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Leveraging a Highly Available Storage Network to Ensure Timely Patient Healthcare Without Breaking the Bank

  • April 01 2004, 1:00am EST
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CATEGORY: Storage, Content Management and Knowledge Management

REVIEWER: Todd Thomas, CIO for Austin Radiological Association.

BACKGROUND: The Austin Radiological Association (ARA) provides quality imaging services to the people of Austin and central Texas. The company operates 15 outpatient imaging centers and provides professional radiologist services at nine area hospitals. The imaging centers offer everything from mammography to MRI.

PLATFORMS: We deployed two fully populated Intrepid 6064 Directors at each of our two data centers (for a total of four) to create two fabrics totaling 256 ports. These Directors switch data traffic between our 60-plus servers and our EMC disk arrays hosting 24 terabytes of patient data. Our remote site data center mirrors image files to ensure we meet business continuity and disaster recovery objectives.

PROBLEM SOLVED: The McDATA Intrepid 6064 Director helped us solve a number of challenges including meeting our business, financial and technical goals. A few years ago, we implemented a picture archiving and communications system (PACS) to digitize radiological exam images. This reduces the time it takes to read and diagnose exam images and makes the best use of the radiologists' time. However, with image exam sizes averaging from 15MB to 300MB, our DAS topology was insufficient to meet this demand. The Intrepid Directors helped us deploy a SAN that made use of speedier telecommunications lines and routed data much faster at 2 Gbps. Second, as we reviewed our operational data, we concluded that downtime costs us approximately $15,000 per hour. Moreover, because we provide exams and readings to Austin-area Level I trauma centers, network outages were unthinkable. Such an occurrence would not only put a patient's life at risk, it could damage our reputation among the nine hospitals and 2,000 referring physicians we serve as well as have legal liability implications. None of these outcomes is acceptable to us. As a result, we established network-wide ultra-high availability requirements for our infrastructure. The Intrepid 6064 Director's five-nines availability meets this requirement, both on paper and in practice. Since we installed the Directors, we've enjoyed two years of uninterrupted service along with a minimal management burden. Thirdly, by migrating from a DAS to a SAN and then upgrading our SAN with McDATA Directors, we were able to roll out a Storage Service Provider (SSP) business model. We deliver digital imaging storage services to local healthcare facilities that wish to leverage our experience and infrastructure in the PACS and SAN market.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: The 2 Gbps throughput of the 6064 is excellent. Initially, I was concerned that the significant increase in data traffic from our PACS implementation might tax the SAN and increase latency. Low network latency is important to us from a productivity standpoint because we want to optimize the use of our radiologists' time. Our backups are also much improved. We can now do them in real time, and with the Intrepid's non-disruptive firmware upgrade capability, I don't have to schedule downtime for backups -- which boosts our network availability statistics. The Intrepid's redundant components, including fans and power supplies, are another great feature. For our network -- where availability is of utmost importance -- that's a must.

STRENGTHS: The top two strengths I've experienced with the Intrepid 6064 are its high availability and ease of use. I don't think we've ever had to touch the switches to make a configuration change or troubleshoot a problem. Another strength is that the 2 Gbps throughput is more than enough to meet current and future traffic needs. The Intrepid is so fast and so good at what it does that performance hasn't been a problem. We like that the 6064 is self-managing. Additionally, with dial-home capabilities, if there's a problem we'll have an engineer on site quickly. With that capability and the device's historical uptime performance, I don't even worry about it.

WEAKNESSES: The only weakness I can think of is that working with the Intrepid in a Fibre Channel environment can be complex; however, frankly, that's going to be the case with any switch on the market today. It wasn't a problem because EMC installed and configured the switch.

SELECTION CRITERIA: We didn't evaluate other products because our previous experience with McDATA switches was superb.

DELIVERABLES: If there are any outputs from the product, we haven't used them. We're using EMC's ControlCenter tool for reporting.

VENDOR SUPPORT: Because EMC implemented our SAN solution, we haven't worked directly with McDATA very much. To be honest, the best part of working with McDATA is that we haven't had to work with them on any problems.

DOCUMENTATION: We haven't needed the documentation -- if we even received any -- because we worked with EMC for training and knowledge transfer.

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