Private PaaS offerings: Benefits, challenges, best practices and more
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In recent years, Platform as a Service has gained traction with companies that want to build new software without having to configure and provision the underlying infrastructure. Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc. reports that the Platform as a Service (PaaS) market is growing quickly, on pace to reach $2.9 billion in 2016. One industry where the future of PaaS looks especially bright: healthcare IT.
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As part of AmerisourceBergen Specialty Group -- which serves more than 40,000 healthcare providers with logistics and technology solutions -- Burlington, Mass.-based IntrinsiQ provides software to automate every aspect of medical oncology, from treatment decisions to drug prescriptions. For IntrinsiQ, the challenges of delivering software to a growing number of clinics came to a head about two years ago. "One of the big problems for us was, when you're going to install software in a thousand practices, there's overhead," said Steve Hamann, vice president of technology at InstrinsiQ.
At the time, IntrinsiQ was an 80-person company with traditional on-premises software in place across Canada and the U.S. The software itself -- which includes an oncology-specific order-entry system -- was weighing on the company's budget. The cost of long-term software maintenance added to the financial burden.
What InstrinsiQ needed, Hamann said, was a single-instance, multi-tenant application to drive down the expense of software, reduce barriers to entry, and cut the cost of long-term maintenance. The problem? The company knew nothing about multi-tenancy, or about how to write the underlying layers that would allow them to build a cloud-based application.
As IntrinsiQ began its hunt for a software solution, security was the top consideration -- HIPAA regulations require state-of-the-art security for patient information. "We're a healthcare-IT company, [so] there's an acute awareness of information sensitivity," Hamann said. "If you come in selling public cloud, most doctors will immediately show you the door."
The organization headed for private cloud.
Choosing the right cloud solution for healthcare IT
Both PaaS and Infrastructure as a Service, or IaaS, were new terms at the time, and IntrinsiQ began with a look at Software as a Service, or SaaS, offerings. After attending conferences, conducting internal research, and even experimenting with software developer's kits downloaded from the Web, the company settled on a private PaaS solution.
The real growth area for us was deployment infrastructure.
Steve Hamann, vice president of technology, IntrinsiQ
"[We did] our own due diligence about what was out there in the marketplace," Hamann said. "We heard a lot from companies [saying], 'We have offshore consultants that will do it for you.'"
Clifton Park, N.Y.-based Apprenda offered a good balance between giving IntrinsiQ control over the application's design and taking on the heavy lifting, Hamann said. IntrinsiQ would write the oncology-focused application; Apprenda would handle such back-end tasks as multi-tenancy, security, provisioning and deployment. This allowed IntrinsiQ's team of oncology software experts to focus on the application itself, leaving the Apprenda PaaS to deal with cloud architecture concerns.
"We didn't have to train our current staff to learn all of these things, [like we would have] if we tried to do it from scratch," Hamann said. "Being a Microsoft shop ourselves, having a heavy investment in everything .NET and SQL Server, we were looking at an Apprenda solution that was providing that layer of services that we knew little about."
Even so, Hamann said, it has been relatively easy for IntrinsiQ's own developers to tackle the private PaaS learning curve. "We feel like Apprenda has very little vendor tie-in, so there isn't anything specific you have to learn that's unique to Apprenda," he explained. "I've rolled brand-new developers onto the project since then. The team has grown. It takes them very little training to become productive."
IntrinsiQ -- which has a customer base of more than 700 oncology clinics -- went live with the first version of the cloud-based application in 2012. Oncology clinicians now use it when they treat patients in a clinical setting.
The company has yet to roll out the new application for all its clients, though. That's because healthcare is a slow-moving space, according to Hamann. It can be difficult to get clinicians on board with new technology. "One of the things that is challenging for us right now is that we do have two business models going on -- on-premises and the new way," he said.
Still, in the clinics where on-premises software has been replaced, Hamann already sees big value in the private PaaS. "The real growth area for us was deployment infrastructure," he said. That includes provisioning servers for tests, firewalls and instances. Hamann also noted that IntrinsiQ has been able to lower pricing, making its software more affordable for small oncology clinics with tight budgets.
Editor's note: Reporting for this story was contributed by Adam Riglian.
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