Virtualize, Cloud, Mobile First

Wes Wright, CTO, Sutter Health
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Wes Wright, CTO, Sutter Health

That’s our strategy for getting to our vision of “Making technology as transparent as possible to our clinical and business partners.” Our strategy probably seems pretty familiar to most because the CEO of Microsoft has stated their vision as being “Cloud First, Mobile First.” Satya Nadella is a brilliant man, and has done nothing short of work miracles at Microsoft from both a product and cultural perspective since he took the reins. But, I think he would have been well served by putting “virtualize” in his mission statement. Unless of course, he’s included that portion in the “Cloud First” part of his statement, which many folks do.

I’m not one of them. I believe virtualization itself is one of the pillars of good IT and can stand separate from the cloud and mobile. At Sutter Health, we’ve managed to virtualize nearly 90 percent of our server infrastructure and have just begun our journey in desktop virtualization, using the Citrix Workspace Suite as our primary platform with many other tools surrounding it.

As we’ve moved down the desktop virtualization path, we’ve begun to realize that in order for us to be cloud and mobile first, we absolutely have to abstract our desktops from the hardware of the PC. Once you do that, you can then run that desktop from any number of places. Microsoft and Citrix are now offering a Win10 desktop as a service. Of course Amazon Web Services was one of the first companies to offer desktop as a service, more than a few years ago. However, that offering, unlike most virtual desktop installations, wasn’t really running a “desktop” operating system. Instead, Amazon was offering a server desktop “skinned” to look like a normal windows desktop, due to Microsoft licensing constraints. Fortunately, Microsoft has since changed their licensing model and the new Microsoft/Citrix offering is much like you would run a virtual desktop implementation on premise. Because of that, it’s super easy to move your on premise desktop virtualization solution into the Microsoft/Citrix cloud offering.

  Virtualization, cloud, and the fierce demand of our clinicians, patients, and families for a mobile experience are drastically changing the way health care IT is designed and delivered 

An added benefit of running from the Microsoft/ Citrix solution is the proximity of the O365 Cloud. We run the O365 suite as part of our virtualized desktop. Our goal is to move our non-patient care virtualized desktops into the Microsoft/Citrix cloud. This will allow most all the traffic generated by these desktops to remain in the Microsoft cloud with our applications and storage (OneDrive). In turn, that allows us to apply resource that was being used for desktop virtualization to our clinical applications. Subsequently making those applications much more performant, reducing the time our health care providers need to spend interacting with technology. Ipso facto, making the technology more transparent to our clinical partners.

Once you have your desktop virtualization in place, you’ll be incredibly surprised about how many problems it solves for you. Of course, there’s the data leakage problem it solves (no data can move out of the virtualized environment) but the bigger issues it helps you deal with are the dual issues of working from home and bring your own device (BYOD).

The ability to offer a standard work from home solution is critical in this time, where ubiquitous access is becoming the norm, especially with the millennial generation. Being able to access a desktop with access to our electronic medical record at any time, through any device, enhances our care providers’ abilities to give patients the kind of service they’ve come to expect from other industries. Virtualization and the work-from-home capability helps us increase our competitive advantage and evolve with the changing needs of our stakeholders.

A cardiologist can now easily check the record of a patient at 3 a.m. from the comfort of their home and write orders to alleviate pain or enhance the healing process. Better remote access does not necessarily increase the working hours in a day, it allows flexibility in schedules that can contribute to a more well-balanced life for our care providers and more timely health care for our patients and families.

Our vision to make technology as transparent as possible is rounded out by our mobility strategy. Virtualization, cloud, and mobile is the way we are challenging the team to think. Using cloud technology from Citrix and Microsoft allows us to capitalize on the fact that a mobile phone in the pocket or purse of every human is quickly becoming a reality. The cloud keeps our data secure, but accessible from any device our care team chooses to use.

Smartphones have introduced applications to run our lives and will continue to become more and more relevant. The easier we can make the delivery of patient data to our care providers through their mobile devices, the more informed they can be, which can lead to better real-time decisions about patient care. Even the most time-starved physician can locate their mobile device immediately and respond, if needed, to the situation. Our goal is to ensure technology is not a barrier but an enhancement to the services we provide.

Healthcare has traditionally been slower to adopt cutting edge technology, but will be forced to adjust as clinician and consumer demands put pressure on all industries to deliver what we want, when we want it. Virtualization, the advent of the cloud, and the demand of our clinicians, patients, are changing the way health care IT is designed and delivered. Personally, I can’t wait and hope you and your organization are prepared for the imminent shift in the technological landscape of health care information technology.

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