University-based Medical System Innovates Healthcare with Hybrid Cloud IT

Christian Aboujaoude, associate CIO and the CTO of Keck Medicine at USC, explains how hyperconverged infrastructure and a roadmap for working across multiple clouds leads to better healthcare services.

By Tom Mangan

By Tom Mangan November 14, 2022

Christian Aboujaoude’s philosophy of healthcare technology boils down to four words: Serve people, not purposes.

Aboujaoude is the associate chief information officer and chief technology officer at Keck Medicine of USC (University of Southern California). His IT responsibilities include four hospitals and more than 40 clinics across five Southern California counties with more than 15 million people. His hybrid multicloud environment – their own data center with private and public cloud services – supports clinicians, patients, administrators and everybody else who makes modern healthcare possible in his hospital system. 

Sticking to a simple principle is anything but easy. It’s only natural for IT people to focus on the purpose of technology — such as making operations more efficient, resilient and compliant


Keck Medicine’s Simplified Hybrid Multicloud IT Keeps Focus on People

Meanwhile, new software solutions flood the market every year. Cybercriminals dream up new ways to invade the healthcare provider’s IT environment and extract dollars from data. IT decisions pile up daily: are applications and data running optimally in the right place on premises and in the cloud?

Discussions about the cost of health data technologies are often necessary, but for Aboujaoude the focus always shifts back to enabling care providers to save lives.

Hyperconverged Infrastructure (HCI) for Healthcare

Keck’s IT systems rely on hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI), which uses software to emulate the hardware functions of a conventional three-tiered data center (networking, storage and computing). The example of HCI helps Aboujaoude build his point about putting people before purposes in technology.


Moving Mission-Critical Electronic Health Records to Hyperconverged Infrastructure

He recalls that his industry eagerly embraced HCI because it allows so much flexibility. There’s no need to bring in technicians to install hardware and connect cables. Virtualized hardware can be spun up and down in a few minutes, which rapidly accelerates software development timelines. Hypervisor software makes it easy to manage hybrid multicloud environments without ever powering up a rack of servers.

Hardware Virtualization Keeps Focus on People

And yet, Aboujaoude notes, IT teams still seem focused on the purpose of HCI: virtualizing hardware operations. He contends it’s wiser to focus on the human need that HCI satisfies – simplifying and streamlining IT architecture to improve patient care.

“A lot of organizations still use HCI in a tiered model, which is actually incorrect,” he told The Forecast by Nutanix.

He said they may have a network team, a hardware team and a SAN team when they may be better off merging these teams to get the best performance from their HCI environment — and better serve the people who depend on it.


Data Deluge Keeps Healthcare CIOs Up at Night

Aboujaoude believes IT teams need a well-thought-out roadmap for navigating the twists and turns of software-based architecture and hybrid multicloud systems. Mapping things out, in turn, helps shift the perspective from purpose to people. 

Building an HCI Roadmap

Aboujaoude laments that for all the promise of HCI flexibility and efficiency, IT operations remain fragmented and perplexing, especially amid the rise of hybrid and multi-cloud environments.

“With the proliferation of cloud services, there hasn't been a clear roadmap for the transition from HCI to the cloud and the tie-ins back and forth,” he said.


4 Steps Healthcare IT Can Take to Hybrid Cloud

Designing HCI roadmaps for shifting workloads back and forth from cloud to on-prem could make life much easier for healthcare IT teams.

“That's something that I would love to see change in the industry going forward,” Aboujaoude added.

With a roadmap, IT environments can have lighter workloads and greater simplicity.

“Look at applications we’re bringing into the healthcare industry nowadays,” Aboujaoude said. “I'd say easily 85 to 90% of them are service-driven applications living in the cloud.”

Nobody is standing up hardware to serve these applications, but IT teams are still using on-prem resources to manage everything.

Aboujaoude urges IT leaders to analyze the service-driven requirements in their environment and tie them into their HCI platform.

“So, you're not building monolithic environments to support the application, but instead you’re transitioning to a compartmentalized, service-based approach to delivering technology to your clients,” he said.

An HCI roadmap makes that possible.

“It gives you the ability to scale and to tie into other functionalities from cloud services to help push this technology to its limits,” said Aboujaoude.

Hyperconverged Infrastructure Makes Healthcare IT Intuitive

Aboujaoude notes that HCI platforms are similar to cloud services because they move technology operations into the background, which is what users intuitively want. Thanks to automation and intelligent algorithms, all sorts of things happen that nobody worries about as long as they get the performance they need.

“The mindset is easier because once again, you focus on impacts to the user,” Aboujaoude said. “And rather than trying to worry so much about the nuts and bolts, you tend to get closer to a positive outcome.”


Moving Healthcare IT Faster Into the Future

This is exactly what Keck Medicine’s clinical users need to help heal their patients.

HCI and hybrid multicloud tools can require a substantial mindset shift for people who have devoted years of their careers to infrastructure technology stacks. But Aboujaoude believes making the shift will pay off for both technologists and their clients. Environments get easier to manage because IT people spend less time fretting over repetitive technical minutiae and more time putting their computing skills to work on solving human problems.

That can only help the medical industry transition toward improving health outcomes and providing more proactive, personalized care.

HCI for Managing On-Premises and SaaS Applications

For Aboujaoude, HCI and the cloud give him the adaptability to reshape his IT systems to fit his needs. Thus, he suggests it’s time to retire the notion of square pegs and round holes in technology systems.

“Think of the hole as being elastic, so its shape doesn’t even matter anymore,” he said. 

“Build an IT environment that can adjust to whatever peg shape you're trying to put into it.”


Validated Way for Moving Between Private Data Centers and Public Cloud

HCI and cloud services give Aboujaoude the freedom to build an elastic cloud presence that can adjust to both SaaS applications and traditional, on-prem operations. And this perspective naturally dovetails with the principle of putting people before purpose.

“My purpose is not to build an HCI or a cloud environment,” he said. “My purpose is to implement an environment that meets multiple needs.”

That helps the people who use Keck Medicine’s technology every day. And it propels their efforts to help humans stay healthy.

“We continue to push the limit on providing the most advanced, most supportive, most connected care we possibly can to our patients,” Aboujaoude concluded. “Because at the end of the day, our mission is simply to take care of those who need our help. 

Everything we do supports that mission and nothing else.”

Learn more about the Nutanix Cloud Platform and how Nutanix software can help healthcare providers.

Tom Mangan is a contributing writer. He is a veteran B2B technology writer and editor, specializing in cloud computing and digital transformation. Contact him on his website or LinkedIn.

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