Pathology Labs and IT infrastructure alternatives
Building a modern IT infrastructure for pathology labs is a complicated undertaking and requires a significant amount of planning, requirement analysis, and expertise. This article is prepared to help decision makers in pathology labs to have a better understanding of the various aspects of IT infrastructure design and implementation. This article addresses different organizational structures of digital pathology labs, broad categories of IT infrastructures, differences between traditional and modern setups, storage and compute requirements, as well as other critical factors that need to be taken into account before building such infrastructure.
Digital Pathology Lab Structures
Digital pathology labs across the world are either standalone independent sites or operate based on a hub-and-spoke model. These two structures are described below.
* Standalone sites
This organizational structure is simple and easy to implement. Each site is standalone, provides pathology services independently from other sites of the same organization, and problems at a site do not cause any issues for other labs. This simplicity and independence, however, comes with some drawbacks. Information sharing between pathology labs of the same organization is limited and inefficient. Resources and expertise cannot be easily shared between sites, and sites with limited resources may not be able to address the needs of their target market. In this organizational structure, each site requires its independent IT infrastructure and image management systems (IMS) for digital pathology.
* Hub-and-spoke model
By creating a management and reporting layer that spans across all sites, organizations can efficiently utilize their resources and expertise and address a significantly larger portion of the demands from their target market. Shared expertise allows labs in different geographical regions to report complex cases and provide better services across their operational regions. Moreover, by leveraging on a vendor-neutral IMS, labs with a hub-and-spoke model are able to have a diverse and heterogeneous set of slide scanners all connected to serve the needs of the pathology lab.
To implement and support a hub-and-spoke model, a modern IT infrastructure setup is required for each site. However, depending on certain management choices, the size and capacity of these infrastructures may vary significantly.
One of the most critical questions that needs to be addressed is if the labs will be storing their data in the same storage facility shared between the labs (centralized storage), or the data from each lab will be stored in the storage servers of the same lab (decentralized storage).
Once this question is answered, organizations need to decide if the data produced by the labs should be stored on the cloud (public cloud) or the organization’s own IT infrastructure (private cloud). These two setups are described below.
Public vs. Private Cloud
This section describes the differences between a public cloud setup vs a private cloud infrastructure and briefly mentions the advantages and disadvantages of each setup.
* Public cloud
Public cloud refers to the services (storage, compute, etc.) provided by a cloud service provider company. These services enable pathology labs to securely store, manage, share, and process their data without building any internal IT infrastructure. Granted the required permissions, labs can access their own data as well as the data produced by other labs from the same organization. Some of the advantages of managing data on public cloud are:
- Almost unlimited scalability: Labs may scale up and down the storage and compute capacity based on their needs.
- Lower capital expenditure (CAPEX): Organizations pay for the capacity that they use.
- Reliability: These services are highly optimized and the redundancy across regions guarantees reliability and robustness of the services (service-level agreements are generally provided by these providers).
However, there are certain disadvantages that come with a public cloud setup:
- Less control over data and network security: Cloud service providers usually employ the strictest data security and privacy standards and best practices. However, if data security and control over the data is a big concern, pathology labs and their managing organizations may adopt a private cloud setup.
- Higher operational expenditure (OPEX): Since most cloud service providers charge their customers based on a pay-per-use model, public cloud setups can potentially lead to increased expenses as usage levels and resource demands increase.
* Private cloud (on-premises or collocated)
A private cloud setup refers to the IT infrastructure (software, hardware, networking, etc.) built specifically for the needs of an organization. Such an infrastructure generally consists of storage and compute servers as well as networking equipment that enable effective communication between these servers. Some of the advantages of private cloud setups are as follows:
- Potentially better data security: Since data and the applications on the servers generally remain behind a firewall and are accessible only to the labs within the organization, it is possible to create a more secure storage environment for data in an organization.
- Potentially lower Total Cost of Ownership (TCO): Since private cloud setups generally enable a lower OPEX over time, organizations can enjoy a lower TCO by setting up a private cloud infrastructure for their labs.
- Better customization: A private cloud setup allows an organization to build a tailored infrastructure based on its storage and compute requirements.
Some of the drawbacks of a private cloud setup are:
- Less scalability: Compared to scaling up a public cloud setup that can be usually done in a few minutes, scaling up a private cloud setup may require addition of new hardware as well as restructuring the entire setup.
- Potentially worse data security: Building and maintaining an effective cybersecurity setup for private cloud is far from straightforward. Organizations adopting a private cloud infrastructure need to develop cybersecurity expertise and build a dedicated team to maintain the security of the infrastructure and monitor it for cybersecurity attacks. Lack of such expertise will certainly lead to lower data security over time.
- Potentially higher costs for maintenance: Maintenance of a private cloud infrastructure is a critical factor for its health and functionality. Adopting inappropriate or ineffective maintenance practices can lead to higher maintenance costs compared to public clouds.
- Greater responsibility: Since there’s a higher level of control over a private cloud setup, maintaining and operating a private cloud comes with greater responsibility for the enterprises.
Building, operating, and maintaining public and private cloud setups require completely different sets of expertise, planning, and execution. Part 2 of this article, however, focuses only on private cloud IT infrastructures.
In Part 2, private cloud IT infrastructure architectures will be covered.