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Saving Data and Resources

March 22, 2013
by Richard R. Rogoski
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Hospital relies on cloud technology for its disaster recovery plan

Brookings Health System in Brookings, S.D., has yet to lose any critical data, but its leaders aren’t taking any chances. The hospital is currently in the process of rolling out a disaster recovery plan that incorporates vendor hosting and virtualization.

Consisting of a 49-bed city-owned hospital, a 79-bed nursing home and an apartment complex, Brookings Health contacted the Tempe, Ariz.-based ClearDATA in July 2012 to help the organization set up a workable disaster recovery strategy. “We kind of have a piecemeal one now,” says Nathan Anderson, information management director. “We have a data center in the hospital that doesn’t have redundancy built into it. And we’re backing up data using tape right now. It’s kind of a mess.”

While the hospital already uses an electronic health record, Anderson says that all data, including clinical and financial, is critical to the health system and must be protected.

Just having an emergency department that’s open 24 hours a day means that patient data is constantly being collected and transferred from one system to another.

In order to safeguard patient and hospital data, Anderson says that he and his colleagues will be using vSphere from the Palo Alto, Calif.-based VMware. “It provides high availability over the entire virtual IT environment,” he says. “And it eliminates the need and complexity of traditional clustering solutions.”

Because ClearDATA will be the host provider, the virtualization platform that is created will enable several operating systems and applications to be run on one host server in a private cloud environment. “It will be 100 percent virtual, so we’ll have no need for additional servers,” Anderson explains. Plus, he notes that the host server will be up and running 24/7.

To ensure secure connectivity to ClearDATA’s hosting facility in Chicago, Anderson notes that the ClearDATA team has installed a 100 megabit-per-second dedicated line between the hospital and the Chicago facility. All data will be encrypted before leaving the hospital, he adds.

And even though this solution depends on “virtual machines,” the system will still allow Brookings Health to back up all of its data. “We’ll back up on discs and those discs will be stored on site at ClearDATA in Chicago and replicated to their site in Phoenix,” Anderson says.

Aside from the security and ease of use that virtualization offers, Anderson says that another major consideration involved in moving forward in this area has been cost. “It makes disaster recovery a cost-effective solution,” he says.

Transitioning from virtually nothing but a tape back-up strategy to a full-blown disaster recovery plan has cost more in resource time than actual dollars, Anderson says. Since there was no need to purchase and install new hardware, the transition cost was less than $50,000. “Overall, it’s a shift from capital expense to operational cost,” he notes.

He also says that moving to a hosted solution would not require Brookings Health to staff its own data center 24 hours a day, which will save even more money.

As for offering advice to other CIOs who are planning to implement a disaster recovery plan, Anderson says, “Definitely look at a cloud hosting solution or virtualization. Virtualization is key to disaster recovery and back-up strategies.”