Medical practice goes to virtualization

By Bernie Monegain
02:03 PM

RENTON, WA – HealthPoint, a network of 12 not-for-profit clinics in suburban Seattle, has reaped significant cost savings by consolidating IT that had been spread throughout seven of the network's facilities.

The virtualization project also provides improved disaster recovery. HealthPoint’s main administrative office, which houses the medical practice’s main server, lies near the Howard Hanson Dam.

Clinical data from HealthPoint's NextGen electronic health record system comes through that administrative office, and Harald Upegui, HealthPoint's IT manager, said he needed to find a way to keep the medical data safe.

CDW Healthcare came in with a virtualization proposal – a solution that HealthPoint had looked at three or four years earlier, when it was just coming to market.

This time Upegui took a closer look.

"It was a way to back up all the data within minutes," he said. "When or if our main office gets flooded, we can quickly turn on the servers at another site."

"The majority of businesses that suffer a catastrophe such as a fire or flood are, as a result, out of business within two years," he added. It's a quote from research firm Meta Group that he uses often.

HealthPoint began its virtualization project in January 2010, and has consolidated its servers from 20 to 14 so far. Upegui recommends to others who might undertake a similar undertaking to "take your time during server consolidation."

While HealthPoint has not had to deal with disaster recovery so far, it is prepared, says Upegui. Meanwhile, it is seeing other benefits from virtualization – among them saving physical space, power savings of $2,000 to $5,00 a year and cooling savings of $2,000 to $3,800 a year.

According to Forrester Research, organizations using virtualization can save up to 50 percent on hardware costs, as well as delay new server purchases for 12 to 18 months, depending on their consolidation ratio.

Another benefit, said Dan Griggs, CDW’s architect of virtualization system solutions, is ease of maintenance. Before he came to CDW, Griggs used to work on IT maintenance.

"We never could come up with a maintenance window," he said. "Every time you'd have one it would slide. Now if you set up clusters of virtualized hosts and servers, you can take a host down, move some of the servers over to another host. Now you can bring that host down, bring it back up and rebalance your load."

"Healthcare is ahead of government agencies and on par with commercial organizations when it comes to virtualization," said Nathan Coutinho, virtualization and storage system solutions manager at CDW.

CDW Healthcare's most recent survey of 500 clinical and IT professionals from hospitals with 50 beds or more found that 89 percent have at least one form of virtualization in place. This compares to similar research of 600 federal, state and local IT managers that found that 77 percent of responding government agencies are implementing at least one form of virtualization. Among private-sector organizations with 100+ employees, 90 percent have implemented some stage of server virtualization.

Upegui said HealthPoint will next look into desktop virtualization.