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Valley Health System prescribes all-flash Violin storage

Valley Health System is shifting to an all-flash storage model to improve the performance of its medical records app and data center virtualization.

Valley Health System in New Jersey has more than doubled down on its all-flash storage array investment since first implementing Violin Memory Inc. arrays in 2014.

The hospital system has used all-flash Violin storage as the underpinning for three projects around upgrading its mission-critical electronics heath record (EHR) system, moving to a fully virtualized server environment and adopting a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI). All of this was done across two data centers for disaster recovery and business continuity.

The storage upgrade was crucial when Valley Health, which services 440,000 people in the Bergen County area, needed to modernize its Medical Information Technology Inc. (Meditech) EHR system due to a Meditech software upgrade. The upgrade would affect about 7,000 hospital employees.

"The Meditech application we were using was 30 years old, and it was looking that way to users," said Eric Carey, CIO for Valley Health System. "But the application was highly efficient, because it was proprietary. It was incredibly fast, so there was a high fear factor that [a new hardware system] would be too slow for us."

After doing a performance test, the Ridgewood, New Jersey-based company deployed four 6364 all-flash Violin storage systems with two IBM SAN Volume Controller (SVCs) and VMware for virtualization in February 2014. They also installed two Brocade SAN switches, two Cisco UCS Chassis with 10 blade servers, two physical servers and Data Domain backup appliances for each data center.

The four Violin systems totaled 80 TB of flash-based storage. Two Violin storage appliances were placed in the primary data center in Ridgewood, New Jersey and another two in the secondary data center approximately five miles away in Paramus, N.J. During the upgrade, the Meditech application went from 16 servers to 70. The new environment is running 70 virtual Windows servers on six ESXi hosts (Cisco UCS Blade Servers).

"We are talking about a highly invasive project," said Matthew Ryffel, Valley Health System's manager for network operations.

Valley Health added two more 6364 arrays later in 2014 for 40 TB of storage. One system was placed in the main data center and another at the secondary site.

The heath system added newer Violin 7300 Flash Storage Platform arrays in early 2015 when it installed 600 active VDI instances. That project will likely expand, because VHS purchased 1,800 VDI licenses. The 7300 arrays have a total of 20 TB of capacity configured.

The Meditech application previously ran on an EMC Clariion CX340S SAN and IBM blade servers. Valley Health still has EMC storage running its non-Meditech applications. They have 180TB of VNX disk in their production data center that is fully replicated to the alternate data center, totaling 360 TB of spinning disk storage.

"We plan to convert that to all-flash, as well," Carey said.

The immersion into flash has taught Carey and his team that flash and disk need to be handled differently.

"People in the disk world don't understand flash," he said. "They still think of spindles, so you need experience in managing and optimizing flash or you won't get your money's worth. With disk, the more spindles you have, the more throughput. Flash is direct access, so the mathematics is different. It's not plug-and-play."

Carey said the initial storage performance on the proof of concept did not meet the required expectations because the cache in the IBM SVC controller was slowing down the flash array. They turned off the cache and the Violin storage system's performance improved.

Carey said they looked into several other storage vendors, including EMC, Cisco/Whiptail and Pure Storage Inc.

"But none of them were willing to do what Violin was willing to do, which was provide an appliance so it could be benchmark tested against our software," he said.

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