Docs use ‘green’ IT

By Healthcare IT News
04:12 PM

There's more than one way to go green. Kevin Harris, director of IT at KSF Orthopaedics Center in Houston, picked virtualization.

With technology from Microsoft, he reduced from 12 to three the number of servers the 13-physician, 160-employee practice uses at its two offices and surgery center.  For the practice it means a smaller carbon footprint and yet undetermined cost savings. It also means greater flexibility.

Creating a virtual machine enables organizations like KSF to run multiple operating systems simultaneously on a single physical server, explains Chris Sullivan, industry solutions director, Microsoft U.S. Health and Life Sciences Group. It makes it possible for organizations big and small to eliminate underused physical servers and save the energy costs they would otherwise consume. Virtualization also gives clinicians more mobility, notes Sullivan.

The virtual server project at KSF Orthopaedics was slated for the end of 2008. But with Hurricane Ike headed for Galveston last September, Harris had to put on the fast track.

Andrew Kant, MD, an orthopedic surgeon and founding partner of KSF, also happens to be among the first responders for the Galveston area. Kant wanted to ensure the center would be up and running at its best to handle emergency cases.

"It put the onus on us to make sure we could respond, Harris said. "We had no real-time disaster recovery in place other than slow tape restore. Doctors that were going to handle any first responder cases had to have all of our patients' records available if needed. This required access to data at both of our locations in case there was lost communications between the two."

Harris said virtualization allowed KSF to have a duplicate environment up and running with minimum amount of effort. It also enabled Harris and his team to create additional servers that may have been needed in the event of an extended outage, and keep them all in very small footprint because KSF's second location was very limited on cooling and power.

When Ike made its final landfall in Galveston on Sept. 13 at 2:10 a.m., KSF was ready. It was the sole orthopedic center in the Houston area available to treat and operate on hurricane victims and injured first responders. All its electronic records remained intact.

KSF had made the switch to virtualization without missing a beat.

Harris does not yet have ROI numbers. However he knows virtualization is proving to be not only an energy saver, but also a cost saver. It's reduced the cost of physical boxes, he says, the maintenance of the boxes and also the cooling requirements.

The Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in New Hampshire is reaping savings from its virtualization initiative, according to a recent Microsoft case study. DHMC expects to reduce total server holdings by 75 percent and save $4,300 per server in hardware, maintenance, electrical, and real estate costs. It can now virtualize its most demanding applications and expects to improve service levels and save 30 hours each month in server management.

 An increasing number of U.S. hospitals and other healthcare organizations are turning to virtualization as they run out of data center space, said Zane Adam, director of virtualization strategy at Microsoft. Data recovery is available out of the box, he says.

CIOs and IT managers recognize that software saves lives, Adam said. They know how critical medical data is to providing top care. 

"You've got a tremendous opportunity to maintain that data  -  and to protect it," Adam said.

Besides, saving energy and operating costs, server virtualization also offers flexibility and resiliency, says Christopher Voce, an analyst with Forrester Research.

In a recent Forrester study, says Voce, firms pointed to improving disaster recovery and business continuity as the primary motivation for adopting server virtualization, followed by manageability and flexibility gains.

Several technology companies play in the virtualization space, including HP, EMC and Citrix and most recently Cisco.