Software counters info overload with intelligent data management

May 18, 2004

A Canadian software developer is on a crusade of sorts, promoting awareness of data: their type and, more important, their value to diagnosticians. Fixed content storage, a requirement of PACS and other medical information systems because of the need to

A Canadian software developer is on a crusade of sorts, promoting awareness of data: their type and, more important, their value to diagnosticians. Fixed content storage, a requirement of PACS and other medical information systems because of the need to ensure the integrity of data, can exact a terrible premium if not done correctly. Vancouver-based Bycast wants to keep customers from paying that premium.

Typically, data storage schemes equate value with elapsed time. The most recent data are seen as the most valuable. Bycast executives consider this approach fundamentally flawed. They have developed an alternative-a concept based on information life cycle management, which assigns value according to the inherent diagnostic importance of data.

"The value of information is related not just to its age but to what it means," said Moe Kermani, Ph.D., president and CEO of Bycast. "By leveraging information about the data, you can infer how to manage them better."

A suspicious finding on a mammogram, for example, has greater diagnostic value than a negative one, as it will have a greater impact on the patient, triggering further diagnostic and possibly therapeutic actions. Consequently, this mammogram is more likely to be retrieved more often than one that shows no abnormalities.

Bycast has built this concept of intelligent data management into StorageGRID, its high-performance, grid-based software. It provides the fastest access to the most valuable data, while minimizing storage costs and simplifying data management. The savings in money can be substantial.

"Just look at the cost difference between tape and fast-spinning media," said Deanne Farrar, Bycast vice president of marketing. "High-performance media cost $50 to $90 per gigabyte. The same storage on tape costs pennies."

StorageGRID accomplishes intelligent data management through interfaces with existing PACS, DICOM-compatible imaging modalities, viewing stations, and applications. It runs on any hardware platform that uses the Linux operating system.

"We provide the customer with the flexibility to choose the platform on which they want to deploy," Kermani said.

Bycast markets its solutions through a direct sales force, as well as two OEM partners: Hewlett-Packard and IBM. Over the past year, the company has signed Mercy Hospital of Southern Florida, with cardiovascular, cancer, and orthopedic centers in one of the nation's largest healthcare systems; the Veterans Affairs Eastern Colorado Health Care System, which encompasses a major referral medical center, nursing home units, and seven community outpatient clinics in Colorado; and the British Columbia Cancer Agency, whose widespread cancer centers afford care to about four million Canadians.

The larger and more complex the IT network, the better suited it is to grid storage, Kermani said. The Bycast software is designed to adapt to changes in the network, assimilating new nodes while excluding ones that have been eliminated or replaced. With each change, the grid reassesses the network, optimizing performance to use the new resources. This sets the stage for storage capacity that can be expanded with new devices and can meet new data demands.

The distributed nature of grid storage provides built-in fail-safe protections. No single node failure can cause a system crash, because StorageGRID replicates data according to rules that distribute them across the grid. These rules allow hospitals to control the geographic location and number of data "replicas" to achieve the desired level of redundancy. If a node fails, image storage and access requests are rerouted to work around the failure.

The technology comes in three basic types. StorageGRID MultiSite supports multiple archives across multiple facilities, including those with limited bandwidth connectivity. StorageGRID Enterprise, as the name implies, offers an enterprise-wide medical image archive capable of handling millions of studies from as many medical disciplines as generate imaging studies. Endeavour Live is tailored for the storage and live transmission of full-motion ultrasound, fluoroscopy, and endoscopy exams throughout the enterprise and between geographically distributed healthcare facilities.

These solutions work with all types of storage hardware, matching the media to the type of data. Those of greatest importance, for example, would be stored on media such as fast-spinning hard drives, which provide the quickest access. Less valuable data are stored on the least expensive media. If certain data are in greater than anticipated demand, StorageGRID improves accessibility by automatically relocating them to a different node featuring faster storage media.

This capability, called SMARTStorage, involves "metadata" that describe the value of the imaging information. Some of these metadata are available in DICOM headers such as modality, body part, and time and date of the exam.

Other metadata may be input by hospitals using their own business rules about where to store what kinds of data and for how long. Rules might be written, for example, to store positive mammograms on fast-spinning disk media for 30 days, then move the data to less expensive long-term media. Chest CRs, however, might be retained for 45 days on fast disk before being transferred to less costly storage.

These rules, whether DICOM-based or tailored to the institution, make StorageGRID aware of the value of the data. The need for such intelligent management will only grow in the future, Kermani said.