Case study: Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital turns to Allscripts for e-health system

Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital – winner of the best virtualisation for disaster recovery at the VMworld Europe User Awards 2014 – shares its story

There is no room for error when your key priority is patient care – and Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital’s award-winning disaster recovery project uses virtualisation to guarantee the highest quality service.

Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital won best virtualisation for disaster recovery project at the VMworld Europe User Awards 2014.

The hospital is a major cardiothoracic centre that performs 60,000 outpatient appointments and 12,000 inpatient procedures every year. But there is always an opportunity for even higher levels of service and, in electronic health records system Allscripts, the hospital spotted an opportunity to improve care by making patient data available faster.

The technology makes it easier for doctors and nurses to view a patient’s history. But, if staff come to rely on a platform, the technology must be available at all times and trusted support is crucial.

As the hospital moved from manual processes to Allscripts, it became clear to the hospital’s technical support team manager, James Crowther, that the patient experience would suffer if the application became unavailable for any period of time.

Record recovery crucial to patient care

“The hospital invested in the patient records system 18 months ago in a desire to migrate from traditional records to a paperless system. That approach means all records are available to staff from our computers. But it also means that, if our systems aren't available, staff can’t access the records and patient care could be compromised,” he says.

“For that reason, disaster recovery is absolutely crucial. Automated failover and recovery has to be right at the top of our list of priorities. In the event of a problem, staff across the hospital need the confidence to know that the system that supports patient care is always available. And as an IT department, we need to be able to trust that our disaster recovery system is always ready and working.”

The hospital assessed a range of disaster recovery systems. Crowther and his colleagues were concerned that traditional storage-based technologies would require significant services engagement. The answer came in the form of virtualisation, which helped the organisation keep costs under control and increase flexibility.

Allscripts’ patient system workloads already ran in a virtualised VMware environment and the hospital decided to research disaster recovery systems for the platform. Crowther assessed a range of systems, but was particularly impressed by the comprehensive nature of Zerto’s Virtual Replication technology.

Zerto works across all systems. Should we want to change storage supplier in a few years’ time, it means that we’re in a much better position

 James Crowther, Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital 

Supplier-agnostic technology

Zerto’s hypervisor-based technology – built to work seamlessly in a VMware environment – provides a complete disaster recovery system, with replication and full orchestration. Crowther says the comprehensive approach negates the tedious co-ordination of two separate products.

Rather than having to only use storage from a specific supplier, Zerto’s technology is supplier-agnostic, affording Crowther and his team flexibility when it comes to supplier selection. “We didn’t want to be locked into a specific hardware supplier,” he says. “Zerto works across all systems. Should we want to change storage supplier in a few years’ time, it means that we’re in a much better position.”

The system also supports non-disruptive testing. This is critical, as application testing is run during business hours, to more accurately simulate the response of the environment. Crowther says replication in the virtual environment gives the hospital the confidence that Allscripts and other healthcare applications will be available in the event of downtime.

“We’re running on an isolated and protected network that is dedicated to disaster recovery,” he says. “It means we can failover our systems without affecting the primary network. That approach provides assurance to the hospital that the whole process is ready, available and working.”

Ease of installation

Zerto Virtual Replication was also simple to install. Crowther says the initial implantation was as quick as the demonstrations had led his team to believe. “It took less than 30 minutes to implement the virtualisation software and we were replicating data in 15 minutes,” he says.

“I didn’t expect it to be that fast. But I got some idea when we ran a proof of concept and some experts from Zerto came into the hospital and ran a demonstration. I was blown away at the speed of the process and it’s been just the same in practice.”

Crowther says the granularity of the failovers is extremely high. The application can be failed over to how it looked 5.7 seconds before, 28 seconds before or 4 minutes before – critical for minimising data loss and delivering quality care.

There’s now a requirement across the hospital to consider recovery across other platforms – such as pharmacy and the picture archiving and communication system

 James Crowther, Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital 

Live fire failover test

He says the hospital recently needed to test the approach. It had to take the primary datacentre offline briefly, to upgrade the uninterruptible power supplies. In the event, failover worked efficiently and effectively. The success of the system led the hospital to consider virtualised disaster recovery for other business applications.

“We’re looking to use the approach to protect more of our systems. So far, the project has only looked to protect our ERP platform. But there’s now a requirement across the hospital to consider recovery across other platforms – such as pharmacy and the picture archiving and communication system,” says Crowther.

“There is an expectation from senior management about which systems must be up and running as soon as possible when challenges occur. We know that, if a new system comes along and is important to the senior team, we can protect the data through virtualisation in a matter of minutes.”


Crowther says the technology satisfied the hospital’s requirements for non-disruptive testing, simple installation and automated failover, and will help it deliver high levels of service and minimise the impact of disaster recovery processes on patient care. These requirements were achieved by bringing replication into the virtualisation layer – and Crowther says the award provides welcome recognition of the work his team achieved.

“It’s a good feeling when you’re recognised for the work you’re doing,” he says. “The NHS does not exist to make money – it’s all about providing top quality patient care. It’s a great feeling to know that the system is helping our organisation to achieve that aim.”

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