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Medical center turns to SANs for storage relief

Kevin Komiega

Handling a hospital's data storage needs can give even the most efficient IT manager migraines. So to cure the aches and pains of common capacity problems Wake Forest Medical Center moved to a centralized, networked storage infrastructure.

Bob Massengill, manager of technical services for the medical center started researching storage area networks when the lease for his mainframe storage was winding down.

"At that time we were having massive e-mail disk storage failures. [The array] we were running was a good box, but it couldn't handle the load we were throwing at it," said Massengill.

The goal was to promote and develop the SAN as the brain of the enterprise, but there was a need to prove it as a concept and after a few months the medical center's staff started to buy into the SAN.

"We had administrators that administrated their own disks. When we began to talk about centralization there was a fear of loss of power, but we needed to bring in a more cost effective, manageable system," he said.

The IT team did its homework. Since it had already installed an EMC Symmetrix array, it was just a matter of which switches would serve as the SANs nervous system. After working with Piedmont Technology Group Inc., a value added reseller, Massengill went with a pair switches from McData Corp., which according to Massengill, had a more scalable product.

"We knew we wanted to eventually get to the director class switch and McData

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had the port counts that we needed."

Wake Forest began its SAN with a mere 3T Bytes of storage, but that quickly jumped to almost 30T Bytes in six months.

Most of the medical center's storage resources --10T Bytes -- are gobbled up by the radiology department, which poses a unique storage problem.

Records have to be kept seven years after the patient turns 18 years old. Meaning, that x-rays for a given patient might have to be stored for up to 25 years.

The rest of the SAN's storage is spread out across its mainframe, Unix, Windows NT and Exchange systems.

The centralization that comes with a SAN freed up the IT team to focus on more critical applications.

As Massengill added more storage, and subsequently more servers and switch ports, the decision was made to move to a 64-port director class switch.

The addition of a SAN had its obvious technical benefits like allowing for manipulation and the elimination of any need to upgrade servers or buy additional external storage. But the biggest boost came in the form of saved time.

Trying to show an accurate return on investment is difficult. Though he can't put an exact number on it, Massengill says the SAN helped cut his team's management time drastically. "We've been able to redeploy and reallocate staff to other things they were behind on."

Wake Forest Medical Center has one full-time person managing its 33T Byte SAN and provisions and monitors storage for the many arms of the medical center's network.

Since Wake Forest Medical Center deployed its first SAN it has not experienced any significant downtime. The only snafu came when a Fibre adapter card "hung up" within the Symmetrix box. An issue that changed the way Massengill configures his hardware.

"I did lose a Fibre adapter card. Since then we've reevaluated the [configuration] and from now on if you come onto our SAN we're going to dual port you to everything for redundancy," said Massengill. "It was a configuration issue, but it didn't knock us down."

So what does the future hold for the Massengill's never ending storage needs?

Wake Forest is in the process of planning a round of capacity and software upgrades to preempt future capacity and management needs.

Massengill has prescribed a dual strategy for the future, including the addition of 12T Bytes of new capacity and a new management tool called SANavigator.

"Above all else, our primary goal as an organization is to provide the very best healthcare we can possibly provide. Our IT department plays a crucial role in attaining that goal by supplying access to critical data," said Massengill.

Let us know what you think about the story, e-mail Kevin Komiega, News Writer

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Hospitals make room for healthcare

McData finally set with 2GB switches

Start-up's technology could compete with SAN management software

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