Ontario health-care provider takes a central computing tack

Patient record security and trust was the primary motivation behind an Ontario-based health-care provider taking a central computing approach and moving its IT infrastructure offsite to be entirely managed by a third-party provider.

With six facilities in operation and 600 health-care professionals, Closing the Gap Healthcare Group Inc. (CTG), wanted to ensure that its patient data was accessible from any location at any time. And, using agile and scalable technology would allow CTG to grow its operations, and according to president and CEO Connie Clerici, build “a publicly-funded health-care system that is sustainable for Canadians both now and in the future.”

But besides data accessibility, security and control of patient information was also a priority for CTG. “[Data security] is the fear of every IT manager who wonders where is this stuff and how secure is it,” said Rob Myhill, CEO with ThinDesk Inc., the Markham, Ont.-based IT managed services provider that CTG is using.

The offering, ThinDesk Thin Computing, entails thin clients on the desktop and HP virtualized VMware servers that are housed in Telus’ SAS 70 data centre for security and real-time collaboration of data. Last July, ThinDesk became Telus’ sole partner offering a fully-managed outsourced IT service.

Actually, Myhill thinks that the next decade will see aggressive moves around regulatory compliance, which in turn will mean a renewed focus on data security and better control over that data.

But while the concept of central computing became a big buzz word in the early 2000s especially after the fiasco around Enron and other companies, Myhill said “with the [current] financial crisis, the word that comes out in North America is the lack of regulation that has allowed this to happen.”

Health-care providers, like Closing the Gap, he said, have obvious requirements around security and privacy of health data dictated by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Besides Closing the Gap, ThinDesk has a five-year contract with Specialty Care, a Toronto-based health-care provider that operates 17 long-term care facilities and retirement homes.

ThinDesk’s director of sales, Scott Martin, said that while some years ago, businesses were largely reluctant to store their data offsite, “that mentality has changed quite a bit with 9/11 and with the amount of regulatory [requirements] that are coming down.” It’s “not a big leap” to make today, he said.

Myhill dismissed concerns that some businesses may be entertaining with housing their corporate data offsite beyond the firewall. There are a range of security issues that exist with data kept onsite, said Myhill, “from the lady that comes around to do the dusting at night, to the fact that the building may fall over tomorrow morning, to your own employees that may very well take advantage of the situation.”

The trouble, really, with security management, he said, resides at the desktop level, where an IT manager may be bogged down with just trying to maintain operations at numerous remote sites and “security is probably not the number one thing on his list.”

In fact, Myhill likens thin clients and cloud computing to hydroelectricity in that a hydro company won’t build a plant in a customer’s backyard, rather “he just punched a hole in the wall and allowed you to plug in your electricity.” A utility computing environment, he said, is no different.

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