Remote access, backup key for disaster recovery

Cloud computing can be a lifesaver for healthcare providers recovering from a disaster, says Bassam Tabbara, PhD, chief technology officer and co-founder of Symform, a data storage provider based in Seattle.

The term refers to the use and access of multiple servers through a digital network such as the Internet, using various devices with a wireless or wired capability. All the data is stored on these distant servers, the cloud, rather than on your own computer system, Tabbara explains. Off-site backup systems such as Carbonite or Mozy are examples of cloud storage.

The downside is that cloud storage can be expensive, Tabbara says. Storing two terabytes of data on the cloud could cost $1,000 per month, as opposed to about $80 for storing that same data on physical disks. Symform's method of storage is less expensive than some cloud storage providers because the company uses multiple smaller servers rather than building one large and expensive data center, he says. Users contribute some of their own storage capability for other cloud users, which distributes the load and provides backup, he says.

Reliability is another key concern for off-site storage, says Chris Haudenschild, chairman of the board and CEO of CliniComp International, a company in San Diego that provides documentation systems for healthcare providers. He recommends always looking for a system designed so that no single point of failure in the system will make your data unavailable.

"That means no failure of software, hardware, or power can stop the system," Haudenschild says. "By having a redundant system at a distant location, you can still have the complete records even if the hospital itself is leveled."

He suggests that healthcare providers are lagging behind in ensuring that records are accessible after a disaster. Some hospitals still make a backup of data and physically take it to a different location, or send an electronic backup copy to off-site storage. The problem with those approaches is that the data is always out of date.

"The bar has been set pretty low so far," he says. "There has been a lot of focus on electronic records and what they can do for the hospital and for patient care, but not as much on how to carry through with that when your facility is hit by disaster. Having electronic records is a huge step forward for that scenario, but it doesn't guarantee access unless you've planned up front and set the system up in the right way."


Chris Haudenschild, PhD, Chairman of the Board and CEO, CliniComp International, San Diego. Telephone: (858) 546-8202. E-mail:

Bassam Tabbara, Chief Technology Officer, Symform, Seattle. Telephone: (206) 906-9212. E-mail: