Offsite Storage: Out of Site, Not Out of Mind

Twitter icon
Facebook icon
LinkedIn icon
e-mail icon
Google icon

In this age of terrorism alerts, tighter security and mandated disaster recovery, some facilities consider the storage service provider (SSP) model for medical images a solution to their storage woes. While some proponents view the model as a solid way to easily move patient images from one institution to another - issues of security, bandwidth and government standards have influenced whether institutions embrace the concept. Although the offsite approach to storage has not caught on as rapidly in radiology as some had thought, the idea has won champions in the form of hospitals that see the SSP solution as their cost-effective storage choice.

The advantage of a storage service provider (SSP) approach for radiology images is sharing. "Digitizing film is going to save you some space, and it's going to make [the studies] more accessible," says John Webster, senior analyst and founder of Data Mobility Group, a firm specializing in storage and storage management. "Whether or not you do that in-house or outsource, the idea remains the same: you figured out a way to share [the images]."

What the SSP potentially brings is the ability for healthcare facilities to pay for that shared service on a monthly basis, as opposed to trying to buy the whole in-house solution up front. For smaller healthcare facilities, that can be fairly attractive. The perceived disadvantages may be required bandwidth - hospitals frequently lack it - and security, the old issues SSP had.

"[If] I give you my data, am I absolutely sure nobody else can see it, and second of all, how long are you going to be around?" Webster says. "If you go away, is that data going to go away? If I give you a record that has to be saved for years, according to regulation, what happens if you go belly up? How do I get my data back?"

Despite the perceived concerns, Webster doesn't see the offsite approach going away. "The world seems to be going to a different computing concept that is in part enabled by the Internet and in part by some other technology," Webster says. "This whole concept of computing grids that are being tried out at universities and scientific organizations is a way of sharing [multiple] resources that are spread out over geographic businesses, all interconnected internally and externally or by the Internet or wires with communications methods."

As communication means advance, centralized storage facilities that exist on the network are going to start looking attractive again. "Whether or not they're set up as storage service providers is another question, but I think we're moving in the direction of, at least partially, the concept behind SSP as far as network storage is concerned, which is a centralized storage facility that is connected with other processing [entities] and sharing data and storage resources," Webster says.

For the SSPs to succeed, according to Webster, they needed to become very applications focused, serving specific industries. "Healthcare is one of the places [SSPs] could be reborn, but I think [that will happen] under the roofs of the larger concerns, like a Deloitte & Touche or an EDS [storage service provider Electronic Data Systems] that are then going to use them as facilities to satisfy specific business requirements of their customer," Webster says.


Hartford Hospital in Connecticut, an 879-bed facility performing between 150,000 and 160,000 radiology exams per year, uses InSiteOne's InDex OnLine service approach to store images. InSiteOne's model uses a server located inside the hospital. The hospital has chosen a configuration that allows between one year and 18 months of studies to reside on the server. All modalities except mammography, which is not in digital format, will be included.

"As we send studies to InSiteOne and they're being read to the RAID [Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks] that's inside, it's also being sent to their InSiteOne storage facility [elsewhere in] Connecticut, with a mirrored site in Arizona," says Lee Goldman, Hartford Hospital's chief of radiology physics and engineering.

The hospital is still in the process of implementing its picture archiving and communications systems (PACS), which will have from six to eight months of storage itself. The InSiteOne approach serves as a backup for those studies in-house, so if a study is newer than six months, a backup copy resides in-house. Studies older than 18 months are on the hospital's PACS server.

InSiteOne also serves as the hospital's