Part I

Sphere 3D Guest Blog, by Mark Watts, VP Healthcare Solutions Innovations at Novarad

A paraphrase of Ted Turner’s quote “When you’re little, you have to do crazy things. You just can’t copy the big guys. To succeed you have to be innovative” is our mantra on how to succeed in the Health Information Technology Industry.  Novarad, a partner of Sphere 3D, has the DNA of an innovator. In fact, it has been a leader in health IT for over 20 years.  During this time, both IT and health care have changed incredibly.  Let us start with healthcare itself, which, from a patient’s perspective, has gotten faster, simpler and more distributed. Consider that 20 years ago, a patient might experience a 10-inch incision during an operation, whereby they would recover for five days in a hospital bed downtown in a big city.  Today, the operation can be conducted with a long wire and tube and a small incision.  Oftentimes, today’s procedures only require a local anesthetic and an hour later the patient walks out to their car, which is in the parking lot of a surgery center that’s five miles from the patient’s home in any town or suburb.  That’s distributed and it is a miracle. 

IT has mirrored this change with compute moving from our desk to the mobile phones that go with us everywhere (have you seen the iPhone that went to outer space in a balloon, recording a video the whole way?).  Yet, IT in health care has had a hard time keeping pace.  We still have desktop Computers On Wheels, or COWS.  A doctor or nurse may need to go to three or four different devices to get all the information needed for a patient and it’s all done on the fly, sometimes with a person’s life in the balance. 

Here at Novarad, we are keen on the innovative distribution of information because our software is focused on radiology which literally creates information about the body (x-rays and scans) and distributes it to care providers.  Our customer and their customers, the patients, have gone distributed and the hardware that now exists has gone distributed.  Why is it so hard for the software, and the apps to also be distributed? 

Almost every ISV faces this problem today.  The hardware is distributed because many different companies have created devices running on many different operating systems: laptops on Windows, Surface tablets, iPads, Android tablets, Chromebooks, etc.  For health care ISVs and previously for Novarad, this meant the need to create a new version of software for every device or choosing not to support that device at all.

Another more immediate problem has been the management of numerous physical desktops.  Our apps are used at over 1000 health care institutions.  Never mind getting our software out on other devices, we had to support our app on Windows desktops that continually got older and were upgraded with updates and newer OS versions.  In addition, we had to field the problems that came up from time to time, not on our app, but the OS and desktop itself. 

Novarad was tired of this process of continually modernizing legacy applications and upgrading infrastructure silos only to discover additional application and budget constraints.  At one point, years, ago, we thought alternative virtualization solutions might be a cure all.  The theory was we could virtualize our apps on a server and project the pixels to any device.  Unfortunately, health care apps are some of the most complex known to man.  Imagine the complexity of a database that tries to catalogue the human body with all its exceptions and uses various pieces of hardware (GPU, sound card, multiple displays, etc.).  We found that our own flagship app, NovaPACS (our Picture Archive and Communication System for radiology images and videos) also did not virtualize well.  Note that you can say the same thing about over 35 percent of the apps used by health care institutions today.  We found that virtualization solutions either could not virtualize some apps at all or took days or weeks of expensive professional services to package the app.  Even then, the heavily modified app would run at such a low server density (can you believe 1 user per server in some cases?) that it was uneconomical. 

Our solution to this problem came from a chance meeting between our president and Sphere 3D representatives during HIMMS in 2014.  The Sphere 3D people talked about their solution.  The marketing pitch was the same as any of the other virtualization vendors.  But, when we asked how long it would take to virtualize NovaPACS, instead of telling us to schedule a long, expensive session with their professional services group months later, they just simply asked us to bring the executable file.  Upon receipt, it took just twenty minutes to bring NovaPACS to life in virtual form using Sphere’s Glassware 2.0 application containerization protocol, and our president had the chance to use the app on his tablet and on an Xbox that Sphere 3D had brought to the tradeshow to emphasize the multi-faceted Glassware 2.0.  When the Sphere 3D team said Any Device, they meant Any Device.

It has taken us awhile.  All good new things do.  But we have finally figured out our business model.  Initially we were happy to solve the immediate problems we faced today but when we put our solution out in the world, we realized that other ISVs have the same problem. By owning the desktop and the app engine, we could provide these ISVs and health care institutions the same solution.  We provide the desktop (most health care users still require a Windows desktop) through Sphere 3D’s V3 Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) appliances and then use Glassware 2.0 to provide the difficult to virtualize apps which include NovaPACs.  However, we did not stop there.  Our customers asked us to virtualize other apps from other ISVs and we were able to do so in hours and at an acceptable user density per server.  These are apps that try to take all the memory of a physical server even when virtualized, apps that need custom drivers for hardware, apps that have hardwired paths to file folders, in short all the apps that typically do not work on hypervisor based virtualization platforms. 

All of a sudden, we had a much broader product than just PACS.  We were a means of providing virtualization of all apps for our customers.  NovaGlass was born.  NovaGlass provides a portal where a health care institutions’ users can access a Windows desktop, our NovaPACS and any other apps required by that user.  Here are some benefits:

Virtualize Windows Desktops.  We use Sphere 3D’s V3 VDI solution  to provide the desktops in the cloud for our customers, at a lower cost than traditional VDI solutions, and in any configuration required, private, public or hybrid and to any device.  It’s truly a have your cake and eat it too solution.

Virtualize Hard to Virtualize Apps.  We use Sphere 3D’s Glassware 2.0 to consolidate all apps for our customers onto one platform and to provide the apps in the cloud. This is a have your cake and eat it too solution.

The combination of the aforementioned benefits with a compelling, lower cost than alternative solutions, is truly exciting.  Novarad can single-handedly bring our customers into the cloud era with NovaGlass.

In the next part, I’ll share how NovaGlass can also help improve care by consolidating information on one screen and how NovaGlass can help create an AGILE development environment.

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