Hospitals snap up cloudy storage as disk space runs out

Overwhelmed with patient data, NHS trust runs into EMC's arms

With an HP system nearing the end of its usefulness and a thirst for more storage, St Helens and Knowsley teaching hospitals trust decided to switch to a cloud array for its patient data.

"Performance has been improved in some cases four or fivefold, in terms of data system responsiveness," says Phil Corrin, deputy chief information officer at St Helens and Knowsley teaching hospitals trust.

The trust began using two EMC Symmetrix VMAX cloud storage arrays in September 2011, after signing a five-year agreement valued at £1.2m.

It embarked on the rollout as its existing HP storage network began to reach the end of its lifespan. Although the cost of the VMAX systems is equivalent to that of the previous network, the new system offers better scalability and functionality according to Corrin.

One of the key aims for the trust in deploying the VMAX system was expanding its storage capacity beyond its current 40TB, as its storage requirement is predicted to rise by 20% this year alone.

The trust's informatics shared service works on behalf of an expanding range of health providers and is currently providing services for 14,000 users across more than 150 sites.

"We have implemented a community information system, we host all the GP data, we have mental health systems," explains Corrin. "So we have increased volumes of data as our user base has increased as well."

By adopting cloud storage, the trust will be able to expand its storage according to demand. "I think in terms of scalability, we have currently got 80TB of storage and over the next five years we will definitely need an upgrade of storage as new projects come online.

"Maybe a new Pacs system with the end of National Programme for IT (NPfIT) programmes, but there will be other systems that will need storage and there is always an ever increasing volume of data coming from the digitisation of paper records."

Corrin adds: "We need to ensure that medical staff have access to the information they need, wherever they need it. As the trust becomes increasingly digitised, our storage requirements are only going to increase."

VMAX allows non-critical information to be kept on low cost storage with high priority data held on flash drives, enabling the trust to dynamically manage its storage.

"The EMC technology gives you the ability to manage your storage or your systems that sit on that storage and use the different types of storage – high-cost, superfast flash storage right down to low-cost, slower storage that allows you to move systems around on those platforms in order to maintain service levels and speed responsiveness.

"It also gives you end–to-end monitoring tools, so you can pinpoint bottlenecks right through from the application to the back-end storage, so that is critical as well."

There were no problems during the implementation according to Corrin, who lists the only major hurdle for the rollout as scheduling downtime for systems while copies of data were taken for the new system.

"All our server systems are linked to our central storage, so that was a major task," says Corrin. "We had EMC services people on site for part of the time, and they trained our technical engineers to be able to deal with the migration themselves, but were available for any complications."

This article was originally published at Guardian Government Computing.

Guardian Government Computing is a business division of Guardian Professional, and covers the latest news and analysis of public sector technology. For updates on public sector IT, join the Government Computing Network here.

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