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Medical IT company cures storage malaise

Trying to expand its customer base while reducing the cost and complexity of data storage was a bedeviling problem for Source Medical, a Birmingham, Ala.-based provider of information products to outpatient health care facilities.

The two-year-old company couldn't keep storage static if it expected to grow, but it lacked the budget to purchase huge allocations of excess capacity for some fuzzy, forecasted future use. Source Medical uses computer technologies to help outpatient facilities collect patient information more efficiently than traditional manual methods allow. Customers include about 3,500 outpatient facilities, including ambulatory surgery centers, diagnostic clinics and individual physician and physical therapy practices.

The company is also an application service provider that develops and hosts software used for scheduling, patient registration, billing and claims processing. The volume of data stored and made available -- and the necessity of avoiding downtime at all costs -- made it important to find storage technologies that optimized disk space. The company wanted a way to increase its storage capacity gradually, buying all the technology components from one vendor and purchasing additional capacity as the need arose.

Trying to balance the need to accommodate future data-storage demand with the need to keep storage costs level, Source Medical interviewed numerous technology vendors. It whittled a short list of vendors to six, then further shortened

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it to three. Eventually, the company chose the Complete Storage Solutions series by Santa Clara, Calif.-based Sun Microsystems. The product, which includes a storage server and a range of storage software, has helped Source Medical delay costly infrastructure upgrades, says Lee Roy Hardeman, the company's group vice president for development support.

The system includes the Sun StorEdge 9960, Sun StorEdge 9900 Resource Management Suite software, Sun StorEdge Utilization Suite software and Performance Suite software for critical resource and data management functions. Additional Sun technologies include a tape library system, a pair of midrange Sun servers, Solaris Operating Environment and SunSpectrum Silver support.

"We needed high-availability infrastructure -- an architecture that could be clustered and scalable -- and that enabled us to serve small customers as well as larger ones," Hardeman says. "We went looking for a system that had some continuity across data backup and recovery, and different levels of storage management so we could most effectively manage what we did have. We weren't interested only in something [that helped us] get big; we also wanted to manage what we have to the best of our ability."

To date, the company reports measurable results from using utilities software included in Sun's Complete Storage Solution. The product has helped Source Medical reduce its capacity requirements about 40% by reusing disk space that was previously idle or wasted through file deletions and similar gaps. "We will grow storage at a much slower rate as a result," Hardeman says. "We'll be able to add to our customer base, but manage it at a level that enables us to slow down storage expansion, which to me is capital investment. I'm able to put more data and manage more data on the same amount of disk [space] I have currently."

The deciding factor in favor of Sun, says Hardeman, was its technology. Sun was the "only offering that gave us the fiber connectivity throughout the cabinet, as well as to the drives and the cabling over to the servers. We looked at a lot of solutions that have Fibre connections part way, and then you get up inside the cabinet and it's just cabling, not Fibre."

Source Medical uses Oracle on the back end but wanted an "industrial strength" front-end technology. The 9960 system includes up to 35T Bytes of usable space. The company started with 1.7T Bytes, but expects to double that in September. "It becomes a server farm in itself," Hardeman says.

In addition to Sun, Source Medical uses tape backup in its data center. The tapes are stored off-site by Iron Mountain

For information on Source Medical, please visit its Web site.

Click here for information on Sun Microsystems.

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    This was first published in September 2002

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