What is driving pharma to the cloud? Sure, it is value-driven, geared to consumers, specifically patients, who take active roles in their healthcare and want information at their fingertips instead of waiting for it to trickle down through the maze of doctors, tests and procedures. And yes, it's driven by constantly changing healthcare regulations, finances, digital initiation and integration. It's also driven by individual companies that want more efficient ways to gather, disseminate and manage their patient data. Will public clouds be too risky? Will private clouds be safe? What about a hybrid of the two? While you're analyzing the unique risks and benefits that migrating to the cloud might bring to your organization, consider that network availability, performance and security are key players in those driving forces that help enterprises choose a cloud infrastructure.
Public, Private or Hybrid Cloud?
It is an unprecedented era of digital trust. Consumer expectations run high, regulatory expectations higher. Consumers demand privacy, yet data expediency. Companies are becoming more liable for how that data is handled. Data streams up and down the cloud, worldwide, nearly instantaneously, 24/7. How your company chooses to manage it is part of the risk/benefit analysis process that needs to be run before choosing the cloud that best fits your company no matter what industry you are.
Here is a quick rundown on the types of clouds:
Public clouds are third-party run clouds. You have no maintenance, you can bolt them on and run them; they provide scalable, on-demand, cost-efficient service. IoT devices like wearable fitness watches are frequently used in public clouds.
Private clouds are run by an individual company, are customizable, scalable and more secure than public clouds. It isn't as cost-efficient as a public cloud as your IT team needs to maintain it.
Hybrid clouds are a mix of public and private clouds. They offer a company public cloud convenience with private cloud security. In essence, you use the public cloud for high volume, lower security data and then migrate to the private cloud when you need to use it for higher security, mission-critical assets.
Hybrids like Microsoft's Azure seek blurring the line between public and private clouds instead of keeping them disparate, only coming together as needed.
Clouds make companies more functional, cost-effective and efficient, with:
- Immediately accessible data from anywhere in the world
- Flexible analytics that allow for analyzing trends, consumer data and follow-up
- Cost efficiency due to third-party handling, ease of information exchange, performance and security
- Higher productivity includes day-to-day operations as well as collaborative processes
- Disaster recovery after breaches, weather and other natural or man-made disasters
That's a brief primer about clouds. It's far from all-inclusive. If you are in the healthcare industry, pharma or some other biotech, there are company specifics to deal with, including HIPAA regulations, immediacy of medical data, and the device-driven Internet of Things (IoT). Each industry pharma must decide where the company stands regarding skill sets, cloud knowledge, and its own logistical complexities regarding migration. An important note, according to Scientific Computing, pharma still lags behind utilizing the cloud regarding research and development and needs to be shown the way to facilitate innovative cloud usage.
Network Availability, Performance and Security Remain Key
If your enterprise is down, you are losing money, productivity and trust. In healthcare, especially hospitals, lives are dependent on network availability. So the more 9's you see in your uptime, the better. For instance, if you have 99.999 percent uptime per year, your max downtime over the course of the entire year is 5 minutes and 15 seconds. You can see that every second or fraction of a second counts. Only military systems are "up" more than healthcare networks.
Clouds increase both uptime and connectivity. Sure, your network is up-and-running, but are you connecting with the players of the day? For example, when pharma engages in cloud computing, end-user productivity and performance stabilizes since you can connect to the cloud worldwide, 24/7. For pharmaceutical reps, sales depend on connecting with clients; and hospitals and other healthcare companies depend on getting their pharmaceuticals in a timely framework--which brings up the issue of data latency. If your data isn't getting to where it needs to go fast enough, is it secure?
Security has been a main concern for many just getting familiar with cloud networks, especially with all the cybercrime and breaches noted on the news. The industry-consumer (patient) relationship relies on the end-to-end security of personal data. How does this data remain secure when it is flowing up and down the cloud? Does cloud security only depend on how securely a company utilizes their cloud or is it simply secured by the cloud itself? These are imperative, fair questions that any pharma considering a cloud infrastructure must ask.
Some security challenges besides cybercrime and breaches that are cloud specific include latency issues, wrong choice of cloud, mobile devices and the IoT, as well as human user error and the day-to-day security issues that in-house IT may not be privy to handling due to lack of knowledge in keeping cloud data managed and secure. One latest attack involves a chip kernel vulnerability on a CPU processor. It serves to remind every industry, including pharma, that security issues must be forefront and enterprises must mitigate such risk immediately. Case in point, the Henry Ford data breach in early December 2017 and its power outage in January 2018 that the hospital rushed to rectify in hours, not days. The hospital had to manually intake data until the power was restored--which it did and the hospital's data flowed once again.
The Cloud is the Great Facilitator
Will pharma's future have its head in the clouds or stuck somewhere in the past between an app and a server? By 2020, most of the healthcare industry, including pharma and biotech companies, will be harnessing either a public, a private or a hybrid cloud. Management parameters will change, research and development will change, and health data must be available, private and synchronized for use at a moment's notice. The cloud facilitates and manages data flow, the modernization of legacy systems, and for pharma, ushers in an era where the patient becomes the consumer.
Migrating to the cloud is more than strategic and transformative, it is a vital sign of good business health.