SAN makes hospital a northern

Sudbury Regional Hospital is in the process of moving 16 servers over to a storage area network (SAN) that will act as the IT backbone for it and seven other hospitals in northern Ontario.

The hospital is the largest of its partners with 600 beds – the second largest being Timmins and District Hospital with 160 beds. Because of its size and the fact that Sudbury Regional Hospital already had the IT staff to complement and support the new SAN, the decision to use this hospital as the backbone was obvious.

“We we’re already in the process of selecting a new system, so we offered other hospitals to become part of us, to become part of the service…it was just an opportunity to extend the invitation to other hospitals,” said Gaston Roy, director of IT at Sudbury Regional Hospital.

The SAN is made available to the other hospitals via a WAN. With the new SAN, hospitals will be able to share data and keep comprehensive records on patients who are often transferred between hospitals. This system ensures that health care providers never have to worry about not being able to access patient records or hospital data.

The new SAN will also result in easier management of storage resources and faster back-up times for health care providers at all eight hospitals.

Chapleau Health Services in Chapleau, Ont., Englehart and District Hospital in Englehart, Ont., Kirkland and District Hospital in Kirkland Lake, Ont., Northeast Mental Health Centre in Sudbury, Ont., Smooth Rock Falls Hospital in Smooth Rock Falls, Ont., and Temiskaming Hospital in New Liskeard, Ont. are the other partners using the new SAN.

The new SAN is running on IBM’s midrange disc storage solution TotalStorage FAStT700, which ties together IBM eServer x342 and x335 servers running software from Westwood, Mass.-based MEDITECH Ltd.

Six months into the implementation process, and with only two of the 16 servers attached to the SAN, Roy says the hospitals have already begun to see an improvement.

“We’ve seen improved back-up and restore…we now do landless back-ups, we don’t do back-ups over the network, we do back-ups directly over the SAN fibre fabric.” Restoration has been improved by 50 per cent, Roy said.

He added that another benefit of the new storage network is being able to implement a procedure he calls “flash copy.” Flash copy will allow programmers to make a separate copy of any data on the SAN during any upgrading or maintenance procedures.

“So, if we ran into a problem with an upgrade and it corrupted our data, and we went to the back-up tape and we had an issue with the back-up tape, we now have a standby copy, or flash copy which we can just bring on and activate within a couple of minutes,” Roy said. “[Flash copy] will add a second layer of security and even a second layer of efficiency should we be faced with any issues during upgrades or fixes or ongoing maintenance.”

Kyle Foster, general manager of storage systems for IBM Canada Ltd. in Markham, Ont. said that with the new SAN, Sudbury is benefited with fewer servers, a central storage infrastructure and centralized management.

“[Centralized management] is a pretty critical asset because now they can do a much better job of capacity planning, of back-up and recovery, of security, and drive much better data management disciplines because they’ve now got a consolidated and centralized environment,” Foster said.

He added that the SAN will also affect the bottom line because Sudbury Regional Hospital “is going to drive much higher utilization of the resources that they have because they’re consolidated. They will drive much better resource utilization.”

“Because [the SAN] is in one place, the dollars to manage it are less…certainly they spend less in terms of people managing the system,” Foster said.

He said that employees should be redeployed to areas that require more one-on-one attention.

“Managing tapes and doing system back-ups don’t provide a lot of value. Rolling out new applications, educating users on how to…extract every ounce of value from these applications, those are high value IT functions.”

Before the start of the implementation, Sudbury Regional Hospital was using EMC Corp. equipment that had the physical storage attached to the physical server, meaning that back-up was being done on a machine-by-machine basis over the LAN which made estimating server usage very difficult.

“The purpose of the SAN was to eliminate that physical attachment so that space that is unused from certain applications can be distributed to others,” Roy said.

“Instead of addressing one server at a time, you now address a pool. The pool benefits from any space that you provide and you can dynamically add the space without rebooting,” he added. “So, if our radiology server would be running out of space because we have a lot of transactions, then we would not be adding space to that one server, we add it to the pool and then we assign part of that pool to the server.”

The new IBM eServer xSeries and SAN requires only two server racks in comparison to the seven racks the EMC equipment needed. Back-up times that could reach six hours are expected to be cut in half.

When the implementation of the SAN is complete by the beginning of next year, Roy said he will see time management of his team improve dramatically, as the employees will go from managing 16 servers to one storage area network.

Foster said his advice to corporations who are planning to implement this same kind of SAN would be to look at the project from a solutions perspective and to choose a group of people who have worked together successfully in the past.