How SDN is Powering Next-Gen Healthcare Tech Innovation

woman looking at body imaging

Healthcare technologies have played a key role for practitioners and facilities in the never-ending push to increase the quality of patient care while saving time and streamlining operations. The Internet of Things (IoT), big data, and real-time analytics, coupled with wearable devices and other patient-centric technologies, have extended patient care beyond the four walls of traditional medical facilities and dramatically enhanced diagnosis and treatment. Additionally, electronic health records, digital imaging data, and pill dispensing systems are increasing the accuracy of patient care with fewer human errors.

In many cases, however, the growing role of technology in the medical field is putting an increasing burden on healthcare organizations' networks. Innovations in health tech can sometimes require so much bandwidth that they slow network performance, even to the point of ineffectiveness or disruption of operations and patient service. Meanwhile, an increasing focus on medical data security also has healthcare organizations looking for new ways to handle internal and external threats.

As a result, many organizations are moving to upgrade their networks to accommodate the technologies that are increasingly at the vanguard of healthcare. Indeed, software-defined networking (SDN) can be the bridge to help healthcare providers update their networks and avoid disruption, helping to save money on networking infrastructure, reducing the complexity of managing networks, enhancing security through added intelligence, and simplifying compliance, among other benefits.

Benefits of SDN in Healthcare

The impacts of data-intensive applications and increased connectivity demands are changing the way networks are being built. SDN helps to ease the complexity of the network. There are several benefits, ranging from agility and cost savings to efficiency and security. Particular benefits for healthcare providers include:

Centralized network provisioning and management

SDN separates the intelligence of the network from the data, enabling network administrators to manage the devices on a network from one central site. Using an SDN controller, organizations can provision all of their network resources in all locations, saving time and money by reducing the amount of manpower needed at each facility. In addition, updates to the network, including those affecting regulatory compliance, can be delivered to all network devices with the tap of a finger, ensuring all network elements are current and compliant.

Better security through improved control

Centralized management also benefits the security of the network, with SDN controllers providing a central point of control to implement policies, security-related or otherwise, consistently. By centralizing the management of security for all devices on the network, however, healthcare organizations can ensure their networks—and the increasing number of devices connected to them—are secure and compliant. Another benefit? Administrators can segment network environments, adding another layer of security for critical data, like protected patient health records.

Application performance control

Centralized management also gives organizations control over data traffic, which can help ensure that applications perform as expected. More critical data—information needed for patient diagnosis, for example—can be prioritized for immediate delivery over applications that are not considered mission-critical. The ability to shape and control data traffic ensures the right services are delivered first.

Lower network operating costs

Because many routine network administration issues can be centralized and automated with SDN, healthcare organizations that adopt it can save on manpower costs. Central management means tasks are completed more quickly and with a lower risk of error, further reducing network administration overhead, especially in organizations with multiple locations.

Lower network hardware costs

The open-source nature of SDN enables organizations to reduce reliance on their existing hardware, as all the network intelligence lives at the controller. This not only helps organizations save money, but also provides a smooth path for migration.

SDN in Healthcare: Tapping the Cloud and Virtualization to Handle the Big Data Deluge

Technology like electronic health records, digital imaging, and telehealth are fundamentally data-intensive, requiring hefty bandwidth and processing power to run effectively. Most healthcare providers’ networks were not designed with these technologies in mind and are not powerful enough to handle such network-intensive needs. As big data processing and analytics become more widely adopted, the need for faster, higher-capacity networks will be even greater. Healthcare facilities must find a solution without depleting their budget or disrupting existing applications and services.

Virtualization is one method organizations are using to address these issues. Through virtualization, organizations can reduce the amount of hardware their infrastructure requires, which could equate to cost and operational efficiencies by having less hardware to manage.

Cloud computing, meanwhile, is enabling healthcare organizations to work more flexibly and meet their goals of higher levels of innovation, greater agility, and increased focus on patients. Via the cloud, applications and networks can be virtualized, and patient care can be enhanced through new services that are not readily available in traditional, on-premise, IT environments.

SDN is an enabler of both virtualization and cloud technologies, without the need of ripping and replacing, by providing visibility into and easier management of network components, which helps make networks more agile.

In addition to SDN, more organizations are also turning to Software-Defined Wide Area Networking (SD-WAN) to help them further address network complexity. Where SDN eases control of local area networks, SD-WAN is designed to simplify complex networks over wider geographical areas, increase control and visibility, reduce costs, and deliver consistent network and application performance. SD-WAN utilizes open-source technologies and brings a level of intelligence to the network that doesn’t exist in traditional WANs, enabling smarter, more efficient routing of traffic.

The application-aware nature of SD-WAN allows IT administrators to determine the most intelligent path for their applications and to push, manage, and update policies for optimal application and network performance. Like SDN, SD-WAN is centrally managed, so all provisioning and changes to the network and applications are done from one location, reducing the amount of time and manpower necessary to manage the network.

Fast, Reliable Internet as a Foundation for SDN

Software-defined networking holds the promise of greater efficiencies at lower operating costs. However, as with any other technology, the network is critical in delivering on that promise.

Healthcare facilities need a highly reliable, secure, and flexible network. SDN and SD-WAN technologies can complement existing MPLS networks, delivering unprecedented network visibility and centralized control. The ability to combine SDN with high-speed broadband delivers a new, cost-effective business model for adding broadband, and for creating intelligent IP VPN connections to accommodate the growing need for bandwidth as treatments and services become even more customer-centric.

Comprehensive and uncompromised connectivity is the key to ensuring healthcare facilities can provide services in the manner that today’s technology-centric patients have come to expect. The Internet of Things, cloud computing, big data, real-time analytics, mobility, and other next-generation technologies are enabling true digital business transformation in the healthcare industry. A solid and flexible network foundation is imperative. SDN technology can both support applications used today and help organizations prepare for the future, with the added benefits of streamlining operations, ensuring compliance, and realizing cost savings.

Comcast Business offers a suite of Managed Solutions, helping to provide hospitals with a robust technology foundation, laying the ground for continued scalability and innovation.

To learn how advanced technologies from Comcast Business are helping providers shape the future, visit:


Adoption of SDN in healthcare is growing, driven in large part by an increase in cloud computing, big data, and mobility technologies.

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