Storage Station

A bird's eye view of the data storage industry.

How CommVault Did Big Things for Health Care Provider

The Station often wishes he had time to do more use-case stories here in this blog and in the pages of eWEEK. After all, these are the stories of people on the front lines of IT, talking about their experiences. What better lessons from which to learn, than from what's really happening.

Today we're doing a use case story about a health-care provider that has become a national leader on the records storage front. Geisinger Health System is that leader, and CommVault is its preferred storage system.

Geisinger, a large health-care system of hospitals and patient care services founded in 1915 in Pennsylvania but serving a large section of the Eastern Seaboard, is dedicated to health care, education, research and service spanning 43 counties, a massive 20,000 square miles and an even more impressive 2.6 million people.

And that equates to a lot of health records: documents, data and graphics. Nonetheless, this huge enterprise is also showing how it's done in pushing archaic medical records practices into the 21st century in serving all those patients.

Geisinger's IT staff looked around for several months before deciding on CommVault Simpana 8 for it storage abilities, which include global deduplication that takes into account all the data in the entire system -- whether on disk or on tape.

That's not something you see every day. Most large IT systems have data storage in siloes everywhere: in staff members' PCs, laptops, and handhelds; in primary and secondary storage on the main system; the old records on digital tape in a vault somehwere, most likely in an Iron Mountain location; and, to a growing extent, in a cloud provider's archive.

The global deduplication that Simpana 8 made it the first product of its kind to allow for writes to physical tape libraries without requiring reinflation -- also called "rehydration" -- of deduplicated data.

For many environments, physical tape creation is still necessary to fulfill data recovery and retention requirements. Most backup software solutions and some VTLs with deduplication offer the added capability of creating physical tape media.

Most solutions supporting tape must "reinflate" data prior to it being copied to tape, eliminating the benefits of deduplication. Simpana 8 offers the ability to move deduplicated data from disk to tape, minimizing the number of tapes required to store data for long-term archiving.

When a recovery is required, tape-based deduplicated data must be copied back to disk, and will then be available to the end-user or application.

Using the Simpana 8, Geisinger didn't have to go through that drill, saved days of staff time and a good chunk of opex at the same time.

Geisinger wasn't about to abandon its investment in physical digital tape. HIPAA, Sarbanes-Oxley, and other regulations require that medical records of all kinds are kept for as many as 30 years. Spinning disk storage makes no sense for that use case.

"This has worked out very well for us, in a lot of ways," Paul Spotts, a Geisinger system engineer, told The Station. "We added a VTL [virtual tape library] because we were running out of capacity in our physical tape libraries, and we've found it to be extremely cost-effective because it fits into our overall storage system so well."

As it often does in an enterprise, one good thing leads to another. Geisinger has since gone on to streamline a number of backend IT processes that directly affect records storage and compliance management. It's all added up to inject efficiencies in several places within the system, which eventually comes back to make overall service better for patients.

Geisinger's smart use of storage technology earned national attention last fall when President Barack Obama, who at the time was admonishing Congress to focus on health care reform, mentioned Geisinger in an address to the American Medical Association as an example of a health system that works efficiently -- yet at lower-than-average costs.

"We need to build on the examples of outstanding medicine at places like Geisinger Health System in rural Pennsylvania and Intermountain Health in Salt Lake City, where high quality care is being provided at costs well below the national average," Obama said.

The president said health care providers nationwide need to look at places like Geisinger and learn from that success. Since then other hospitals have followed Obama's advice and sent representatives to Geisinger's Danville, Pa., headquarters to learn and take ideas back with them.

eWEEK needs to take a little credit at this point; our editors named Simpana as Best Storage Software in our 2008 eWEEK Excellence Awards.

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 13 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...