Hospital's private cloud makes strides in patient care

Using private cloud computing, Cambridge University Hospital implemented a private cloud and now provides uninterrupted IT services to doctors.

With private cloud computing, Cambridge University Hospitals (CUH) NHS Foundation Trust  delivers better patient care.

The private cloud computing model has made CUH’s IT more stable, more resilient and high-performing. Changes to the infrastructure have also enabled IT to quickly provide new applications, medical systems and services to doctors when they need them to treat patients. The result: Faster access to patient information and improved care for patients.

The hospital’s cloud project has also achieved other critical goals. It has reduced the cost of infrastructure by more than 20%, while shoring up the business continuity strategy.

Launched in May 2010, CUH’s new IT infrastructure is the byproduct of the IT team’s fact-finding process, where the team looked at its existing VMware virtualisation infrastructure and its storage capabilities. The team wanted a solution that would improve disaster recovery and integration among its storage, network and server components.

The team identified that its existing storage infrastructure and lack of integration had limitations -- the team had to individually assess and decide which medical systems and services needed replicated storage disaster recovery and which services should be rebuilt with backup facilities.

“Backup windows and backup schedules were also becoming a concern,” said Mark Jowett, CUH’s IT systems and networking engineer. “Storage technologies had progressed a great deal since our last implementation, and we wanted to take advantage of faster disk technologies such as EFD [enterprise flash drives], deduplication, storage tiering, and disk backup systems for greater flexibility.”

Private cloud computing brings greater DR automation

The team then started its private cloud computing project. “The main motive of the project was to deliver a storage solution that offers a higher level of automated disaster recovery, with the performance and stability required by the high demands of clinical systems,” Jowett said.

The team was already familiar with private cloud technologies. Since 2006, CUH has had a four-node VMware cluster.

In 2009, it also updated its network setup to improve stability, resilience and performance. Having a virtualisation platform and a robust network infrastructure in place allowed the team to focus purely on the problem area -- storage.

There was, however, one key concern: “Deciding to go with a new storage vendor was a major challenge, as training and hands-on experience were key,” said Gary Ward, IT systems and network manager at CUH. “Having in-house technical knowledge is critical for providing the agility to respond to the demands of a clinical environment.”

But the team’s deep understanding approach to private cloud computing helped it overcome the challenge, improve services to doctors and bring savings. “We view our private cloud as a cohesion of networking, storage and virtualisation, with the appropriate management tools to address requirements,” Ward said.

CUH has two primary data centres on campus, which are separated by a kilometre, and many buildings and fire doors in between. The team implemented a local EMC Corp’s VPLEX Metro cluster within the two data centres.

The key objective of the implementation was to provide automated failover of storage in the event of a data centre outage. “The unavailability of systems can lead to degraded patient care and financial loss, so we wanted to implement a solution that would mitigate these [issues],” Jowett said.

Stretched clusters, reducing downtime

The judges of TechTarget’s Best of VMworld Europe 2011 user awards were impressed with CUH’s decision to build a stretched cluster. With it, the hospital can maximise the uptime to build the foundation of its private cloud.

CUH also deployed a cloud automation layer in the form of vCloud Director. According to the judges, the organisation recognised it needed a new layer of abstraction to separate consumers from the virtual and physical layers underneath -- an approach judges said was a “central tenet of a true cloud environment”.

“They took advantage of the close proximity of two sites to treat them as one site from a network and storage perspective,” the judges said. “They were fortunate that the proximity between the two locations allowed them to stay within the requirements of the storage technology and leveraged a solution that offered the best-of-breed approach to their problems.”

CUH won the Best Private Cloud Computing Project award. “The deployment of this technology and approach indicated that the Trust was committed to maximising the uptime of the foundation of their cloud,” judges added.

Its new infrastructure has improved system stability and availability and has reduced the requirement for manual intervention. “This reduces any potential unplanned downtime,” Ward said.

It uses EMC Avamar for backup and archives its medical data to EMC Centera. It uses EMC Data Protection Advisor (DPA) for service-level agreement (SLA) reporting.

More benefits of private cloud computing

The IT team also offers a flexible approach to storage and systems requests by using a tiered service catalogue that offers varying levels of SLA and recoverability. “This allows the system owners to make a choice of availability and disaster recovery during the procurement phase,” Jowett said. “We can tightly match requirements and the associated costs to meet the needs of the service.”

The private cloud also allows the team to deliver services to doctors more quickly than it could with its existing traditional setup which was segregated, while saving costs.

In addition, “the implementation of VPLEX allows us to provide a structured approach to platform migration from other storage vendors, with minimal I/O [input/output] interruption,” Jowett added.

Private cloud computing has brought more integration and automation to CUH’s IT infrastructure. It has improved the team’s ability to provide stable and quick IT services to doctors.

Private cloud next steps

CUH’s IT team is now considering how to take IT to the next level. “We are looking to offer hosting services in the future,” Ward said.

The IT team is now also considering desktop virtualisation. It hopes to run its entire desktop estate (consisting of 6,000 desktops) with little or no desktop support and with the use of zero clients from Samsung and others. It will help IT support a bring-your-own-device policy with new VMware View clients for iPad, Android and Mac OS. Once the project is finished, CUH expects to have in excess of 100 TB of cloud space.

The team believes that by focusing on delivering Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and virtual desktop infrastructure, it can deliver real benefits to clinical areas and reduce day-to-day support issues.

The judges also awarded CUH’s private cloud computing project the Best of Show award.

Click here to find out about other winners of the Best of VMworld Europe 2011 user awards.
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VMworld Europe 2011 conference coverage here. 

Archana Venkatraman is the site editor for Write to her at [email protected].

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