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Azure NetApp Files: HIPAA for SLED & FED

Big data is the future of healthcare, and the public cloud is one of healthcare's most significant enablers. Electronic Medical Records (EMRs) and Picture Archiving and Communication Systems (PACS) support research, education, detection, and treatment, while enhancing the experience of both patients and practitioners. The ability to share patient data between medical parties around the world can help thwart epidemics and pandemics, treat and cure diseases, trace and predict medical phenomena, support research and genomics, and train the medical practitioners of tomorrow.

But big data means big responsibility; it also means big opportunity—especially when you move big data from on-premises to the cloud. The good news is that organizations can now have their data cake and their compliance too. Sensitive patient data protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is now covered under the Microsoft BAA, having undergone audits conducted by accredited independent auditors for the Microsoft ISO/IEC 27001 certification.

“[In] our country and most other countries, the policymakers are struggling with and have prioritized the question, of ‘How do you deliver great care for a lower amount of annual health care spending?’ It’s a universal aspiration.”

- Stanford Faculty

To fully realize the benefits of big data, government and educational organizations that handle protected health information (PHI) require the safety, high-speed, and high performance of Azure NetApp Files. Azure NetApp Files can enable government and educational associations to meet, and exceed, their organizational goals as they shift sensitive patient data and critical infrastructure to the cloud, securely and on budget. Business continuity in the face of the coronavirus now adds a sense of immediacy to this necessity.

“Business continuity is one of the foundational value pillars that made me such a big fan of desktop virtualization,” says my friend Robin Brandl, Vice President of Strategic Alliances at CloudJumper, a NetApp Partner. Organizations are looking for ways to enable virtual workspaces rapidly and securely, in an affordable manner. Azure NetApp Files, with its ability to scale up quickly, is the solution they need. 

(To read more about business continuity in the face of the coronavirus and other disaster recovery scenarios, check out Robin’s blog). 

What is HIPAA Protecting?

PHI is highly sought after. In 2019, in the United States, 510 healthcare data breaches of 500 or more records were reported, which represents a 196 percent increase from 2018. Also, in 2019, 37.47 percent more records were breached than in 2018, increasing from 13,947,909 to 41,335,889 files. Healthcare records contain patient health and identification data that can’t be easily altered or deleted—but patient medical records include high-value personal information, such as:

  • Patient name
  • Addresses
  • Contact information
  • Social security number
  • Biometric data
  • Diagnosis information
  • Medical and X-ray images
  • Facial recognition imagery and unique identification characteristics
  • Named beneficiaries
  • Account numbers and licensing information

That’s why the secure storage and protection of this data is crucial, and why governance like HIPAA exists. The good that can come from big data in healthcare far outweighs the negative, especially when you have a highly secure cloud storage solution like Azure NetApp Files protecting it.

Azure NetApp Files solves performance and security challenges for organizations that want to move mission-critical applications to the cloud, including:

  • HPC: High-performance computing at higher speeds than on premises
  • SAP: Certified for SAP as well as HIPAA
  • Linux: NFS and SMB file shares need zero code modifications to move to the cloud
  • Window Virtual Desktop (WVD):  Delivers a seamless user experience across any device
  • Oracle and SQL Server Workloads: Accessibility without latency
  • Electronic medical records
  • PACS/VNA: Vendor Neutral Archives consolidate and standardize images from different PACS into a single interoperable repository
  • File share workloads
  • Research/Genomics

A pioneering technology, Azure NetApp Files is jointly engineered by Microsoft and NetApp: a solution that is redefining cloud file capabilities across every sector—and now, with PHI protected by HIPAA covered under the Microsoft BAA, it can be a game changer for the healthcare industry which, in turn, can be a game changer for our health.      

A Timely Distinction for Azure NetApp Files

At a time when bacteria pose a more significant threat to the population than bombs, using cloud technology could be what saves the world. When Bill Gates “was a kid, the disaster [he] worried about most was a nuclear war.” In a 2015 TED Talk, Gates said that “if anything kills over 10 million people in the next few decades, it’s most likely to be a highly infectious virus, rather than a war. Not missiles, but microbes.”

Jump ahead five years to 2020 and the coronavirus.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has made a significant investment—over $100 million—to the detection and treatment of the coronavirus, globally. Also, Bill Gates is funding a project for in-home testing kits for anyone in the Seattle area that fears they may be infected with the virus. According to USA Today, “Participants in the study will self administer a nose-swab and send the sample to health officials for testing. Medical experts will then notify those who test positive for the respiratory illness that has killed at least 3,000 people globally and sickened thousands.”

Here's the rub: Anyone who tests positive for the virus will be able to access an online form that tracks where they've been and who they've been in contact with. The USA Today report states that “the data collected will help officials track down those who may need to be tested or quarantined.”

With Gates backing the project, chances are that PHI will be collected in the HIPAA-friendly Microsoft Azure cloud. As academic healthcare organizations, universities, and research facilities close due to the coronavirus, governing bodies are scrambling to find ways to enable researchers to continue working. 

HIPAA-Certified Azure NetApp Files is Helping to Save Lives

“Those troves of information become the foundation for biomedical research…We are beginning to reconstruct the relationship between genes and life and health in ways that are likely to be transformative.”

- Stanford Faculty

Using the cloud to store big data won't save lives, but  researchers' ability to better connect and collaborate through secure high-speed environments will. The cloud creates an "ecosystem" for researchers to store, replicate, and manipulate data, allowing for large-scale global collaboration. Dr. Eddy Rubin, Chief Science Officer at Metabiota, says, “Outbreaks are like fires. If you’re able to understand where there is a greater likelihood of their occurring and detect them early on, you can shift the impact.”

Azure NetApp Files empowers medicine. As fast as a virus can spread, researchers can disseminate information about the cure.

To find out how Azure NetApp Files can soothe your data ailments and keep you PHI healthy, visit

Director, Sales and Business Development Azure Business Group