A Year Later, Cisco Making Serious Headway with Its UCS

By Chris Preimesberger  |  Posted 2010-08-02 Print this article Print

One year after it started shipping its Unified Computing System, the world's No. 1 networking company has about 1,000 enterprise customers--with a lot more in the pipeline. In this story, NightHawk Radiology Services provides a close look at one enterprise that made the switch.

When networking king Cisco Systems officially entered the full-service data center systems market on March 16, 2009, with the launch of its Unified Computing System, it jumped into a pool of sharks named IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Fujitsu and Sun Microsystems (now Oracle).

Plus, it took a major risk in opening a whole new field of business during the most dangerous macroeconomy since the Great Depression in the 1930s.

That investment and risk in time, capital and personnel appear to be paying off, despite the competition and a dour economy: In only one year since it started shipping the network-centric UCS (Unified Computing System) systems in July 2009, Cisco now counts more than 1,000 enterprises running them on a daily basis.

eWEEK also has learned that Cisco has a lot more customers in the pipeline as the world economy continues to repair itself.

The UCS consists of a proprietary Cisco data center architecture, Cisco-made servers, and a set of management software and services based on Intel's quad-core Nehalem Xeon processors. Cisco partners are providing all hardware and software that aren't in the networking realm; storage, though offered first in the UCS partnership by NetApp and EMC, can be supplied by virtually any vendor.

Use case example: NightHawk Radiology Services

One of Cisco's key UCS deployments involves the largest teleradiology provider in the United States, NightHawk Radiology Services. NightHawk, like any institutional IT system user, has made a leap from the familiar confines of an old-school IT system into the new-generation UCS data center; any switch of that nature is never an easy transition.

NightHawk provides digital MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and CT (computed tomography) services-including 3D images-to about 1,600 hospitals in the United States (26 percent of all hospitals) and employs 144 radiologists scattered around the world.

MRI is primarily a noninvasive medical imaging technique used in radiology to visualize detailed internal structure and limited function of the body. Computed tomography is a medical imaging method employing tomography created by computer processing.

Digital geometry processing is used to generate a three-dimensional image of the inside of an object from a large series of two-dimensional X-ray images taken around a single axis of rotation. MRI and CT produce a volume of data that can be manipulated through a process known as "windowing" so as to demonstrate various bodily structures based on their ability to block the X-ray beam.

NightHawk distributes a huge number of digital imaging files on a daily basis-from hospital to data center, from data center to radiologist, from radiologist back to the data center, and finally back to the hospital.

"We do about 9,000 studies [individual radiology sessions] a day-a little over 3 million a year," NightHawk Vice President of Information Technology Ken Brande told eWEEK.

"A study," Brande said, "is any type of medical image transaction, whether it's an X-ray on a broken bone to a chest-abdomen-pelvis X-ray that shows a progression or regression in growths of a cancer. It's any and all of those things that typically would be offered in a hospital setting for viewing of a patient."

Huge number of digital images processed daily

Nine thousand sessions involving medical images is a ton of data to be transported through secure IT pipelines each day.

NightHawk's procedure works this way: Each hospital has a virtual private network (VPN) tunnel to one of three NightHawk data centers. As the images enter the system, they are immediately distributed to one or more of the 144 radiologists on the NightHawk staff, who are on continuously overlapping shifts that cover the 24/7 spectrum of the business.

Amazingly, despite the glut of images pouring through the UCS, medical determinations based on the digital images are made very quickly.

Chris Preimesberger Chris Preimesberger was named Editor-in-Chief of Features & Analysis at eWEEK in November 2011. Previously he served eWEEK as Senior Writer, covering a range of IT sectors that include data center systems, cloud computing, storage, virtualization, green IT, e-discovery and IT governance. His blog, Storage Station, is considered a go-to information source. Chris won a national Folio Award for magazine writing in November 2011 for a cover story on Salesforce.com and CEO-founder Marc Benioff, and he has served as a judge for the SIIA Codie Awards since 2005. In previous IT journalism, Chris was a founding editor of both IT Manager's Journal and DevX.com and was managing editor of Software Development magazine. His diverse resume also includes: sportswriter for the Los Angeles Daily News, covering NCAA and NBA basketball, television critic for the Palo Alto Times Tribune, and Sports Information Director at Stanford University. He has served as a correspondent for The Associated Press, covering Stanford and NCAA tournament basketball, since 1983. He has covered a number of major events, including the 1984 Democratic National Convention, a Presidential press conference at the White House in 1993, the Emmy Awards (three times), two Rose Bowls, the Fiesta Bowl, several NCAA men's and women's basketball tournaments, a Formula One Grand Prix auto race, a heavyweight boxing championship bout (Ali vs. Spinks, 1978), and the 1985 Super Bowl. A 1975 graduate of Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., Chris has won more than a dozen regional and national awards for his work. He and his wife, Rebecca, have four children and reside in Redwood City, Calif.Follow on Twitter: editingwhiz

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