Cloud Computing: Could It Save a Child’s Life? (Part 1 of 2)

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Cloud is often discussed in terms of its basic selling points for business: how much more efficient and productive it can make an organization. However, cloud computing is having a profound influence beyond business, on our way of life. In fact, this technology can save lives. Let’s look at its use in healthcare and how one children’s hospital is leveraging it.

  • Technology that Could be a Life-Saver
  • Power of Cloud in Medicine

 Technology that Could be a Life-Saver

Why is the technology of cloud computing so exciting? On a broad level, it’s great that businesses are better able to scale, use big data efficiently, and affordably access a highly secure and reliable infrastructure.

The cloud is based on a time-sharing model of computing that was popular decades ago, when people didn’t have their own computers. Now companies are increasingly realizing that the same model is preferable to conventional dedicated computing. What firms are able to achieve with the cloud is to share resources across many disparate businesses. That ends up saving money for everyone through economies of scale, notes cloud computing author David Linthicum. “The value of time share and the core value of cloud computing are pretty much the same,” he says, “only the resources these days are much better and more cost effective.”

However, the way in which cloud is really exciting is as something that can really alter our lives. It’s interesting to consider how the speed and agility of cloud could change the world. It’s powerful to realize it could possibly save a child’s life.

The cloud allows for more rapid development, better insights on your data, and more easily integrated access by multiple users (internal and potentially external to an organization). Furthermore, it also makes it possible for doctors and other researchers to set aside the challenge of establishing an infrastructure and simply get to work looking for stronger understandings of disease and new, better treatments.

Let’s look at the cloud in action: its implementation at Seattle Children’s Hospital.

Power of Cloud in Medicine

The incredible size and speed of cloud are making it simpler and more affordable for research teams to zero in on new treatments and pharmaceutical medications.

Assessing datasets that would previously have taken years and millions in funding now can be done almost immediately, via the elasticity of cloud (its ability to scale with you to meet your changing demand). “Companies can rent massive computer resources by the hour, and the cost is relatively little,” notes NPR. “The ability to analyze vast amounts of data in this way is changing lots of industries — including health care.”

Dr. Michael Cunningham, who heads the craniofacial center at the Seattle Children’s Hospital, works with infants whose skulls solidified too early. When that happens, a disease called craniosynostosis, the shape of the head becomes unusual and pressure within the skull is amplified. Pressure within the skull threatens the health of the brain.

Researchers had previously posited that craniosynostosis results from a problem in bone cells’ ability to talk with each other. However, Cunningham wanted to dig deeper on the cellular level. By running sophisticated analytic algorithms in the cloud, Cunningham and his colleagues were better able to pinpoint the qualities of cells that were common among these patients.

That was a major leap forward for the field. It’s essentially the first clue in terms of finding the root cause of this tragic condition, says Cunningham.

Knowing the cause in turn allows researchers to develop stronger treatments.

“Aided by cloud computing, researchers crunched, analyzed and sequenced massive amounts of information — something Cunningham could not have done on his own,” explains NPR, summarizing why the cloud is so popular. “It would have been far too expensive and taken too long.”

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Using an infrastructure-as-a-service provider to immediately access virtual cloud servers and adaptively get the resources they need at any given time, drug companies are able to operate as cost-effectively as possible.

That’s important to pharmaceutical firms because drug discovery is a huge building block of their industry. Single projects will sometimes require running an algorithm on tens of millions of different chemical compounds.

The reason cloud is so successful for these types of situations is similar to many other business scenarios. People want to be able to instantly access a massive influx of raw computer power, without setting up machines – almost like they are tapping into the IT grid. Of course people want to avoid worrying about purchasing equipment, storing it, cooling it, and providing its power. That’s a headache.

A typical project running through all that chemical information to gather insights lasts two or three hours and is not cost-prohibitive. In fact, the cost of cloud computing is one of its other main selling points. Referring to one chemical data project that ran through 21 million compounds, NPR notes that “if the company had tried to do this in-house, it would have had to spend millions on computers, and the job might have taken years to complete.”

 

>>> Go to Part 2

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