When Will the Cloud Tip?

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Ever wish you could have been a fly on the wall when a buzzword came into being? I think that all the time about the “cloud.” How some marketing genius settled on that particular word to describe geographically remote warehouses of servers stacked upon servers is beyond me.

Nonetheless, it’s HIMSS 2012, and as you might expect, the word “cloud” is everywhere. I spent the lunch hour in a fascinating session focused on the Cleveland Clinic’s strategy for enterprise imaging. When the progressive health system made the decision to bring all of its images, irrespective of origin or format, into a central repository, it quickly realized its physical storage wasn’t going to last long.

Its solution? To move all non-active (four years old or more, essentially) images into a cloud-based archive, where they can be kept more affordably for as long as state and federal mandates require. After all, as enterprise imaging director Louis Lannum pointed out, after four years retrieval of these images is down to 1%. I caught up with Lannum later and learned that he’s working with Agfa to move data to the cloud—the same provider whose Imaging Clinical Information System (ICIS) plays the role of the repository for the health system.

Meanwhile, “the tipping point,” my new favorite concept thanks to Mr. Malcolm Gladwell, came up again in a conversation with a vendor about cloud-based image sharing. In The Tipping Point, Gladwell uses fax machines as an example of a technology that subverts the economic law of supply and demand by becoming more valuable the more units are sold—in other words, your fax machine is worth more every time someone else you know gets a fax machine. You’re not buying a device, you’re buying entrance to a network.

Hamid Tabatabaie, CEO of LifeImage, predicted that the tipping point for cloud-based image sharing will happen around 2014, when he anticipates that 20% of an estimated 300,000 heavy-image-utilization physicians nationwide will be leveraging cloud-based services to transmit images between themselves and their colleagues.

Over at Carestream, I got the scoop on their recently announced partnership with Intel to leverage emerging processor technology to expand their capacity for their cloud-based services, which include storage and hosted software for PACS and teleradiology. Because, after all, the cloud isn’t an ephemeral collection of atoms as its name suggests; it’s backed by very real hardware, and very real hardware requires very real processing power.

What do you think of Tabatabaie’s prediction? Is cloud technology for health care finally ready to tip?