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FAQ: Server virtualization in health care IT

Server virtualization can stop your data center from turning into an emergency room, but virtualization in health care IT brings unique challenges.

If your health care organization seeks a more efficient, easier-to-manage IT infrastructure, a prescription for server virtualization technology may be in order.

Much of the health care industry did not immediately adopt server virtualization technology, but today virtualization in health care IT is becoming increasingly common. Like any cure, however, server virtualization can have side effects -- especially in health care, where regulatory compliance and electronic health records pose unique challenges.

The answers to these frequently asked questions about healthcare virtualization explain the pros and cons of using server virtualization technology in hospitals, medical offices and other health care organizations. The following resources also provide best practices for virtualization in health care IT and advanced use cases for server virtualization technology.

What are the benefits of server virtualization in health care IT?

Virtual servers eliminate the need to run individual applications on separate physical servers, which can bring many benefits. With this physical server consolidation, health care organizations can save data center space, reduce power and cooling costs and even improve utilization rates in Citrix Systems and Microsoft Terminal Server farms. Health care IT departments can also increase efficiency by moving desktops and user-facing applications to virtualized platforms.

How should a health care organization implement server virtualization technology?

Planning is the key to successfully implementing a virtual server environment. Serious complications can arise if a health care IT infrastructure doesn’t have enough memory, CPU and other resources to support server virtualization technology. The organization must also clearly identify which applications to virtualize and which will stay on physical servers. And additional security is a must for systems that handle patient information.

What are some best practices for using virtualization in health care IT?

Health care IT best practices change regularly, so it’s good to be flexible when working with server virtualization technology. To maximize your options in the changing health care IT market, buy standard hardware and virtual systems that have the greatest compatibility with your applications. And never try to force virtualization on an application, especially one that’s critical to patient care.

How does server virtualization technology affect disaster recovery?

Server virtualization technology can automate and hasten much of the disaster recovery process. But it’s far from a wonder drug. In health care IT, a virtualized disaster recovery strategy must adhere to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and some organizations are required to follow the Payment Card Industry and Joint Commission standards as well. HIPAA alone calls for organizations to maintain three separate plans related to disaster recovery.

How does application compatibility affect the use of virtualization in health care IT?

Independent software vendors (ISVs) in health care IT are among the most reluctant to support server virtualization technology. Virtualizing applications can bring many benefits, but these vendors have just as many reasons not to do it: They cite regulations, or they tie their software to specific hardware, or some just haven’t tried to virtualize their applications yet. But there are ways to solve this problem, which is sometimes referred to as ISV stall.

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