Microsoft opens up the cloud to sensitive healthcare data

Microsoft has officially opened two new data centres in Victoria and NSW for its Azure cloud platform, hoping to encourage organisations in the government and healthcare sectors to further adopt the cloud while easing concerns over data sovereignty.

The two new Azure Australia geographies bring to 19 the number of regions around the world with similar capacity. Each data centre can hold up to 600,000 servers.

Microsoft's executive vice president for cloud and enterprise, Scott Guthrie, characterised the capabilities of Azure as “hyper-scale, hybrid and enterprise grade”, with only Google and Amazon able to compete in terms of cloud capacity on a global scale.

Microsoft Australia managing director Pip Marlow said a number of industries had adopted the public cloud over the last few years, but certain sectors had historically shown a greater level of resistance.

“Financial services, financial information, healthcare – those areas have been historically ones that have had a higher level of risk management,” Ms Marlow said. “Bringing Azure into the country, where data sovereignty is in certain industries higher in the context of their risk management decision-making framework, is going to open the doors up ever more for customers taking advantage of savings and innovation models. I think it is going to be very positive.

Mr Guthrie said Azure had achieved a key milestone earlier this month when it successfully completed an assessment through the Information Security Registered Assessors Program (IRAP), an Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) initiative that provides the framework to endorse individuals from the private and public sectors to provide cyber security assessment services to Australian governments.

“The IRAP assessment basically provides assurance for any public sector customer, as well as the partners and ISVs that serve them, that Microsoft has appropriate security controls in place for the processing, storage and transmission of sensitive data for the Australian state governments as well as federal government healthcare, education and other data,” he said.

“Microsoft is the first and only public cloud provider based here in Australia that provides this level of security assurance in the Australian market.”

The importance of an assurance that data never leaves Australia was highlighted by several Microsoft customers at the official announcement in Sydney today, including audit and tax firm BDO, accountancy software provider MYOB and the market leading aged care clinical and management software vendor, iCareHealth.

Mr Guthrie said that for the smaller aged care providers that don't yet have an IT system locally, iCareHealth will be able to offer a cloud-based solution using Azure to provide a full set of IT solutions that can be purchased cost effectively.

“By having Azure here in Australia, not only does iCareHealth not have to worry about infrastructure and be able to stand it up, but they can also make sure that all of their healthcare data can always stay here in Australia and be able to satisfy any concerns around data movement,” he said.

iCareHealth's chief technology officer, Craige Pendleton-Browne, said the cloud removed the need to worry about infrastructure.

“It allows us to really concentrate on business innovation,” Mr Pendleton-Browne said. “You can run up as many instances as you like, you can experiment, you can try different things, and then when they work, you can bring them down very easily.

“With the launch here in Australia, one of the big issues we talk about is around data sovereignty, so having the services here [means] we can finally put our clients live in Australia. If you look at the smaller service providers out there who haven't been able to afford to have a solution, having Azure we can offer cloud hosting. The cost of doing that really does drive a whole new set of clients and a whole ability to drive a better service and deliver better care.”

Mr Pendleton-Browne said that currently, iCareHealth has been running all of its development and test environments in Azure but hosted in Singapore. “In order to go live with any of our clients, we would have do that here in Australia,” he said. “We have been waiting for this day before we can say 'here is a cloud-hosted solution'.”

iCareHealth's managing director Chris Gray said cloud-hosted IT solutions offered aged care clients the ability to improve clinical governance and remain financially viable.

“People talk about the ageing of the nation, but what it is really about is the complex needs that people are presenting with,” Mr Gray said. “You are not going to go in if you are lonely anymore. You are going in with high cases of dementia, very complex healthcare, end of life, and what that really means for aged care providers is that clinical governance becomes more important.

“The other thing is they have to be financially viable. They're the two things that are driving the aged care providers at the moment – the need for clinical governance and the need for financial stability – so they need to apply technology that is up to date but at a total lower cost.”

Mr Pendleton-Browne said cloud solutions will allow the company to move from what it is today, offering infrastructure as a service, to running a platform as a service.

“It allows us to drive quicker solutions, mobile solutions, where it would have been more difficult,” he said. “It's much simpler, much quicker.”

Microsoft also announced that in addition to bringing Azure to the region, it was also expanding its ExpressRoute networking support in Australia.

Mr Guthrie said Australian companies can now purchase dedicated fibre connectivity to Azure through data centre and co-location provider Equinix. Microsoft has also signed a new partnership with Telstra to automatically connect its data centres to Azure as well.

“We now provide a wide range of capabilities and solutions that enable you to connect any on-premises server or any on-premises data centre to the cloud,” he said. “You can now have a single identity system with Azure Active Directory that spans your on-premise applications and PC system but you can then also use it in the cloud to enable single sign-on to any [software as a service]-based solution and to any number and type of devices as well.

“With our new ExpressRoute networking service, you can basically ensure that all of your network traffic between your on-premise facilities and Azure runs over a dedicated, private network fibre that gives you total security as well as guaranteed, quality service.”

Posted in Australian eHealth

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