Companies in the healthcare sector, from medical facilities to insurance carriers to pharmacological institutes, are at a critical juncture. As the global population continues to grow and people live longer, optimally functional, efficient and future-proof care has to keep up with rising demand. At the same time, the pace of technological development is increasing, especially in the healthcare industry, where new treatment methods and disease prevention innovations are the focus of researchers around the world.

Organizations in the medical industry are thus left with the unenviable task of having to consolidate infrastructure while at the same time ramp up their investment in better treatment technologies. Complicating all of this is that healthcare companies, unlike organizations in many other sectors, don't have the ability to temporarily scale back their efforts while they test out new solutions – everything has to be done on the fly.

Is anything possible in the cloud? Many businesses who have benefited from their enterprise clouds and strong relationships with cloud service providers may say that even the sky's not the limit, but are there things that the cloud can't do in the vital healthcare sector? According to Nextgov contributor Joseph Marks, the cloud could help cure cancer. The National Cancer Institute announced that it will pilot three computer clouds for storing genomic cancer data that researchers from all across the country can access. Many medical researchers have been so active in analyzing cancer-causing factors, as well as patient responses to treatments, that the data they have generated is straining the NCI's legacy computing systems.

The need for enterprise cloud data storage
More in-depth cancer research found that data extracted from deep within the cancer's DNA provides a much more comprehensive view of the cancer, as well as improves the clarity of treatment processes. This has greatly increased the amount of data that researchers use, consequently requiring better storage and archiving solutions. George Komatsoulis,  interim director and chief information officer of the National Cancer Institute's Center for Biomedical Informatics and Information Technology, told Nextgov that the NCI's Cancer Genome Atlas, for example, contains half a petabyte of information, the data equivalent of 5 billion pages of text. This number is expected to skyrocket to 2.5 petabytes of data by 2014.

Simply storing this data on legacy systems would result in $2 million in expenditures, a number that could increase if current servers weren't large enough to store the data. This system is woefully inadequate for medical professionals who need access to this data in real time. Additionally, it makes remote access difficult, and the system will slow down as more researchers try to use the data. With an enterprise-class cloud computing solution, Komatsoulis told Marks, data will be easily accessed from any location, and speed won't be affected by the number of users. However, security is a premium concern. Komatsoulis said the NCI's needs required a private cloud, as confidential patient and hospital data could otherwise be put at risk. However, the benefits of putting cancer data in the cloud are numerous, both for the researchers working with it now and those who could make a difference in treatment or prevention in the future.