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Vanderbilt hospital fights archive growth with grid

Vanderbilt University Medical Center simplifies document management using Bycast's archiving grid system.

Vanderbilt University Medical Center needed a tiered archiving scheme as HIPAA regulations caused data to pile up this year and also wanted to simplify management of geographically and logically dispersed data. Vanderbilt officials said they've found both of those features in a grid archiving system from IBM and Bycast Inc.

Vanderbilt had been using EMC Corp.'s Centera content addressable storage (CAS) product to store medical images for years, but administrators grew weary of adding disk as they

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archived more data. "There are a lot of things we legally have to keep literally forever," said Randy Ward, director of systems infrastructure at Vanderbilt. "Keeping everything on Centera disk forever wasn't going to fly."

There was no way, however, to get Centera to automatically roll its data off to tape for deep archive. Centera can write to tape but chiefly relies on replication between arrays for off-site disaster recovery storage. The medical center could've replicated using Clariion arrays over IP to save money, according to Ward, but that savings would have been overwhelmed by the acquisition cost of new disk, and power and cooling expenses.

Though Vanderbilt also has multiple EMC Clariion and Symmetrix arrays, it looked at Bycast when its radiology imaging vendor, Agfa-Gevaert Group, suggested IBM's Grid Medical Archive Solution (GMAS) as an alternative to Centera. IBM rebrands Bycast as GMAS.

First, there was the tape issue -- GMAS supports tape devices, automates migration from disk to tape and contains an archive node that tracks what's been written to tape and when.

Robin Wallace, systems software specialist for Vanderbilt, said the parallel access to dispersed data offered by the grid also began to look more and more appealing. "We're focused on rock-solid availability," Wallace said. Being able to spread data automatically over dozens of nodes and geographic distance made the hospital feel comfortable that its medical images wouldn't be lost, he said.

Instead of buying new EMC equipment to replicate an ever-expanding volume of data across its campus, a distance of five miles, Wallace said the grid will automatically offer access to existing data repositories in both locations. "One of the chief benefits of the grid is that you don't have to rip out and replace anything," he said.

Clariion midrange systems and other EMC storage are being brought into the grid. The medical center could even make the Centera part of the grid, though Ward said it will be repurposed for mainframe data elsewhere.

The medical center is migrating data from Centera to its 17-node grid. Nine nodes reside at the main data center and the rest at the remote data center. Ward said the data is being migrated application by application, with Agfa's IMPAX radiology application and a cardiology imaging application called Heartlab starting to write new data to the grid. The approximately 70 TB stored on the Centera has yet to be moved. "We have to coordinate with individual application teams, and we need time to do the migrations," Ward said, estimating the migration will be complete by the end of the calendar year.

There are still a few features Ward and Wallace said they were hoping will have been added by then -- mainly enhanced reporting and monitoring capabilities. "We can do overall reporting and trending on the amount of data in the grid, but we think in terms of applications and objects within those applications. We'd like to be able to monitor what's being written to the grid that way," according to Wallace.

"We have taken note of the customer requests to report on metrics segmented by application," wrote a Bycast spokesperson in an email to "We have the basic information available via the audit subsystem [and] are … evaluating … how to best allow users to create customized reports."

Archiving digs deeper with medical applications, Bycast branches out

Integration with applications has been a thorn in the side so far for Bycast and GMAS, according to other medical customers at a recent IBM event in Boston. Healthcare has been a late bloomer when it comes to data storage, and many application vendors still only support direct attached storage (DAS) on their own appliances. DICOM, a standard for medical imaging communications, could help with metadata compatibility issues between applications sharing an archive but is still working its way in to archiving systems.

Bycast has been focused strictly on medical use cases, but CEO Moe Kermani recently announced that Bycast will take its StorageGrid 7 software into verticals other than medical images and records archiving. So far, however, Bycast does not have any nonmedical reference customers to report.

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