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Remote Server vs. Local Server - Clarifying the Distinction between ASP and Client Server

Posted Oct 30 2008 3:21pm

The following posting was sent to me by Dr. Gerrit Velthuysen, a BC family physician:

“In preference to the frequently used terminology – ASP vs. Local Client Server, I would like to suggest that we use Remote Server (Remote Host) vs. Local Server (Local Host) to avoid some of the confusion that exists. The question of Remote Server vs. Local Server defines the physical location of the hardware upon which the relevant software and data are stored.

It is important to note that this subject does not refer to:

  • Distribution of the service and data availability – The ability of any authorized individual to access and edit data from any enabled terminal is identical, regardless of which model is being used;
  • Nature and character of the user interface – The appearance of the screen and the available methods through which the end user is able to interact with the system is not affected by the relative location of the server.

The terms ASP and 'local client-server' are widely used, but clear definitions of these concepts are not shared. Espousing such definitions would aid the development of mutual understanding.

For the purposes of future discussion on this subject, I would like to propose the following definitions:

  • Data: The actual information collected.
  • Applications: Software programs that are used to access (read and write) this data.
  • Hosting: The physical location, housing or keeping of the applications, the data or both.
  • Server: A unit that provides services to other units - services that they would not have access to otherwise. Those other units are called clients of the server. A server need not be a computer; it can be a program running on the same computer as the client applications. For our purposes, server may refer to an actual physical computer running specialized software that is physically separated from the clients by more or less space. This latter concept is vitally important.

The fundamental debate revolves around the choice of an Externally or Remotely Hosted (RS) solution, versus an Internally or Locally Hosted (LS) solution.

Local Server (LS) or Locally Hosted solutions are commonly referred to as ‘client-server’ solutions. In this model a small unit (eg. single practice or association) has a dedicated server on site. The application software is distributed – installed on each server. In an LS solution, the physical medium(computer) on which the data and/or applications is stored exists within the local area in which it is used and from which it is accessed.

Remote Server (RS) solutions are commonly referred to as ‘ASP’ solutions, but ASP is really an epitome of the client-server strategy. ASP = Application Service Provider. In the ASP model the applications never get to your computer. You access the application and its data through your web browser. Both the software and the data live on a machine that may be in the next room or on a different continent. Here the functionality is distributed, but not the software. In an RS solution, the physical medium on which the data and/or applications are stored exists in an area remote from that in which it is used and from which it is accessed. That is: on a computer outside your practice, which may be in a data centre in your region, province or even further a field.”

Before continuing the debate into the benefits or drawbacks of either Remote Server or Local Server models, I would like to request feedback from contributors to CanadianEMR to determine your thoughts about whether we should be adopting this terminology in place of ASP and Local Client Server. Do the terms RS and LS make the process easier to understand? Would this approach provide greater clarity for physicians who are not ‘computer savvy’ and allow them to contribute more effectively to the debate?

To add your thoughts, click on the ‘Comments’ link below.

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