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October 01, 2010

Cloud Services Cures Data Challenges for Healthcare Document Manager

By TMCnet Special Guest
Jeff Slap, Vice President of Virtualization Services at Host.net

Last year at this time, Florida-based Automated Document Solutions (ADS) had a new business opportunity with a large hospital group that needed back-file scanning, storage and 24/7 access to 7 terabytes (TB) worth of medical records. The job required a more robust infrastructure than ADS’ existing colocated setup, including a hardened in-house data center with a Storage Area Network (SAN).

The problem was that building that kind of facility would have required at least $250,000 in upfront costs alone as well as months of lead time that would have disqualified ADS from consideration.

“Beyond purchasing the SAN hardware, database and application servers, switching equipment and other hardware to outfit a data center, we would have needed backup, redundancy, full-time staff, and a whole range of physical security measures. That doesn’t include soft costs such as annual support fees,” said Michael S. Crews, director, information technology for ADS. “The costs were staggering, and we had only weeks – not months – to deploy.”

Instead, the firm turned to a Virtual Private Data Center (vPDC) service from Boca Raton-based Host.net (News - Alert) that not only eliminated capital outlays but also helped ADS win the contract in part by enabling near immediate rollout.

The strategy also enabled ADS to take advantage of virtualization technology, including faster disaster recovery, consolidated storage, easy scalability and centralized application updates for the various hospitals and healthcare systems for which ADS provides document imaging and management services.

The vPDC strategy was so successful that ADS is now using the same IT infrastructure for all new clients.

Newly digitized medical charts, images and other documents are transmitted to the vPDC’s servers through a secure VPN tunnel and housed in ADS’ private cloud for around-the-clock retrieval by physicians and other medical professionals requiring instant access to patient information.

An application layer within the vPDC platform manages the electronic records and secures user access to them. The platform also runs the ADS management system that tracks transaction activity at all of the firm’s client sites.

One key benefit for both ADS and its customers is the ability to provision additional SAN space on demand using the service’s virtualized architecture. For the large hospital group that was the first ADS customer using the platform, for example, the deployment began with 2 TB of storage and was expanded in increments as the digital records repository grew at a rate of 30,000 to 50,000 images per day.

The same easy scalability applies to server memory. When ADS asked the vPDC provider to double the RAM (News - Alert) on their virtual machine, the request was fulfilled in a matter of hours with no downtime or server reboot.

Server consolidation is another plus, with previous servers transitioning to a few virtual machines, with ADS having access to both its application software and its transaction monitoring system provided through a VPN tunnel. This has both simplified client management and reduced ADS’ physical server needs.

Outsourcing its data center needs also has freed ADS of security responsibilities. The provider supplies 24/7 managed security services including firewall, VPN, intrusion detection/prevention and vulnerability scanning, as well as backup and disaster recovery capabilities.

“If I had a server failure in a colocation scenario, I would have to drive to the colo’s data center, diagnose the problem and typically wait 24 hours to get it resolved,” Crews noted. “Now our data is backed up our data daily, and processing can continue even in the event of hardware failure because of virtualization, so no data is lost and downtime is negligible. This is a huge advantage because it assures our customers that the data is going to be available whenever a hospital needs a patient’s charts.”

With all of these capabilities, ADS is able to offer significant competitive advantages to prospective clients as well as stretch its IT budget farther than ever before. In the healthcare industry, you might call it good medicine. IT

Jeff Slapp is vice president of virtualization services at Host.net.


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