Cloud computing has come a long way across various phases. Clients can utilize web-based tools or applications through a web browser just as if they were programs installed locally on their own computer. Healthinformatics the wiki of Florida State University says "The term 'cloud' was coined as a metaphor for the Internet which originated from cloud figures representing telephone networks, then later followed by depicting Internet infrastructures in computer network maps/diagrams."
Going back in time, we had the grid and utility computing, the application service provision (ASP), and then Software as a Service (SaaS). However, if you look back, the true concept of delivering computing resources through a global network is really rooted in the 60s. In the year 1969, J.C.R. Licklider through his article Intergalactic computer Network enabled the development of ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network). He seemed to project a vision that everyone on the globe be interconnected and access programs and data at any site. Others give credit to computer scientist John McCarthy who proposed the idea of computation being delivered as a public utility.
Since the 60s, cloud computing has evolved over a timeline. Web 2.0 being the most recent evolution. Point to note here is, the Internet only started to offer a significant bandwidth in the nineties. Hence cloud computing for everyone has been something of a recent development. If you have to trace a timeline it looks somewhat like this:
1999 - Salesforce.com (delivering enterprise applications via a simple website)
2002 - Amazon Web Services (providing a suite of cloud-based services including storage, computation and even human intelligence)
2006 - Amazon Elastic Compute cloud EC2 (allowing small companies and individuals to run their own computer applications on a commercial web service)
2007 - Google Docs (Web-based office suite, and data storage service)
There are several other factors that have enabled cloud computing to evolve. These include the virtualization technology, universal high-speed bandwidth, and established standards of universal software interoperability.
Increased storage, flexibility / scalability, and cost reduction are some of the valuable benefits that can be derived, as the prospect that almost anything can be delivered from the cloud, becomes more and more a reality. However security, data privacy, network performance and economics are still concerns that are being addressed through various models of cloud platform delivery such as the Private Cloud, Public Cloud, as well as the Hybrid Cloud solutions.
This brings us to Cloud's footprints into Healthcare. While, as we have seen above, cloud computing has been around for decades. Hospitals and healthcare systems only recently began to adopt the flexibility, interoperability and affordability of cloud technologies, especially as they implement plans to utilize the federal government's $20 billion-plus Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) financial incentive programs.
The cloud computing model is very well suited to healthcare applications due to the volume and varied sources of information, that is necessary to be accessed quickly and from any location. After all you have lives at stake. Whether it is for maintaining health records, monitoring of patients, collaboration with peers, prescribing medication, even analysis of data, we will see more and more of healthcare tapping into the cloud. With more attention on the security aspects of Cloud, compliance to Data Privacy standards, advanced interoperability and data sharing, and with a proper DR in place, the cloud can have a real positive impact on Healthcare.