The human population multiplies exponentially. Rabbits certainly do. And with regulatory compliance and digital imaging continually pushing the boundaries of online information archival, Gateway Health System found its IT storage needs growing by leaps and bounds as well.
Gateway, a private health care organization that serves the needs of upper-middle Tennessee and south-central Kentucky, was facing a huge challenge in keeping pace with its ballooning storage requirements and doing so in a cost-effective manner, according to Corey Watts, technical support coordinator for the hospital system, in Clarksville, Tenn.
Moreover, the companys backup procedures—specifically, the time it took to replicate its burgeoning data stores—was increasingly too time-consuming. As a result, Watts said that Gateway needed to inject more scalability and efficiencies into its information storage architecture.
“Health care is one of those industries where storage needs grow exponentially as we add on things like digital imaging and electronic medical records,” said Watts, who, with the rest of Gateways IT organization, is now part of Perot Systems, of Plano, Texas, a systems integrator that handles the hospitals IT needs on an outsourced basis.
“It is difficult to keep up—every time you turn around, someone is wanting more space for another project,” Watts said. “Based on our estimations, were growing out storage needs from 1TB a year to 5TB, and thats just for one application.”
Gateways existing EMC Clariion 4700 SAN (storage area network) couldnt handle the load and was being retired by EMC. To address its needs for scalability and cost-effective storage and backup, Gateway, with the help of systems integrator MTI Technology, replaced its aging SAN with a newer EMC model, the Clariion CX500. At the same time, it embraced a tiered storage architecture, which stores noncritical business data on lower-performance, less expensive drives, Watts said.
For companies in health care, such as Gateway, and those in the financial services industry, a tiered storage architecture is a prime solution for that problem, said Rich Bocchin-fuso, vice president and chief technology officer at MTI, an Irvine, Calif., integrator that specializes in services involving high-performance storage.
With this approach, business-critical data is housed on high-performance, high-availability Fibre Channel drives, while much of the historical data—now required to be archived due to regulations such as HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act—can be automatically channeled off to less expensive ATA drives. The result: an overall more cost-effective storage solution, Bocchinfuso said.
“The key question is what business value can the historical data provide,” Bocchinfuso said. “If data has an intrinsic business value for three years, for example, it should be kept on Fibre Channel storage. But once its older, you dont want to keep it on Tier 1 storage—–you want to lower the cost of doing business.”
Prior to adopting the tiered-storage approach, it was next to impossible for Gateway to keep its storage costs in check, Watts said. The hospital system was maintaining a 4.5TB data store for its various medical applications, and that load grew at a rate of approximately 1.5TB annually. But with new digital imaging applications coming online—a new CT diagnostic scan system, for example—the growth rate was expected to skyrocket to 5.6TB annually, and that was just for one application, Watts said.
With Gateways existing EMC Clariion hardware being retired by the manufacturer, there was no longer a platform that could be scaled for future storage growth, Watts explained. With its traditional storage approach built around high-performance Fibre Channel drives, Gateway was also paying “exorbitant money for an infrastructure to house data that was less-than-business-critical,” he said.
“Forty-five days worth of storage might be a terabyte and a half, and next year at this time, it might be 1.75TB,” Watts said. “But the archive of 45 days and beyond will require anywhere from 4 to 9TB. And its critical to grow that on a cost-effective basis.”
Thats where MTI came in. MTI representatives analyzed Gateways data requirements, taking into consideration the performance needs of the different applications and the utilization rates on storage, said Steve Clark, MTIs director of presales engineering. MTI representatives met with the various stakeholders at Gateway who were associated with each server and all the various applications to determine which data was business-critical. MTI representatives also employed its own methodology and subroutines to help in the classification process, Clark said.
“MTI helped us break down what systems held what data and seek out answers to such questions as how often the data was accessed and how long after a patient left was the data relevant,” Watts said. “I suppose we could have done it without integrator support, but it helps to have someone there looking over your shoulder … and who knows all the pitfalls and gotchas.”
Having that third-party, objective point of view and taking a strategic approach to the problem is something an integrator, particularly one with a focus on storage, is best suited to do, Clark said.
Integrating storage cuts down
“The only thing we do is storage information structures on a day-to-day basis. That compares to a hospital community IT organization which knows how to serve staff,” Clark said.
MTIs recommendation was to replace the older EMC unit with a Clariion CX500 array, which could house Fibre Channel and ATA drives in the same unit. While the new platform provided a path to scale with Gateways evolving data storage needs, it employed the same interface as the older model and had all the same control functions. That, in itself, simplified any kind of transition, Clark said.
Having one integrated platform to manage is easier than having two or three separate entities,” Watts concurred. “It made it easy for us to make the leap without having to undertake a huge learning curve.”
The next step in Gateways tiered storage architecture plan is to come up with an even-longer-term archival strategy, Watts said. The goal is to create an ILM (information management lifecycle) system, he said, where business-critical data sits on Fibre Channel drives for 45 days or less, is next offloaded to ATA drives for a year or two, and then eventually moves to a different type of archiving unit for the remainder of its tenure.
“That will keep us growing and give us the flexibility to hold all this data because the data doesnt stop growing,” Watts said.
Another benefit of the tiered approach was a substantial decrease in the time needed to initiate full backup and restore cycles, according to MTIs Bocchinfuso. MTI orchestrated a backup-to-disk methodology, using EMCs SnapView and Replication Manager/SE tools, to take a point-in-time copy of critical data residing on the high-speed Fibre Channel drives and to replicate it to lower-cost ATA drives. A new automated tape library, StorageTeks L20-20, was also employed to stage the disk backups. The L20-20 uses StorageTek LTO2 Fibre Channel tape drives for near-line and off-site disaster recovery copies.
By reducing the amount of data to be backed up—for example, pulling static data out of the normal rotation—companies such as Gateway can also significantly cut back their backup windows, Bocchinfusco said.
In fact, the reduction in backup time was the area where Gateways user base felt the greatest benefit from the new storage platform, Watts said. Previously, running a full backup could take as much as 36 hours, which meant the IT team often had to sacrifice some of the restore procedures because it was short on time.
Being able to do the full backup in a time-efficient manner and have easy access to the archived backup files has meant that doctors, nurses and other health care professionals can get what they need without a lot of downtime. Previously, theyd have to pore through tape catalogs; determine which tape housed the information they required; contact a third-party off-site tape storage vendor; and, finally, make arrangements to retrieve the tape.
Now Gateway has two weeks of its most current backup on ATA drives stored online so it can deliver necessary information to hospital employees in roughly 5 minutes. “Time is money, especially in health care,” Watts said. “If someone deletes a file and they call the help desk, we can now restore it quickly so they can get back to what theyre doing, which is providing patient care. Now all those steps are reduced to one.”
Simplifying caregivers and administrators access to patient data is what its all about, said Watts: “We want to make sure that when a physician is looking for an image, we give them the image or data as quickly as humanly possible and as cost-effectively as possible. At the end of day, they dont care how much data were holding or what it costs to hold that data. They know what they need, and they want it quickly.”
Beth Stackpole is a freelance writer based in Newbury, Mass. She can be reached at [email protected].
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