By Gareth Griffiths, Chief Technology Officer, BridgeHead Software

What happens when the shiny toys break in your hospital? Before we consider the impact of replacing or upgrading hardware or even healthcare applications regarding the safeguarding of your critical data, let me start by setting the scene….

As a society, we have become used to that fact that technology works. It wasn’t always that way. In the not too distant past, it was generally accepted that things broke down. When the car wouldn’t start or the toaster stopped working or a fuse blew, it was commonplace for people to attempt to fix it themselves. Now, the landscape has changed and we’ve all come to rely on technology ‘just working’. So, it generally comes as a nasty surprise when it doesn’t!

I was recently caught out on my bicycle when I got a severe puncture (too big for quick patches – it basically blew out tyre) and I hadn’t got round to replacing my spare tube. For me, that meant a four-mile push home; but when things break at work the consequences can be more severe. Today, we’ve grown so used to things ‘working’ that we forget to plan for when they don’t. Perhaps you are starting to see where this is going? As you might expect from me, I would like to talk about this in the context of backup and recovery plans in healthcare organizations. What’s your ‘Plan B’ for when your hospital systems go down and what and fall-back scenarios does it cover?

Backup AND Recovery – Make It A Priority – Ignore It At Your Peril

Sadly, backup is often an afterthought when, to me, it should be one of the first things you think about. Don’t fall into the trap of getting dazzled by that shiny new piece of hardware. Immediately start thinking about what you will do if it breaks and how you will move on from it. It may save you a lot of blood, sweat and tears later.

It’s often the case that data outlives the hardware on which it sits. It’s always the case that healthcare data outlives hardware. At BridgeHead, we are 100% devoted to healthcare. So, when we talk about data, it’s often in the context of patient information, clinical data and supporting (but all important) administrative information used by a hospital. The interesting thing about healthcare data is that hospitals like to keep it for the lifetime of the patient and, often, significantly longer. Other industries have similar requirements, e.g. aviation has similar regulations requiring design data to be kept for years after the last plane of a type was still flying. Consequently, it is really important that IT departments consider the long-term requirements to safeguard healthcare information.

Healthcare Data Outlives Hardware – Be Prepared

Let me say it again healthcare data outlives hardware! So, I urge you to spend time considering how many times you will need to migrate the data across hardware platforms over its lifetime. It’s also important that you establish the level of difficulty in being able to move data off that shiny new piece of tin. This of course applies not just to production data, but also to your archive data and your backups.

Let me give you an example. A hospital replaced its physical tape hardware with new disk based Virtual Tape Library (VTL) devices. Although great for convenience and quicker restores, old tapes could always be read by the next generation of drives. However, an old VTL coming off lease can’t magically move all its virtual tapes into a new library, but no-one thought about that cost when they bought it. Now don’t get me wrong, VTLs can be very good, but the hidden costs (such as how to move on) are rarely examined, and the potential vulnerability of all your backups in one online device is often overlooked. Does that mean you shouldn’t use a VTL? No, it doesn’t, but you need to address the weaknesses as well as taking advantage of the benefits. In short, you should consult a backup expert not a hardware salesman to see the pitfalls.

Perhaps because BridgeHead Software has long been involved in archiving as well as backup we really think about these issues. This is another reason why we like the two-tier backup model. Tier one is geared for ease of use and fast restore when the infrastructure is still all in one place, e.g. for accidental deletions. Tier two is designed to protect against infrastructure damage, such as the place where tier one backups are held or to cover total site loss. For regular or short-term urgent restores, the convenience of the tier one layer is great, but for depth or disaster recovery the second tier is critical.

Take Advantage – Your Backup and Archiving Vendor Is A Great Resource

This brings me on to my second topic: when should you talk to your backup and archiving vendor? Changing storage hardware is clearly a time to talk to your software vendor. Don’t be fooled by the shiny hardware – talk to BridgeHead – not just because we are the only company to support every Storage array that MEDITECH has ever supported, but because with newer technologies there may also be new options offering better ways to protect your healthcare data in today’s environment. Take, for example, ‘Software Defined Storage’. While there is some hype, it is true that storage software matters as much or more so than storage hardware; and we may be in a position to advise and help you.

So, certainly talk to BridgeHead when you are thinking about changing hardware but, equally, talk to us when you are changing applications that generate data. As we have already established, healthcare data outlives hardware. However, you should also consider that data, especially medical data, also outlives the application that created it. That’s where an Independent Clinical Archive (ICA), such as BridgeHead’s HealthStore, becomes important – a system designed for long-term storage of clinical data, easily accessible, and that can be called directly from your MEDITECH or other EMR systems.

Remember, talk to BridgeHead:

  • If you are thinking about changing hardware
  • If you are changing applications
  • If you haven’t tested your backups recently
  • If you haven’t verified that your backups and archives match today’s threats.