Siemens, Dell form alliance for cloud-based archiving

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By Cynthia E. Keen, AuntMinnie.com staff writer

February 16, 2012 — Two industry heavyweights are joining forces in cloud-based archiving on the eve of next week’s Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) meeting in Las Vegas. Siemens Healthcare and Dell plan to announce an alliance to jointly deliver a cloud-based, vendor-neutral image archiving and sharing service.

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Under the agreement, Siemens will incorporate Dell’s Unified Clinical Archive software into a new cloud-based platform it’s calling Siemens Image Sharing and Archiving (ISA). Both Siemens and Dell will collaboratively market the new service. Redundant archiving will be provided, with data stored in Dell’s cloud-based servers and storage.

The companies believe that the deal enables each firm to focus on what it does best: Siemens on clinical software and solutions such as PACS, and Dell on archiving software and supporting the increasingly popular shift to cloud-based computing.

“With this alliance, we are providing solutions that facilitate easy data retrieval and secure data sharing, while simplifying IT management and maintenance for the long term,” said Jamie Coffin, PhD, vice president and general manager of Dell Healthcare and Life Sciences.

AuntMinnie.com spoke with Coffin and Kurt Reiff, Siemens’ vice president of business management of syngo Americas, about the strategy behind the alliance.

U.S. launch

Siemens began selling the ISA service this week in Canada and the U.S., and it’s offering it both independently and as part of a bundle with Siemens syngo software packages.

The ISA platform provides archiving for DICOM and non-DICOM images, as well as for nonimaging data, making it possible to store almost any type of digital file, Reiff said.

The alliance represents a leveraging of what each company does best, Reiff and Coffin explained.

Siemens’ primary healthcare IT focus over the years has been to develop clinical software and solutions, which of course includes PACS. But the vendor also has a long history in cloud computing through what it calls a “private medical-grade cloud” that primarily has been used within its IT operations to host servers, server environments, and individual transactions.

Meanwhile, Dell has the ability to manage images in a very neutral and cost-effective way in a cloud-based environment, thanks in part to its acquisition of archiving services provider InSite One in December 2010.

“We see changes in the market occurring for a need for imaging data that are different from what a classic radiology or cardiology PACS can offer,” Reiff said. “With the proliferation of mobile access to data through smartphones and tablet PCs, and with the steady explosion of digital data stimulated by electronic health record adoption initiatives, the market is changing.”

He noted that Siemens’ expertise has not been focused on image storage per se, but rather on image acquisition, manipulation, and viewing. “We are experts at building clinical viewers and software, and that is where we are going to concentrate our efforts. Dell has the expertise to store data, maintain it, and protect it,” he said.

Soaring need for storage

Coffin pointed out that the amount of electronic data a clinician accesses today compared to 15 years ago has increased by 10 orders of magnitude. Storage requirements have also soared.

Ten years ago, the largest healthcare customers of Dell and other storage vendors needed about 50 TB to 100 TB for image storage. That requirement has now increased to 5 PB to 10 PB, with 1 PB equaling 1,000 TB. This dramatic increase may be attributed to the use of increasingly sophisticated diagnostic imaging modalities, such as 128-slice and 256-slice CT scanners, and by the adoption of digital pathology systems by hospitals.

Dell currently manages more than 5 billion medical images in its cloud for more than 800 customers. It offers a one-time pay-by-the-image service that enables customers to eliminate the cost of purchasing hardware, as well as expenses for operating and staffing a steadily expanding data center. Archive outsourcing also eliminates hardware and software obsolescence for customers.

“Once hospitals purchase an electronic medical record system or a PACS from a vendor, they tend to get into a state of vendor lockdown, because it is very difficult to migrate data,” Coffin said. “Or, they need to pay to migrate data every three to five years. When a customer starts using a vendor-neutral archive to store images, it is not necessary to migrate data again, at what amounts to a current cost of $5,000 to $10,000 per TB of data.”

The value of data migration from a practical point of view is mitigated by the fact that the vast majority of stored images will never be accessed. Based on the experiences of Dell, only 2% of all prior exams are accessed again within the first 12 months of acquisition (with the exception of records of oncology patients or those with chronic diseases). Even fewer exams are reaccessed after a year.

With this in mind, Dell doesn’t believe that it makes sense for community hospitals, physician practices, or small imaging centers to operate their own data centers when such services could be provided in the cloud. Archiving expenses are only going to go up, according to Coffin, and healthcare providers should be focusing on clinical issues rather than running data centers, he believes.

This creates an opportunity for the Siemens-Dell alliance, according to Reiff.

“The ability to offer full-service cloud image archiving is a huge business opportunity, especially with respect to community hospitals,” Reiff said. “Many community hospitals are struggling today to raise funds to purchase a replacement PACS and to pay to migrate the data. Then they have to maintain what they have purchased and hire staff in a market with a well-publicized shortage of qualified IT professionals.”

Coffin predicted that small hospitals, imaging centers, and multispecialty clinics will no longer operate their own internal IT data centers in five years. It simply won’t be practical, he observed.

“Siemens and Dell bring years of cloud computing experience to help healthcare customers solve their data management and archiving challenges, while facilitating collaboration across specialties, departments, and geographic boundaries,” Coffin concluded.

“This collaboration with Dell will be a game changer for us,” Reiff added.

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