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NHS trust cloud solves immediate challenge and prepares for future

Karl Flinders

Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh (WWL) NHS trust moved its systems into the cloud to solve immediate business challenges and prepare for a future of shared services.

Last year WWL NHS trust was faced with major IT challenges as its datacentre, on the third floor of a town centre building, could no longer cope with additional IT equipment at the same time as the Trust was given six months' notice to leave the premises. 

“Our base had reached maximum capacity in terms of power and cooling,” said Garry Harris, head of IT at WWL NHS trust.

A neighbouring building had had a fire, which resulted in no access to the datacentre for six hours during the day. 

“The service continued to run but we were prevented from having access to our systems which was a business continuity concern,” said Harris.

The datacentre hosts clinical as well as business systems. It had 200 applications sitting on 200 dedicated HP blade servers. 

“A lot of the existing infrastructure was under-utilised and we wanted to consolidate,” said Harris.

Deciding on cloud

The trust wanted an infrastructure that could be scaled up easily when required. Harris said he sat down with his existing IT suppliers, HP, NetApps and Cisco to get their view on the best ways forward. 

The end result was a plan to move to the cloud and a tender was put out. IT services firm Proact won the contract and completed the implementation of cloud-based NetApp FlexPod architecture.

FlexPod is a reference architecture for server, storage and networking components that are pre-tested and validated to work together as an integrated infrastructure stack

The stack comprises products from multiple vendors and is sold by storage vendor NetApp and its partners. A FlexPod infrastructure consists of NetApp FAS storage, Cisco Systems, Unified Computing System and either VMware or Microsoft hypervisor technology.

Harris said the infrastructure went live in December and has so far exceeded expectations. 

“One of our biggest concerns was performance but because it uses 10Gbps Ethernet the performance is better,” said Harris.

He says the organisation expects a return on investment in two years.

Future of shared services

Another reason for the move to a cloud-based service was in preparation for potential sharing of services with other NHS organisations, said Harris. 

“Because of public sector austerity, we may have to share with other public sector bodies in the future. 

"Being cloud-based will make the transition easier.”

The prize for public sector savings through shared services arrangements is substantial, with some reports estimating it could slash budgets by hundreds of millions of pounds. 

Shared services can take various forms, including projects being delivered entirely by third parties; single authorities leading arrangements; each organisation being responsibly for one particular function, or even mutualised arrangements.


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