by Matthew Bishop
, Enterprise Solutions Architect, UnityPoint Health
| October 23, 2014
From the September 2014 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine
UnityPoint Health is a large multicampus health system
serving patients across Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin and is currently managing two large data centers. Instead of continuing to purchase more hardware-based servers and expanding these data centers, leadership decided to move to a completely virtual server environment. This project was made more urgent by a hardware replacement cycle. We had passed the four year life span of the equipment and were faced with the prospect of replacing not just the 12 servers in our main center, but the mirrored system in a disaster recovery location.
We knew maintenance and power costs would rise as we expanded our operations. We had to grow our application server environment, but more hardware through capital expenditures no longer made sense.
Developing support for what some saw as a “big leap” to virtualization was critical. Internal communications and transparency were key and we worked closely with our PACS Governance Council to gain their consent needed within our IT governance framework.
An important element to achieving the consent was proving that “the big leap” would occur without any gaps in service or performance. Stakeholders needed assurance that the system would continue to meet the internal service level agreements.
At first, we moved cautiously, implementing the virtual environment while still maintaining our physical servers. We made sure all the applications worked in our test system and only then did we change out the first physical server for the first virtual server. From then on, we switched servers one at a time. A week later we were unracking the old servers and getting them ready for removal.
Before switching to virtual servers we were seeing a lot of study sequencing and study acquisition related problems caused by a system operating at max capacity and above. These problems cause excessive administrative overhead for both our system administrators and our vendors’ support team. The move to a virtual environment resulted in much less administration time devoted to correcting application errors that were created by the physical hardware operating at and above capacity. Radiologists and clinicians were able to access and view exams in a faster and more efficient manner and we recorded a 175 percent increase in the ability of an application server to process incoming images.
We improved performance in almost every area on the test system. One of the most impressive discoveries was in the area of disaster recovery. Bringing up our physical server-based mirror site required two hours with a full 45 minutes devoted to failing over applications to the servers. Our virtual disaster recovery system came up in less than three minutes.