The healthcare industry moves at high levels of speed to provide proficient, excellent care to its patients. To effectively achieve the industry’s goal of excellence, research is always taking place seeking cures to cancers and other catastrophic diseases.
For these vital pursuits, qualified medical teams require superior infrastructures, networks and technology solutions to deliver their quality medical services.
Edge is currently working with several major healthcare providers connecting these facilities with high bandwidth capabilities so they can provide top-quality healthcare. These providers also value ongoing access to Edge’s regular production enterprise network.
“The technology tools and solutions provide highly available, high performing connections to mission-critical service partners that healthcare providers work with today, such as service providers and cloud providers who connect to the industry via the Internet,” said Bruce Tyrrell, Edge’s Associate Vice President of Programs and Services.
Partnering with the Healthcare Industry
In 2018, Edge attracted interest from a number of providers in the healthcare market. Research hospitals have been the most interested in Edge’s technology solutions, as the researchers require high bandwidth, low latency network resources to move their large data sets. The groups also need access to high performance computing resources to advance their research initiatives.
“The major driver for the increase in partnerships with the healthcare industry is the need for collaboration for the purposes of research, as many of the healthcare corporations are institutions who are adding researchers,” Tyrrell said. “Medical facilities are adding these capabilities to their institutions for the purposes of advancing research and, interestingly, many of these individuals are making their way to healthcare organizations via a very interesting path – higher education institutions.”
One of the reasons for the collaboration between healthcare and Edge is how the partnership provides high levels of security to the hospitals. The research infrastructure is also highly reliable because an undependable network could have life-threatening consequences in the realm of healthcare.
As more institutions move their infrastructure to the Cloud, the healthcare industry has also found it necessary to partner with providers like Edge, an organization that recognizes and supports the critical nature of their needs and can provide highly reliable and secure access to essential technology resources.
“Security is necessary in all situations but especially within healthcare, whether it’s compliance with security and privacy regulations or avoiding attacks such as ransomware or phishing attempts,” Tyrrell said.
The Edge Advantage for Healthcare
Healthcare’s interest in Edge was driven by the industry’s continued focus on research. Tyrrell said several of the larger healthcare providers in New Jersey began expanding their research efforts in the state and in doing so brought new researchers into their organizations. Some of these researchers came from higher education institutions, and these individuals have an expectation for ready access to high performing connections and certain technology solutions.
“Needs like high bandwidth, high availability connectivity drove the healthcare industry to look to Edge to access both Internet2 and other regional research centers and research networks,” Tyrrell said.
Internet2 is a strategic partner with Edge and provides numerous resources to Edge’s healthcare members. The member-driven advanced technology community provides a collaborative environment where research and education organizations can gain innovative solutions in support of their educational research and community-service missions.
“These same drivers are found within Edge and why we find this an ideal partnership,” Tyrrell said.
The Internet2 organization was initially developed from the need to move research traffic off the commercial commodity Internet, Internet1. When this change took place, there still existed a demand for high bandwidth, low latency connections to enable research. Internet2 was built for the specific purpose of enabling interconnectivity among research collaborators and a major reason for why healthcare providers find Internet2 of significant value.
Extremely large data sets are being developed as a result of the research studies currently in progress at hospitals, and collaborators require the secure, high bandwidth, low latency connection to transfer the data in a reasonable amount of time. The time frame is critical in advancing research initiatives that could eventually save someone’s life.
“Research is demanding connectivity to regional research networks where they work and collaborate with other researchers around the country in a highly available, high bandwidth manner,” Tyrrell said.
He also said that high performance computing and compute as a service is becoming increasingly more important to researchers. Technologies like containerization and interactive data science utilizing platforms like FIONA (Flash I/O Network Appliance) require access to high performance networking. These high bandwidth low latency connectivity platforms become critical to researchers accomplishing their missions.
“Edge is an enabler of connectivity to these types of resources,” Tyrrell said.
Edge provides its members with a variety of last mile options to both Internet2 and other regional research networks, advancing not only the research efforts but also supporting requirements that enable access to funding from sources like the National Science Foundation. Edge’s research infrastructure was designed to provide access to these extremely high performance technology solutions and support the vital work being conducted via research.
Telemedicine is another example of a healthcare-related endeavor requiring a robust cyber infrastructure, which can be accomplished with Edge. Telemedicine applications require the high performance network connectivity with low latency highly reliable connections for precise testing and interactivity.
The hardware and systems need secure connections to provide high resolution video and pictures for the diagnosis of diseases in interactive two-way video conferencing. When done correctly, a patient can reach out and interact with a doctor whether the visit occurs from a hospital or from home.
“All of these activities are critical to telemedicine and relying on best effort connectivity via the commodity Internet is really not an option for these services,” Tyrrell explained.
Use of Dark Fiber Environment
The enabler for healthcare research that requires high bandwidth connections is the use of dark fiber, which connects the healthcare providers to the Edge network and subsequently enables Edge to increase the bandwidth as demand grows from the provider. The process doesn’t involve additional costs for either the provider or Edge.
Tyrrell explained how dark fiber is the predominant connectivity methodology in use for Edge members. Another option for high bandwidth connections, such as 10 gigabit Internet from last-mile service providers, is yet another example of how connectivity is enabled between research providers. Regardless of the chosen methodology, the ramp-up or onboarding process requires commitment and patience.“
The ordering process for a provider is relatively short but it can take 120 calendar days or more to install services, depending on where the provider’s physical network is located,” he said. “The dark fiber environment can require actual physical builds of fiber between the existing infrastructure and the healthcare customer’s location.”
The process from the service order to service delivery depends on the healthcare provider requirements. One of Edge’s most recent projects with a provider included an IT staff unfamiliar with research networking and with Internet2. Encountering IT teams that are unfamiliar with research networking is not uncommon in many industries. Fortunately in this example, Edge staff provided expertise, awareness and support throughout the process, explaining resources and what tools researchers would need to efficiently complete their tasks.
Part of the reason for the learning curve is the IT organization of a healthcare provider is generally focused on providing services to their end-users in an enterprise environment. These services have significant security requirements in the hospital network environment.
“Healthcare providers are used to dealing with commercial commodity providers for their external connectivity such as connectivity to the Internet,” he said. “Some of these healthcare providers haven’t been exposed to research networking and possibly haven’t heard of Internet2 and the network’s mission.”
Information is then provided to the IT department, sharing about Internet2 and why a researcher isn’t able to accomplish their tasks over a commercial Internet connection as opposed to what can be achieved in collaborative environments on secure research infrastructures.
Because Edge can provide an organization with a purpose-built network, their knowledge and expertise becomes a major selling point for healthcare institutions. These facilities also appreciate how Edge is member-driven and provides technology solutions via the consortium. Edge also designs, delivers and supports the membership, focusing on predominant requirements each client needs.
“Edge is not beholden to shareholders or anyone else that prioritizes profit from this connectivity or these networks over the needs of the members,” he said. “We are entirely focused on designing and delivering services that meet the member requirements as opposed to driving profit. We are as uniquely well qualified to provide these network services in healthcare as we are in higher education.”
Working with healthcare providers has provided Edge with another opportunity to provide innovative technology solutions for another facet of New Jersey.