October 12, 2018
Cloud computing enables the instant delivery of computing power, database storage space, IT applications and resources via the internet. The data is hosted on remote web servers rather than at a local server. One of the biggest advantages of cloud computing is the elimination of the need for setting up an IT infrastructure or employing IT personnel to monitor it.
Due to the ever-increasing amount of data generated by laboratories and the need to minimize expenses, cloud computing comes just in time. A Laboratory Information Management Systems (LIMS) provides relief from manual data management via paper-based notebooks or spreadsheets. The deployment of traditional on-premise LIMS involves expensive IT infrastructure and a team of people competent to handle the setup and maintenance of the servers. In order to minimize capex and save time and resources, vendors and developers started adopting cloud technology to host their LIMS, thus slowly but steadily revolutionizing the LIMS market. A cloud-based LIMS negates the requirement of IT resources. Most laboratories are now switching from a traditional LIMS to a SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) based LIMS hosted in the cloud. There are, however, a few checkpoints one needs to consider.
1. Cloud Provider and Hosting Options
Most cloud-based LIMS providers use SaaS as the delivery method with the product hosted in the cloud. As a laboratory considering to migrate their LIMS to the cloud, the knowledge about the various hosting options available can help to zero-in on an appropriate service provider. A cloud can be either a public cloud or a private cloud, with the main difference being that the responsibility of managing a public cloud lies with the provider. A public cloud can further be a single tenant or a multi-tenant cloud (where data from multiple clients are hosted on the same server). Making a choice of proceeding with a public, private, single or multi-tenant cloud is one of the most crucial things in the decision-making process.
2. Data Back-up and Recovery
Before employing any third-party cloud services, it is important to understand how they handle data backup and what backup mechanisms are in place. While many cost-effective technologies are available for quick data recovery, many providers still use outdated methods that might take days before your data is recovered.
3. Service Level Agreement and Business Continuity
A Service Level Agreement (SLA) is a contract between a service provider and the end-user. An SLA delineates the extent of the services to be expected from the service provider. It is very crucial for the laboratory to understand the terms of an SLA before moving their LIMS to the cloud via a third party service provider.
For any laboratory looking to migrate its data to the cloud, it is important to understand the security concerns associated with it. The foremost being the security of the data hosted on a remote server, geographically away from their own laboratories, cities or even at times, countries. Contrary to this popular belief, cloud computing is highly secure due to the fact that most security breaches are caused due to human errors. With limited human intervention, the chances of such errors are negligible.
To maintain data integrity, laboratories should be cognizant about the location of the remote servers, encryption and decryption techniques in place, how to recover original data in the event of a server breach, maintenance of a regular audit trail, and implementation of high-quality anti-virus software, etc.
5. Compliance Issues and Validation
There are a number of regulatory compliances in place when it comes to protection of sensitive patient or clinical data. As a laboratory, it is your responsibility to keep your data safe and ensure all validations are in place. Before moving to the cloud, it is important to ensure that the providers offer an environment that is compliant and secure. Most SaaS-based service providers handle the upgrades required for validation as a part of the services provided. It is still important to ask for documentation or some form of validation that substantiates adherence to various regulatory guidelines such as GLP, HIPAA, 21 CFR Part 11, CLIA, ISO:17025:2017 etc.
While moving to the cloud is the next big thing in terms of data management, a thorough analysis of the available options and proper addressing of the security concerns is a must before switching to a cloud-based LIMS. Additionally, it is worth evaluating if moving to the cloud is what the laboratory requires at that point in time.