CATEGORY: Database Performance & Systems Management

REVIEWER: Gadi Gilon, chief information officer at Clalit Health Systems Group.

BACKGROUND: Clalit Health Services Group is the largest health service provider in Israel and the second largest worldwide. Established 92 years ago, it now serves 3.7 million insured members with 14 hospitals and 1,400 clinics and pharmacies.

PLATFORMS: Database support for customer records was being managed through Sun Solaris (UNIX) Enterprise 10000 and 6000 servers running IBM Informix database software. To lower their overall costs while gaining performance, Clalit migrated to 64-bit versions of Microsoft Windows Server 2003 Datacenter Edition and SQL Server 2000 Enterprise Edition, running on Unisys ES7000 servers.

PROBLEM SOLVED: We adopted a strategic focus several years ago to regard our patients as customers who had choices in healthcare. Part of that strategic focus required giving managers and healthcare professionals in the widely decentralized enterprise more and better information so that they could make business and customer care decisions more quickly. However, our database infrastructure was expensive and difficult to update and maintain. Beyond the $300,000 software licensing costs, we required a staff of 10 – at the cost of another $650,000 –­ just to maintain it. Windows and SQL Server cost less to buy and maintain while delivering better performance than our previous solution.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: The first phase of the project involved moving Clalit's Unisys and ProClarity business intelligence solution to Windows Server 2003 and SQL Server 2000 Enterprise Edition on an ES7000. This portion of the solution runs on an 8-processor ES7000 server, delivering performance that we didn't see on a 32-processor Sun E10000 server running Informix. The next phase involved migrating from the Sun/Informix solution on the data warehouse side, and includes three key components. ETL/staging computer: The extract, transform and load (ETL) functionality extracts data from operational systems and loads to flat files, transforms the data for the data warehouse (including data cleansing) and loads the data into the data warehouse. Clalit is deploying the 32-bit version of Windows Server 2003 on a 16-processor ES7000 with 16GB of RAM in two equally sized partitions. Data warehouse: The data warehouse runs on an 8-processor ES7000 with 32GB of RAM, based on Intel Itanium CPUs and the 64-bit version of Windows Server 2003 and SQL Server 2000 Enterprise Edition. Development computer: The development system runs on a 16-processor ES7000 with 8GB of RAM and two equally sized partitions, with the 32-bit edition of Windows Server 2003 and SQL Server 2000 Enterprise Edition. With the new solution fully deployed, we are seeing performance increases up to 25 percent over the UNIX/Informix solution. Queries that used to take up to 30 minutes are now being handled in seconds. In addition, the Windows-based and Unisys E7000 solution has slashed Clalit's licensing and support costs by 67 percent.

STRENGTHS: Microsoft Windows Server 2003 Datacenter Edition delivers mainframe-class performance and reliability. The solution's support for 64-bit processing delivers far higher scalability than 32-bit file servers, and its support for 64-way symmetric multiprocessing makes it possible for Microsoft SQL Server to use large numbers of processors when additional processing power is required. SQL Server 2000 performs better and lowers our overall TCO for our complex data warehousing and business intelligence needs than our previous UNIX solution.

WEAKNESSES: Although Microsoft provides catered support to customers in its Joint Development Partner program, the overall documentation could be more extensive.

SELECTION CRITERIA: We wanted a mainframe-class solution with the openness, flexibility and cost-effectiveness of Windows software running on Intel processors.

DELIVERABLES: The Microsoft solution enables healthcare professionals throughout our system to get the answers they need in real time to address customer needs and concerns. Plus, with the lowered TCO, we've been able to fully redeploy 50 percent of the technical staff we needed to support the old solution.

VENDOR SUPPORT: Clalit implemented the new data infrastructure with the assistance of Microsoft Consulting Services (MCS) and the Windows Datacenter Program. Microsoft took full responsibility and worked seamlessly with our other vendors. We're on the other side of the world, but we had immediate access to Microsoft experts in Redmond when we needed it.

DOCUMENTATION: The documentation is good. It was useful when we needed it.

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