By Tahir Ali
When a group of volunteers launched City of Hope in 1913 as a tuberculosis sanitarium on the outskirts of Los Angeles, they initially treated patients in two canvas tents. In spite of those modest circumstances, the founders and staff were dedicated to harnessing the latest advances in medical science on behalf of their patients.
That drive is even stronger today. At City of Hope’s main campus in suburban Duarte and at 12 community practices in Los Angeles and Riverside counties, the organization provides an expressway between scientific breakthroughs and patients suffering from cancer, diabetes, HIV/AIDS and other life-threatening diseases.
City of Hope is one of only 41 comprehensive cancer centers in the nation, and it’s the only one that the FDA permits to develop and test new drugs on humans in clinical trials.
Until recently, however, City of Hope’s information technology was anything but cutting edge. That’s why we are transforming the way we use technology. Our strategy is built on two important computing concepts–tapping cloud services to make our organization more nimble and using sophisticated software to manage how we gather, store and analyze data.
Data is both a blessing and a curse for healthcare organizations. We gather a vast quantity of information–everything from electronic patient records, billing information, and medical images to the entire genomes of individuals. We can use this data to improve the quality of patient care and the efficiency of hospital operations, but only if we manage it properly. Cloud computing enables organizations to quickly launch new applications and to expand computing and storage capacity in response to sudden shifts in demand, but it also adds to the complexity of managing information. Healthcare data is all over the place, in all sorts of formats. Getting control of it and handling it cost-effectively it is a huge challenge.
At City of Hope, we were drowning in data two years ago. Our storage systems weren’t large or flexible enough to handle the deluge. As a result, our computers went down on a near-daily basis–leaving physicians, researchers and administrators hanging. In some cases, we lost critical data.
In response, we redesigned how we handle data. We added capacity and adopted a cloud computing system that makes it possible to quickly expand storage. At the same time, we acquired software that manages data storage more flexibly. Today, we never run out of storage capacity, and our systems almost never stall.
Still, in my view, we’re just starting on the path to having a totally flexible and easily manageable data storage system–one capable of dealing with Big Data in all of its permutations. This journey is based on the use of a powerful new concept: software-defined storage.
I believe software-defined storage is one of the most important trends in technology today. Data is tucked away in many types of hardware, including dedicated storage machines, servers, PCs and mobile devices. It’s stored on a variety of media, including chips, disk and tape. And, increasingly, we want people to be able to access any data anywhere, on any device and at any time.
The best way to deal with all of this variety, in my view, is by employing software-defined storage techniques to manage the data holistically–using a single integrated software system rather than a collection of hardware-oriented piece-parts. Also, the system has to be highly automated so data can be placed where it’s needed and so different kinds of data can be combined for extracting insights. With software-defined storage, the user doesn’t have to know where the data is kept. They request it, and it comes to them.
With this kind of system, a City of Hope oncologist who is at a medical conference in Singapore will be able to deal with a patient emergency almost as well as they could if they were in the hospital. They’ll get an alert on their smartphone when a patient needs their attention. Stepping into a hallway, they’ll tap into up-to-date information about the patient’s condition–and into a wide variety of other data sources. Then they’ll be able to use powerful analytics software to help them decide on the best course of action.
At City of Hope, one of our core principles is that “health is a human right.” We can’t achieve that goal unless we take advantage of the latest information technology advances to offer superior and affordable patient care. Software-defined storage is going to be essential for delivering on that promise.