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University medical center virtualizes, cuts storage needs by 65%

University of Kansas uses virtualization to create a service-oriented architecture

ORLANDO -- After upgrading storage systems twice in three years, Jeffrey Orndoff, IT director at the University of Kansas Physicians , earlier this year virtualized his storage and server environment in the hope that it would let departments quickly deploy new applications as services while maintaining the security of patient information.

The project let the largest multi-specialty group medical practice in Kansas reduce storage capacity requirements by 65% and cut its disk drive spending by 50% after migrating 80% of its data to less expensive, high-capacity drives.

Additionally, the medical center added automated tiered storage and thin provisioning technology to its infrastructure, allowing applications to grow storage capacity on an as-needed basis instead of overprovisioning up front.

Orndoff told attendees of Computerworld's SNW conference here that maintaining efficient IT operations for a quickly growing teaching hospital with 20 medical specialties and 1,500 to 2,000 employees is imperative. But prior to virtualizing the systems, the data center couldn't handle all the necessary patient data, research, coursework and administrative information, he added.

With the amount of data doubling about every year, Orndoff had already gone through two models of Hewlett-Packard's StorageWorks Enterprise Virtual Array (EVA) -- the 4000 and 6000 - in 36 months. While the hospital still uses the HP systems, it has added a more modular Dell Compellent Storage Center SAN installed with the help of Copilot Consult 's migration service.

At the same time, the medical center also virtualized about 45 of its 50 physical servers using VMware's hypervisor technology, and rolled out a beta virtual desktop environment with about 20 of his 2,000 workstations. The university as a whole has 10,000 stations, Orndoff said.

The hospital also rolled out EPIC's electronic medical record (EMR) system and GE's Centricity Advantage for billing, Orndoff said.

Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, a hospital proving that its EMR is being meaningfully used can receive about $4 million in reimbursements, though the largest operations can receive as much as $12 million.

Orndoff didn't put a number to the amount his facility received, but said the funds didn't come close to covering the investment. Experts say that the cost of most EMRs will exceed the government's incentive money by two to three times.

The biggest payback with the EMR, currently used by about 40% of the group's 500-plus doctors, was the ability to mostly eliminate the need for medical transcription services. Physicians using the EPIC system now enter notes directly into the EMR.

The storage and virtualization effort, which cost some $300,00 overall, has paid for itself, Orndoff said.

The Dell Compellent array offers both tier one storage with 450GB 15,000rpm Fibre Channel drives and tier three 1TB 7200 RPM Serial ATA drives.

"With the delivery of health care ... the treatment plan is usually fairly quick, over a couple of weeks or months, and that data needs to be fresh and accessed fairly quickly," he said. "After treatment, the data becomes fairly stale and is archived to this third tier of storage."

The medical group now has some 14.3TB of tier one storage and 14.5TB of tier three capacity. Redundancy is also a key feature of the array, which has dual controllers and redundant Fibre Channel controller cards.

The array is networked through redundant Fibre Channel switches.

The Dell Compellent system automatically moves older, less accessed data to tier 3 hard drives, opening up capacity on tier one for I/O intense applications such as SQL databases.

Prior to the rollout, University of Kansas Physicians, like many other organizations, over-allocated storage resources to ensure applications kept running. In the past three months, of the 28.8TB of usable space on the Dell Compellent system, about 55.6% is allocated, 28.5% is allocated and unused and 15.9% is unallocated.

The virtualized storage system also helped create more efficient management of backup, recovery and archiving. The hospital no longer used tape for archive, and instead uses disk to disk snapshots, which allows for file restore or full image restores with no performance degradation.

Between the virtualized storage and server infrastructure, the physician's group now has a service-oriented architecture where server and storage resources can be provisioned from a single pool. Departments don't have to wait for more IT resources for project development.

It also helped with creating a useable chargeback model, Orndoff said.

"In the past when a department wanted to develop an application, they incurred the cost for the physical server, the storage, the application, the maintenance," he said. "[Now] they still purchase the application and maintain it, but any hardware, software and storage comes back to centralized IT.

"Really it's a consolidation of 20 separate departments that we now provide centralized management services, IT, compliance, HR, accounts receivable, and managed care," Orndoff added.

Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian , or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed . His e-mail address is [email protected] .

Read more about virtualization in Computerworld's Virtualization Topic Center.


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