding with a public, private, single or multi-tenant cloud is one of the most crucial things in the decision-making process.
Scalability, connectivity, changeability
Cloud computing has a direct relationship with what is called grid computing. Grid computing actually leverages the power of hundreds of thousands of computers to do analysis as opposed to a single desktop or single server or even a set of servers in your organization. And this allows you to achieve things like ‘big data’ computations.” As one example, NASA has set up cloud programs in which people can volunteer their computers at night while they’re asleep, allowing the computers to help NASA solve astrophysics problems. In example: “clinical data analysis, cancer analysis and genome sequencing analysis could leverage this type of technology as well, having thousands of computers all working on a solution together is obviously strong computational power. Make sure the cloud provider is a reputable company and they move forward with the technology flow. Otherwise your company ends up to start over gain and it is most costly. Having a vendor audit really works.
Data Back-up and Recovery
Before employing any third-party cloud services, it is important to understand how they handle data backup and what backup mechanisms are in place. While many cost-effective technologies are available for quick data recovery, many providers still use outdated methods that might take days before your data is recovered. Make sure you audit all their SOP (Structured Operating Procedures) per backup and delivery and see their actual test results’ report. Ask about their data back up and recovery application details, how long it takes, and how confident are they, to recover from a mishap.
You can even ask for a demonstration of small amount of data that would be generated in front of you with dummy data, maybe this part is the most important step of choosing the right cloud computing for your small laboratory, small hospital or facility or even small practice.
Service Level Agreement and Business Continuity
A Service Level Agreement (SLA) is a contract between a service provider and the end-user. An SLA defines the extent of the services to be expected from the service provider. It is very crucial for the laboratory/ hospital/ facility to understand the terms of an SLA before moving their system to the cloud via a third-party service provider.
For any laboratory/ hospital/ facility looking to migrate its data to the cloud, it is important to understand the security concerns associated with it. The foremost being the security of the data hosted on a remote server, geographically away from their own laboratories, hospitals, facilities, cities or even at times, countries. Contrary to this popular belief, cloud computing is highly secure due to the fact that most security breaches are caused due to human errors. With limited human intervention, the chances of such errors are negligible.
To maintain data integrity, laboratories/ hospitals/ facilities should be aware of the location of the remote servers, encryption and decryption techniques in place, how to recover original data in the event of a server breach, maintenance of a regular audit trail, and implementation of high-quality anti-virus software, etc.
In the past, services like file transfer protocol or secure file transfer protocol might typically be used to move large data files around. Now companies actually use business cloud services to do secure exchange of data. Companies also use a couple of different apps to securely upload data into the cloud to companies that perform data analysis and return the data as well.
On the subject of cloud computing versus local servers, one’s first thoughts might not relate to data loss and recovery. But as ever more data storage and applications migrate to the Internet, the idea of data that might spill and databases that might burst by becoming un-secured—not to mention files that might perish—does resonate more. Make sure your company has a clear vision, procedures and strategy in case of data loss. Moreover, ask your cloud computing provider about their policy regarding data loss, having a clear understanding in the case of data loss is crucial. This is different from data backup and recovery. Even after data recovery, you must have some procedures in place that make sure the data is complete and is not lost. A complete audit list and checkpoint and measurements are essential even before starting your migration procedure.
Compliance Issues and Validation
There are a number of regulatory compliance in place when it comes to protection of sensitive patient or clinical data. As a laboratory/ hospital/ facility, it is your responsibility to keep your data safe and ensure all validations are in place.
Before moving to the cloud, it is important to ensure that the providers offer an environment that is compliant and secure. Most SaaS-based service providers handle the upgrades required for validation as a part of the services provided. It is still important to ask for documentation or some form of validation that substantiates adherence to various regulatory guidelines such as GLP, HIPAA, 21 CFR Part 11 and etc.
While moving to the cloud is the next big thing in terms of data management, a thorough analysis of the available options and proper addressing of the security concerns is a must before switching to a cloud-based system. Additionally, it is worth evaluating if moving to the cloud is what your company requires at that point in time.
Overall, cloud computing is really just an Internet-enabled extension of enterprise computing, which is possible due to the low cost of storage as well as the noticeably increased bandwidth that we have on the Internet now.” In fact, people use the cloud, often unknowingly, when they access anything through their browser, because the cloud is based on Internet technology.