To stay ahead of the rapidly changing healthcare business, health systems and hospitals are challenged with improving information technology (IT) services and security and keeping up with ever-increasing demand while also controlling rising costs. Healthcare leaders are tackling these challenges in a number of different ways, such as building new data centers and making improvements to their IT architecture.
Leadership at the six-hospital Baystate Health system, based in Springfield, Massachusetts, recognized the health system needed to change its approach to IT due to rapid changes in the healthcare business with increasing demand by users and skyrocketing operating and capital expenses. And, health system leadership found that rapidly increasing healthcare data requires increasing storage, and siloed infrastructure limits speed and flexibility to support IT needs.
Serving more than one million patients a year across large swaths of western Massachusetts, Baystate Health employs 12,000 people, encompasses an academic medical center, four community hospitals, a children’s hospital, numerous outpatient and primary care facilities, a hospice, a health insurance company, and the only level-one trauma center in Western Massachusetts.
A year and a half ago, Baystate Health launched a project, led by the health system’s CIO Joel Vengco, to rebuild its entire IT infrastructure with the aim of providing physicians and staff a technology platform that provides optimal application performance, accommodates ever-increasing demand, while, at the same time, containing costs. In 2014, the health system partnered with healthcare and business IT advisory firm VertitechIT on the project to update its entire IT infrastructure, and Michael Feld came on board as interim Chief Technology Officer (CTO).
“My mandate is to basically forklift the entire IT department and move it from what’s called a siloed, traditional, less than fully efficient model to something much more modern. And, Baystate’s CIO has tasked me to do this with declining budgets and increasing demand,” Feld says.
“The biggest problem was the data centers, Feld continues. “We had an ancient data center that had water damage, in the basement of a building. We were going to build a whole new data center and decommission the old one. When we looked at the budget for this and within the existing space we had, we budgeted $8 million to upgrade the IT infrastructure.
“It occurred to us, before we do that, we should look at the entire way our data flows, how all of our systems work between the two data centers and the other hospitals, as we had what I’ll call data closets and bits and pieces of IT everywhere. It became clear that there would be a much better way to build things which would also eliminate maybe even the need for this $8 million capital spend,” Feld says.
Leadership at Baystate Health considered the significant costs—capital, real estate, personnel and power—that building a new data center would require and decided instead to target a virtualized hyperconverged infrastructure environment with a reduced footprint.
Baystate’s IT leadership decided to take control at the software layer using Software-Defined Data Center (SDDC) to standardize compute, network and storage infrastructure on more affordable commodity hardware using a streamlined, hyperconverged approach, Feld says.
Baystate Health worked with health IT vendor VMWare to re-engineer tis existing data center. The Baystate team virtualized and converged the health system’s three physical data centers into a single, three-site (what’s called “active-active-active”) data center based on a hyperconverged infrastructure and VMWare’s NSX network virtualization platform. The virtualized data center has “always-on, borderless” capabilities, according to Feld.
“With this hyperconvergence model, we are always available, at all times, with all data, so nothing is failing over, everything is operating communally across all these facilities,” Feld says.
By virtualizing and hyperconverging its data center, Baystate saved about $3.5 million from the original $8 million budget. And, Feld says, the IT infrastructure design is scalable, which gives the health system a stable, yet flexible foundation for future growth.
The network virtualization platform sits strategically between applications and the infrastructure layer, offering better integration with the remainder of Baystate’s VMware cloud stack. The new data center now provides a strong foundation for much of the data and services necessary for Baystate’s population health management, according to health system leadership.
“Healthcare is under tremendous pressure to reduce costs, especially operational costs. With VMware NSX, we are able to create a more fluid, liquid, automated data center that allows us to do more with less,” Vengco said in a statement.
Baystate Health also was able to realize data consolidation and space savings due to the deployment of a virtual SAN shared storage solution, saving data center real estate by a factor of 10 to 1.
“We will be eliminating all our traditional SAN storage, so there will be no traditional racks of Dells, or HP servers,” Feld continues, “Like most hospitals, it’s our imaging that drives a lot of our storage, and with this approach, storage costs are about 50 percent less.”