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Health Services Research Data Center FAQs

FAQs


General Questions

Technical Questions


General Questions

What is the Health Services Research Data Center (HSRDC)?
The HSRDC is a high-security, synergized analytic platform specially designed for large research projects using sensitive patient information.
 
Why would I use the HSRDC?
You would use the HSRDC to store, manage, and analyze large datasets containing sensitive health care related data as part of a research project.
 
What types of data are stored on the HSRDC?
Although there are no specific limitations on what types of data we store, most commonly we are used for large datasets containing protected health information. These data necessitate an extremely high level of security that is compliant with federal regulations including HIPAA and FISMA. Examples may include federal data sets such as Medicare and Medicaid’s Research Identifiable Files, data from other governmental organizations, health insurance data or other types of secure public health data.
 
Can I get a list of the exact data files that are on the data center?
Because of the nature of our data and because we are continually working to obtain new data please contact us for the most current and specific information regarding the exact data files we have.
 
Can anybody access these data files?
No. Access is granted only after applicable data use agreements (DUA) and IRB protocols are in place. We can help you with both processes.
 
Can I bring my own data to the data center?
Yes. You can bring your own data files and store them in your research group’s shared storage space. Also, if you’d like or you need to create a database or integrate your data with our existing databases we can help you with that too.
 
How much does it cost to use the HSRDC?
The cost to use is calculated based on three things:
1. The amount of data your group stores on the server
2. The computing power of the virtual desktop(i.e. memory and processing speed)
3. The number of concurrent users in your group
For more information on the cost structure or for a price quote, Contact Us.
 
I'm not sure if the HSRDC is right for me/my project, who should I talk to?
Your first step should be to contact the Administrator to briefly discuss your project and what your needs are. After this conversation we can take the next formal steps to set up your account on the Data Center.
 

Technical Questions

How does access work?
Users access their virtual desktops by logging on to the University of Pittsburgh’s Secure Remote Access and then connecting to the Data Center’s secure virtual private network (VPN) with a password and an Deepnet Mobile ID token (which we will provide for you as part of the setup process). Once logged in, a window containing your virtual desktop will pop up. The virtual desktop and how you interact with it is exactly like any other Windows based computer.
 
What are the data security specifications?
Users access their virtual desktops by way of a two-factor authentication process (passwords and RSA tokens) via a secure socket layer (SSL) 128 bit VPN connection around an encrypted virtual desktop connection. Upon logoff the virtual desktop is deleted to ensure no malware can persist in the environment. All statistical analysis occurs directly on the virtual desktops. Servers containing protected health information are protected by multiple firewalls and physical security measures in accordance with the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA), the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and other governmental security standards. The entire system is housed within the University’s Network Operations Center, a secure facility with redundant power supplies, fire protection and electronic access controls.
 
What are the virtual desktop specifications?
We have three virtual desktop specifications that correspond to the different levels of computing power that each research project may require. These are:
Small - 10 GB RAM x 3 cores > 2.5 GH
Large - 24 GB RAM x 6 cores > 2.1 GH
 
Is it possible to have custom virtual desktop sizes?
Not at this time.
 
Can I share files with other users on the system?
Yes. All group members will have access to a group file share in which you can specify the size. However, currently there is no way to directly share across different user groups. If you have data or code that you would like to share with all user groups you can send an email to us and we will copy the files to an all users folder.
 
How do I access the databases?
Most of our data sets are stored in a SQL database, which can be directly accessed by most statistical packages (i.e. SAS, Stata). This option is the most efficient since it does not require creating duplicate versions of each dataset and the database servers are extremely fast. An alternative method is to query the database to create files to store on your shared drive and analyze on your virtual desktop.
 
What type of database is used?
SQL Server 2012
 
What software comes on the Virtual Desktop?
We maintain a wide array of software packages on each Virtual Desktop, permitting a variety of data management approaches and statistical analyses. All desktops come with the following software:
SQL Management studio
Microsoft Excel
Stat Transfer
Text Viewer, (Word Pad)
You can select any of a number of statistical packages of your choice, including SAS, Stata, and SPSS.
 
Can I install my own software on the virtual desktop?
No. To maintain a high level of security we cannot allow individual users to install software on the virtual desktops. If you need specialized software you can request it and if approved we will install it on your custom virtual desktops.
 
Can I access the internet from my virtual desktop?
No.