Modular data centres – unlocking the true power of digitalisation in healthcare With the health service in the grips of a tech revolution, Leo Craig, Riello UPS general manager, outlines how what at first glance appears to be an upcycled shipping container can help hospital facilities managers harness the full processing power of edge computing At a time when the NHS treats a million patients every 36 hours, digitalisation promises to help ease the almost unbearable burden on our health and social care services. In a world where smartphones and sensors are becoming ubiquitous, apps, wearables, and other technologies are rapidly changing how the healthcare system operates. Video consultations or artificial intelligence‑led chatbot apps are now often a patient’s first port of call. Wearables and connected devices have huge potential to help the 18 million-plus people in the UK living with a long-term ailment monitor and manage their condition. AI trialled by the team at John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford is improving the diagnosis of heart disease, while robots assist with thousands of operations every year. Away from the front line, the British Medical Association states trainee doctors spend 15 per cent of their day on admin, while the Royal College of Nursing estimates non-essential paperwork accounts for a fifth of nursing time. ‘Virtual assistants’ are automating tasks such as appointment booking, sending out reminders, or composing patient letters to ease the load. And there’s the digitalisation of medical records to consider, along with the new Health and Social Care Network (HSCN) decentralised ‘network of networks’ designed to enable NHS bodies across England to freely share information between each other. This increasing reliance on technology and digital information puts data centres firmly at the heart of the NHS, constantly storing and processing reams of information. But it means those data centres might need to change too. To truly reap the rewards of digital transformation, the petabytes of data produced by all these sensors, connected devices, systems, and equipment need real-time processing. However, sending information to an enterprise data centre or the cloud, processing it, then returning it back just doesn’t cut the mustard when every millisecond matters. Every 1,000 kilometres is said to add a minimum delay of 10 milliseconds per roundtrip,
nothing to the human eye but practically a lifetime in terms of modern computer speed. As AI, machine learning, and automation take on increasingly complex tasks, depending on data connections potentially hundreds or thousands of miles away will inevitably lead to a processing logjam. Think of the potentially catastrophic consequences – essential equipment stops working, robots are fractionally out of synch, highly-controlled pharmaceutical production runs producing life-saving drugs ruined in an instant… Sending vast sums of information far and wide takes up costly bandwidth and poses significant cybersecurity and data protection challenges too. Finding answers at the edge So what’s the solution? Consider mobile
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phones. There isn’t just a single aerial which we’re all connected to. There are around 40,000 mobile phone masts spread across the UK, with the majority placed in densely populated areas where the most users are. Rather than transporting data all the way to the data centre, why not bring the data centre closer to where the information’s generated in the first place? That’s what edge computing is – ‘local’ data centres that meet the desire for low latency processing. The information doesn’t need to be transferred back and forth so less bandwidth is required, while it also minimises the threat of the data being hacked or corrupted. Inevitably this requires a completely different infrastructure to the archetypal sprawling data farm chock-full of server racks and IT equipment.