Windows Azure and StorSimple: The Last Storage Solution You’ll Ever Need

18 June 2013 | Dr. Mohamed Ayad, Industry Specialist, U.S. Health and Life Sciences, Microsoft
The volume of healthcare data is rapidly accelerating fueled by growth in patient populations and the increased density of data captured and stored about each patient. The Affordable Care Act may bring in as many as 30 million more people into the healthcare system. The complexity of patient care is rising, with more data being generated every step of the way in electronic medical records, communications, and clinical images. With the rapid growth of healthcare data, the costs of data storage are high on healthcare IT executives’ priority lists, particularly the costs of integration, management, security, backup, and disaster recovery. In addition, healthcare data must be accessed, stored and managed in compliance with regulations such as HIPAA and HITECH. It’s vital for healthcare organizations to leverage a new generation of data storage solutions to preserve this data, replacing costly strategies such as on-premise and co-located disk and tape archiving.
 
Microsoft’s StorSimple is a hybrid cloud storage solution that securely and transparently brings durable, scalable, secure, low cost cloud storage for on-premises applications and data. It offers a single solution that delivers integrated local and cloud storage, long-term archival storage, cloud-based data protection and disaster recovery, reducing cost by up to 80 percent compared to traditional enterprise storage.  This is done by leveraging Windows Azure, Microsoft’s cloud-based services platform for applications and data. Together, StorSimple and Windows Azure can help store healthcare data securely and reliably, at significantly lower cost of ownership compared to traditional on-premises storage in a way that is compliant with HIPAA and HITECH privacy and security regulations.
 
I recently spoke with Marc Farley, senior director of community and customer programs at Microsoft, and a well-known storage industry expert. Marc joined Microsoft in February 2012 to lead customer community growth. Throughout his career, Marc has worked to identify the technologies and companies with the potential to be “change agents” for the rest of the industry, ranging from Ethernet-based iSCSI storage to virtualized utility storage. Here are Marc’s thoughts on how StorSimple and Windows Azure are impacting health.
 

Ayad: How can Microsoft’s Windows Azure and StorSimple solutions help combat the challenges facing healthcare organizations?

Farley: Healthcare can see immediate cost savings by leveraging a cloud-integrated, storage solution for file shares, archiving, backup and disaster recovery. Healthcare providers need to store increasing amounts of data but have little interest in creating, maintaining and managing large, growing data storage infrastructures. This not only includes storing data, but protecting it and archiving it as well, tasks that take an inordinate amount of time and cost a lot of money in most hospitals and health systems. The root cause of most storage costs for healthcare providers is the fact that there are multiple systems used for storage, backup and archiving, each with their own management tools and repositories. The hybrid cloud data management system that StorSimple and Windows Azure create is based on a single, extended repository that tracks all data on local, on-premises storage and also in Windows Azure Storage. Backups are completely automated to Windows Azure, which saves many hours per week that would otherwise be spent managing and copying tapes for off-site storage.

Similarly, capacity is expanded by automatically archiving old, inactive data to Windows Azure Storage as on-premises storage fills up. All data that is moved to Windows Azure appears to users as if it is local and is easily and transparently accessed the same as data that is on-premises – with just a small amount of added latency. The same principle applies to archiving systems that healthcare providers are using. Data archived onto file shares stored on the StorSimple and Windows Azure hybrid storage solution are automatically backed up to Windows Azure, and as on-premises capacity fills, older archives are moved to Windows Azure. Automation and cloud scalability drive all aspects of the solution.

Ayad: What unique advantages do the StorSimple and Windows Azure solutions bring to healthcare organizations?

Farley: The StorSimple Windows Azure hybrid cloud storage solution stores data in the cloud securely, with an increased focus on HIPAA and HITECH compliance. All data is encrypted with AES-256 encryption prior to being uploaded to Microsoft’s HIPAA secured cloud. Encryption keys are completely controlled and managed by the customer. Data is abstracted as “fingerprints” that are always checked for integrity when they are read to ensure the data has not been altered in any way, ensuring compliance with regulations. 

Another differentiator is that the cloud capacity of Windows Azure Storage is backed by Microsoft’s HIPAA-compliant Business Associate Agreement. Be it a healthcare system, hospital, provider or practice, healthcare organizations across the spectrum understand the importance of maintaining patient records to comply with regulations, and the value of robust disaster recovery capability.  In case of a disaster, StorSimple features deterministic, thin recoveries, which prioritize the recovery of data based on the applications that are accessing it. Recovery times with the StorSimple Windows Azure solution are typically short as a result and healthcare providers who have never been able to test their DR plans will find it much easier to do so using the StorSimple Windows Azure solution. To protect data in Windows Azure Storage, three copies of data are kept in separate fault domains, with the option of using Windows Azure geo-redundancy so that three additional copies can be stored in a separate Windows Azure data center at least 100 miles away.

Ayad: Are any healthcare organizations using this technology today?

Farley: Customers including Planned Parenthood of Mar Monte, Medplast and Network 180 are currently using Windows Azure and StorSimple to store, backup and archive their file share data. 

For more information on StorSimple visit http://www.storsimple.com/.

Have a comment or opinion on this post? Let me know. Have a question for the author? Please e-mail us at health@microsoft.com.

Dr. Mohamed Ayad
Industry Specialist, U.S. Health and Life Sciences, Microsoft