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Keeping Australia’s aeromedical service connected to the cloud

The Queensland section of the Royal Flying Doctor Service has improved its access to cloud apps without spending more on bandwidth

With a waiting room of 7.3 million km2, communications and access to data is critical to the success of Australia’s Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) in Queensland.

The aeromedical service provider, which delivers healthcare services to rural and remote communities across Australia, operates 19 aircrafts from eight operational bases in Queensland. Its pilots, doctors, engineers and support staff serve 95,000 patients across the state.

But as demand for its services grew, RFDS was pushing the limits of what its existing network could deliver, according to Dean Coulter, information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure manager of RFDS in Queensland.

“Network outages had become more frequent, the performance of mission-critical apps slowed, and we started to receive more and more complaints from our staff,” said Coulter. “But simply purchasing more network bandwidth was not an option due to the high costs involved.”

At the same time, the RFDS technology team was flying blind with regards to its network performance and lacked sufficient tools to identify the root cause of issues, as well as hold service providers accountable to service level agreements (SLAs).

To address these challenges and more, RFDS turned to Riverbed’s SteelHead software as a service (SaaS) to speed up access to its cloud applications.

At RFDS, pilots and nurses carry what it calls electronic flight bags that contain an iPad loaded with medical and flight reference materials, as well as primary productivity tools such as e-mail. While they are on the ground, they will access cloud applications via 4G LTE connections and view bandwidth-intensive video content during field-training.

Besides giving RFDS’s 400 employees in Queensland access to applications and data from anywhere and on any device, SteelBed SaaS has increased service levels and freed up resources for investment in other critical areas, such as its ongoing efforts to modernise its aircraft.

“The results were powerful and immediate,” Coulter said. “We saw an immediate boost in application performance while simultaneously reducing bandwidth requirements by 60-70%,” Coulter said, adding that employee complaints have also declined.

Fiona Foley, executive manager of ICT services and business solutions at RFDS in Queensland, said: “The conversations we have now with the business are just totally different. We’re no longer talking about network outages, and we’re able to better focus on our core mission: delivering excellent healthcare services to the people of Queensland.”

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RDFS also implemented SteelCentral NetExpress to gain visibility into RFDS’s applications, network and infrastructure. “We were able to see we had legacy equipment and misconfigured applications hogging valuable bandwidth, and address it immediately. That level of insight is critical for us as our network expands and moves further into the cloud,” Coulter said.

The Riverbed system, which combines Riverbed SteelHead and Riverbed SteelCentral, is the foundation for RFDS’s transition to a cloud-first IT strategy, which includes an upcoming migration to Microsoft Office 365, and is driven by a goal to more effectively manage its limited IT resources.

RFDS has deployed SteelHead across all its regional sites in Queensland, with plans to implement SteelHead Mobile on laptops and mobile devices, empowering doctors to take advantage of 3G and 4G connections while working in remote locations with limited network coverage.

According to technology analyst company IDC, there is a greater need for enterprises to integrate cloud-based services into wide area network (WAN) environments to ensure application availability, control, performance and security as they move mission-critical workloads and business processes to the cloud.

In a whitepaper, it noted that Riverbed’s success “will depend on how well the company has anticipated and responded to the enterprise need to embrace cloud while reducing the complexity and cost of WAN application delivery and connectivity”.

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