The following is the first installment of a four-part blog on Vendor Neutral Archives (VNAs).
I often find myself in conversations with casual observers of VNA, (not VNA geeks like myself), who have a general notion of the technology, which can be summarized simply as a ‘place where we store our images.' While this is fundamentally true, it’s important to peel back layers of the onion and explore why VNA is such an important place to store ‘things,’ and in the process perhaps explain why the VNA adoption trend continues in full force.
Addressing the Sins of PACS
When VNA first entered our vernacular over a decade ago, the concept was fairly straightforward. PACS archives were chock-full of 'the sins of PACS,' which implied all kinds of scary things, not universally true to every PACS, but generally true across the industry – things such as lack of interoperability, proprietary technologies and/or proprietary extensions of the DICOM standard to name but a few. This left organizations feeling let down by their PACS vendors while wondering who really owned their data. VNAs were born to solve these issues, starting with a much stronger commitment to standards, and most importantly, standards-based interoperability.
In the beginning, vendor neutrality was a general reference to PACS. In a nutshell, VNAs made it so PACS was more of a transient layer in the overall application stack for diagnostic imaging. Now, with VNAs, organizations have the ability to choose the latest and greatest PACS with much more agility, frequency and far less risk. The PACS decision is no longer a 10+ year commitment for the CIO, nor is it a choice that can make-or-break a career. In essence, VNA provided insulation from PACS.
The VNA Value
As VNAs have matured and evolved, the concept of vendor neutrality has also expanded. When considering a VNA, organizations should expect a much broader concept of vendor neutrality. For example, storage technology 'lock in' should be a concept of the past. Organizations should not be forced to fall behind on storage due to their VNA or PACS providers not keeping up with the latest and greatest storage technologies and trends. A modern VNA should include a rich storage abstraction layer making it easy for the VNA (and hence the customer) to embrace new storage technologies quickly, also providing a level of vendor neutrality from the storage provider.
Lastly, and perhaps counter-intuitively, a mature VNA will provide a platform with a suite of tools so that organizations are vendor neutral - even from the VNA vendor. Expect your VNA provider to offer do-it-yourself (DIY) tools so that you are not constantly dependent on them to provide nickel and dime services any time you want to do something such as swap out storage, migrate legacy data from other systems, bring on new facilities, etc. They should even provide the ability to migrate away from them if you decide it’s time to part ways for any reason.
It’s amazing to think of how far we’ve come in just a few short years. Vendor neutrality began as a general reference to PACS, but has evolved into a much broader concept giving organizations much more agility, flexibility, ownership, and risk reduction than ever before.
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