Much has been said during recent years regarding the cloud. In contrast there has been limited uptake within the NHS for wholesale moves from on-premise hardware.
The majority of health and care organisations believe that clinical and corporate data is best secured within the confines of a building reassuringly located on their own estate. Conversely most cloud providers offer higher levels of security than are currently available within typical NHS data centres.
There is a big caveat however which rules out many of the better known providers due to their inability to store data within the UK borders. Information Governance officers, who understandably have a very low appetite for risk, will argue about the lack of sovereignty and how this translates to concerns over data confidentiality and integrity. Nevertheless consumer based cloud services can enter an organisation under the IT radar having been used by departments and individuals without the knowledge of those that better understand the hazards. Cost per GB, reduced provisioning lead times and location-independent access can be strong drivers.
Perhaps baby steps are needed before the health service gains a level of confidence needed to embrace these commoditised public services. I have spoken to many organisations over recent months that are now proceeding with plans to eliminate the overheads incurred whilst operating their own data centres, co-locating IT assets to a hosting facility provided by a nearby public sector organisation. Such hosting organisations intrinsically meet the security and governance obligations imposed on the entity consuming the service. Similarly a reciprocal arrangement could be negotiated to enable a two-way Disaster Recovery capability without the expense of maintaining facilities at multiple locations. Neighbouring public sector organisations, each limited to a single data centre, could offer rack space and network connectivity to the other providing a cost-effective home for failover equipment. This approach could be extended further, sharing each other’s virtual infrastructure and storage area networks.
Ultimately the NHS has a need to reduce cost and guarantee IT availability without compromising the safety of patient information. Public sector attitudes will inevitably change over time as the expense of UK-based cloud services reduce and the number of NHS references increase. After all the talk perhaps there are glimpses of sunlight starting to appear as shared data centres providing secure locality based cloud services start to evolve.