Skip to content Skip to navigation

At UPMC, Mastering the IT Management Issues—On a Massive Scale

June 22, 2016
by Mark Hagland
| Reprints
Chris Carmody, SVP of enterprise infrastructure at the vast UPMC health system in Pittsburgh, details his bold plans for the organization’s IT future

The UPMC Health System, based in Pittsburgh, is a vast, 20-plus-hospital integrated health system that encompasses 60,000 employees and over 1,000 sites of care. The sheer size of the organization demands a level of IT governance and management that may not be demanded of much smaller patient care organizations.

Sitting at the nexus of a constant swarm of activity and innovation is Chris Carmody, senior vice president of enterprise infrastructure for UPMC. Carmody, who has been at UPMC for 18 years—the past three in his current role—is also president of the health system’s health information exchange, ClinicalConnect. In his SVP of enterprise infrastructure role, Carmody finds himself constantly in motion, helping CIO Ed McCallister to oversee complex IT operations on behalf of an Army-sized cadre of healthcare professionals.

Recently, Carmody welcomed HCI Editor-in-Chief Mark Hagland into his office in the health system’s corporate headquarters in the US Steel building, which dominates downtown Pittsburgh’s skyline, to discuss the challenges and opportunities that he and his colleagues are working through these days, as they push ahead into the future. Below are excerpts from that interview.

Tell me about your overall infrastructure strategy for the organization?

In my 20-year career in IT, this is probably the most transformative time ever, and especially from an infrastructure perspective, because of the emergence of cloud computing and software as a service (SaaS). So being responsible for the infrastructure for such a large system, is definitely a challenge. When I stepped into this role three years ago, things were still pretty fragmented. And we’ve taken on and absorbed into our environment, all the server and data center aspects. So you have all these legacy applications and systems that we’re taking on, and we can’t just throw away. So we have to manage and store data.

Chris Carmody

Right now, we are very much moving away from that traditional approach, and transitioning, so that we can deliver IT as a service. We’re working to eliminate the traditional stovepipes of IT—PC support, help desk, operating systems, DVAs. So you’ll see the elimination of those stovepipes and the full implementation of hybrid cloud computing, a combination of public cloud computing and on-premise storage.

Today, we have two data centers. Forbes Tower is our primary data center, and we have a smaller data center at Shadyside Hospital, 2.7 miles away [both in central Pittsburgh]; and they’re on the same power grid. But because of the organic growth of UPMC, we hadn’t addressed that in the past. And 12 years ago, when we were looking at a data center, we decided to virtualize. So we went from 999 physical servers to 4,000 virtual servers across these two data centers. The problem is that the actual facilities are 20 years old (Forbes) and 37 years old (Shadyside). So part of our long-term planning is to look at a new data center. We’re in the very late stages of selecting a partner to build a new data center.

Is that the same as having data center operations outsourced?

No, we won’t be outsourcing data center operations; instead, it will be a leasing type of situation. Either it will be a straight lease where we’ll lease the data center facility, or our data center will be co-located with the data centers of unrelated organizations, in the same facility. When such facilities are shared, you typically have your power infrastructure in the middle, with data halls. We would be one data hall.

So other completely unrelated organizations might be in the data halls?

Yes, or it might be a whole new building that we might lease. But we believe, given a hybrid cloud computing environment, that this should be the right strategy for us. There are still things we need to keep control over. The element that will consume the most power and space will be our network. With the Internet of things, the many devices—not just traditional computing devices, but medical devices and so forth—we’ve got a huge range of devices to manage.

And then you have this thing called the cloud. And this idea of shifting workloads. We came to the endpoint of our ELA, enterprise licensing agreement, with Microsoft, and used that as an opportunity change the licensing model. When you have 60,000 employees, and countless licenses, we were probably double-paying for licenses. So we collapsed that into an IT programming governance structure. All those processes that should be best practices—we’ve collapsed the people and processes, and now are streamlining to deliver IT as a service, to the enterprise.

We’re actually implementing a technology solution from Cherwell. They’re a platform that will provide a service catalog to UPMC that will be our front door. So if you need a landline phone, a cell phone, a PC, a laptop, an application, you’ll go there. So we’ll build the automation and orchestration layer with different software components that will actually automate the build. So we’re going to get rid of Shadyside, our secondary data center, and we’ll pick up and plop into the new data center, 28 miles apart, so that will be on a different grid, which will be good, from a disaster recovery standpoint. And when our Forbes Tower lease comes up… The first move will happen in about a year, to be sited about 28 miles away in the Pittsburgh metro area.

And so if the lase comes up on Forbes and it’s cheaper and there’s less risk, we might put that in the cloud. So we’ll have a much smaller physical presence because of cloud technology.

So all of this is being governed by a broad strategy, correct?