How to solve NHS data storage requirements

Medicine is becoming increasingly reliant on digital technology. The possibility to scour medical records, apply predictive analytics and learn about patients, diseases and cures is poised to supercharge our therapeutic capabilities.  

To get technology right, however, requires investment in the basic — IT infrastructure, storage, servers, networks and more. The volume of data now generated is beyond the capabilities of legacy systems, and requires change. At best, downed systems, lost files and slow connections damage outcomes. At worst, they put lives at risk. 

The last thing that cash-strapped public services have time for is vendor lock-in, complex purchasing decisions or subpar outcomes. The NHS deserves IT solutions that can grow as demands change, providing quality outcome today and tomorrow.  

The very core of IT is data storage. What we will address here is DataCore — a software-defined storage solution that we believe can future-proof the IT foundations of the NHS, while providing a cost-effective solution today. 

Defining the IT needs of the NHS

The NHS needs scalable, secure and reliable IT infrastructure able to flexibly meet changing demands without breaking the bank. From a storage perspective, the NHS needs solutions that are fast, easily accessible, low in maintenance, able to unite a mismatch of legacy components and guarantee data protection. 

NHS data is sensitive, confidential, and potentially life-saving. It’s absolutely essential that all processes are kept up and running and are as efficient as possible. 

Always-on availability

High-availability is a mission-critical issue for the NHS. Healthcare is time sensitive. If you miss a window to act because of a system failure, lives can be lost. If you lose data, lives can be lost. No disaster can be afforded. This system needs to be secure against technical faults, physical damage and cyber-attacks. 

Consolidated and scalable infrastructure  

The NHS has a lot of existing legacy IT capabilities. Different hospitals and trusts have made investments, many of which are forced to operate in siloed systems — even within the same hospital. The key to optimising the current system is putting the existing pieces together in a better way. 

High-speed, budget-friendly capabilities

If we’re going to be honest, the NHS needs power, but it needs to achieve that power on a budget. A huge part of creating savings is the better utilisation of existing investments — something that investment in software-defined storage delivers. The reuse of existing hardware can make the cost of an upgrade 40%-50% cheaper. However, transforming those legacy investments into something able to deliver power is more complex. 

DataCore: a solution built for the NHS

DataCore is the authority on real-time data. Over one thousand hospitals and health systems rely on DataCore to simplify management, reduce costs and deliver high-performance with zero downtime. A pioneer in software-defined storage, the company has the expertise to operate in industries with zero tolerance for failure — and deliver. 

Software-defined centralisation

DataCore is a software-defined storage solution. Software-defined systems place a layer of ‘virtualisation’ between applications and hardware. This allows applications to operate across multiple hardware systems as if they were accessing a single pool of resources. 

Software-defined storage is the answer to creating a consolidated and streamlined IT environment. It removes vendor lock-in, delivering future-proofed and scalable systems. Critically for the NHS, software-defined solutions allow for the simple integration of legacy hardware into a modernised IT system. It also provides a centralised and simple-to-use interface that can be standardised regardless of the hardware underneath.

“The fact is that we are not tied to a particular vendor. We can always just get the best storage for what we are trying to accomplish without having to learn a new management system for every model.” — CIO of a 700 bed teaching hospital

The bottom line: with software-defined storage, legacy investments are maximised while centralisation and standardisation is made easy.  

Mirroring and data protection

DataCore takes uptime seriously. In the event of a disaster, DataCore ensures the continuous availability of data, meaning that any vital healthcare data can be recovered automatically. This is achieved primarily through continuously mirroring active and inactive copies of data between physically separate locations that are accessible to local/metro clusters as shared disks. 

The results of this redundancy go further than real-time security. Users are able to roll back to previous, ‘point-in-time’ versions — delivering disaster recovery capabilities able to overcome virus attacks and other events without undertaking an explicit backup. However, where backup is needed, DataCore delivers asynchronous remote replication able to provide fast, simple and remote disaster recovery without impacting local performance.  

With a DataCore system, users can be assured of uptime, access to their critical data and applications, and a system able to resist malicious penetration. 

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Speed where it counts

DataCore is built to optimise performance while accommodating less than perfect legacy systems. Primarily, this is achieved through auto-tiering data. This allows a software-defined storage system to allocate different processes to different hardware resources intelligently — using higher-performing hardware for time-sensitive, life-critical or high-volume tasks. This makes sure that legacy systems are integrated in a way that boost capabilities without limiting performance outputs.    

DataCore also deploys innovative read/write functions, such as parallel I/O, random write accelerators, and high-speed caching to accelerate the speed of critical applications, maximise the use of multicore processors and cut latency.  

Efficiency when it’s needed

A DataCore system delivers power, but is also conscious of the need for efficiency. The requirement to invest in new hardware is kept to a minimum by making sure that the systems you have are used to their greatest potential. 

DataCore brings deduplication, compression and thin provisioning to the table, allowing you to reduce the space needed to store the ever increasing amounts of available data. This is taken further using storage pooling, allowing for even more cost-efficient tiering of resources within your IT environments.  

Scalable flexibility

DataCore is aware that IT requirements never stand still. It is important to invest in systems that are able to grow as demands change. The software-defined nature of DataCore is central to creating a system defined by flexibility — scalability is no exception.  

With software-defined solutions, it is easy to make new hardware investments (regardless of the vendor) and integrate them directly into your existing system without disruption. That includes scaling up or out. DataCore further aids this process with data migration features that allow you to transparently move and migrate data seamlessly during operations. 

Bringing cost saving solutions that count to NHS storage

There are options available for the NHS that could fulfil some of their IT storage needs. For example, NetApp MetroCluster is an almost perfect fit for the NHS, in that it is a software-designed storage solution which can be implemented into any hardware set up and scaled accordingly. However, MetroCluster runs scripts for their high availability mirroring, rather than the mirroring being automated, which is relatively unreliable. Another potential solution is Dell EMC VPLEX, a storage virtualisation solution. Although this product does allow for mirroring, it is quite restrictive and is not as smooth as solutions such as DataCore. 

High-availability mirroring can be costly — forcing the purchase of duplicate hardware to accommodate the increased demand on performance and storage. With hardware-specific solutions, the costs are even larger. You aren’t able to utilise the capabilities of your legacy stack to accommodate mirroring, driving up costs astronomically. Users of DataCore have reported a total cost savings of 50%, delivered by the flexible ability to integrate their new system with existing hardware — features that will continue to provide benefits down the line as your system grows. 

How to deploy a DataCore solution

The flexibility DataCore delivers to growth and maintenance can also be seen in deployment. It is simple to apply a DataCore solution to just one critical part of the IT environment. Later on, it can then be scaled out in steps — starting with one foundational block that can then be built upon. 

When deploying a data storage solution on such a critical and large infrastructure, every factor must be considered to ensure everything suits the needs of the NHS: scalability, ease-of-use, reliability and costs. The flexibility and customisability of a DataCore solution means that these outcomes can be achieved in-house. However, best-in-class results can be guaranteed by partnering with specialists. 

Getting help to start on the right foot not only saves you time, but it also ensures there will be no issues down the line and the initial configurations can be optimised and tailored to your infrastructure. While using a specialist may be more costly, because of the cost-savings of an optimised solution, the upfront cost is worth the investments. In fact, consultation can help make sure your don’t over-invest in hardware today by analysing the solution size, the exact requirements for your IT environment and what needs to be set up to ensure there is enough backend, content, mirrored ports and more, depending on what you need for the future. Hardware vendors will often offer the NHS features within the data storage solution that aren’t necessary, meaning they will overcharge. This can be avoided if you get the IT expertise you need when deploying with one of DataCore’s partners (like us!).

A certified top tier partner who has experience and references is the ideal solution to getting the most out of what DataCore has to offer.

Deploying the right storage-defined storage solution with specialist help

The NHS has many critical needs when it comes to their data. Data is vital to the future of healthcare, with technologies such as EHR and PACS becoming essential. This data needs to be protected at any cost. 

There are many benefits to using DataCore, especially for an organisation like NHS which has numerous needs. The fact that the solution doesn’t require specific hardware to be set up means that it enables centralised management of data centres, analytics and increased automation. If set up correctly, it requires minimal configurations during day-to-day operations. DataCore has everything you need for now and the future — become future-proofed against hardware upgrades and vendor lock-in with DataCore’s independent nature making it easier to scale future data requirements. 

Whatever data storage solution you decide to implement, research is key. You don’t want issues to occur down the line, which could reduce downtime, increase data lost and create unexpected costs.  Figure out your exact requirements and then enlist expert help so you can get a tailored solution suited to your organisation’s IT environment to help fulfil your data needs for today and the future! 

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Troy Platts

Troy has spent over 20 years helping organisations solve their data, storage and compute conundrums. He is a regular speaker at vendor events and spends any free time he has keeping abreast of advances in data platform technologies. He also makes a mean curry.

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