This is part 2 in a three-part series on hardware. Part 3, on device selection, will appear in the November issue of Health Data Management magazine. As community hospitals gear up their clinical automation efforts and reach out to help area physicians adopt electronic health records, they're taking a closer look at whether their data centers will meet their needs. Many are coming to the same conclusion: It's time to replace their servers and related technologies to better support clinical applications. "Smaller hospitals have to do exactly the same work as larger hospitals" to prepare for ramping up clinical applications, says Becky Quammen, CEO of the Quammen Group, an Orlando-based consulting firm. As hospitals of all sizes adopt comprehensive electronic health records systems to qualify for incentives under the federal stimulus package, many are discovering that their data centers may not be up to the task, she says. In addition, some hospitals are helping area clinics adopt EHRs, hosting the applications at their data centers. And this often requires a data center upgrade. Here are some examples of ongoing projects:

These organizations, and many others like them, are investing in a new generation of data center technologies. For example, they're all using "virtualization" software that creates several "virtual machines" within a server running separate operating systems and applications. Many hospitals also are using blade servers, a box that holds eight to 10 servers. These two technologies are helping hospitals to ramp up their data center capacity using less space and electricity, executives at the organizations say. Many hospitals also are implementing storage area networks, commonly called SANs, that enable them to share storage space to improve efficiency. The architecture is used to attach remote storage devices to servers in such a way that the devices appear as though they are locally attached to the operating system.

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