Growth in Records Drives Hospital to Flash Storage

Over the last decade, the healthcare industry has migrated from paper to electronic data. Today, most facilities rely on electronic medical records (EMRs) and a spate of other technologies to operate more efficiently and cost-effectively. But all these gains have also created new pains, including a need for more and better storage.

“As healthcare has become high-tech, the need for high-caliber storage has grown,” says Gene Thomas, vice president and CIO at Memorial Hospital in Gulfport, Miss.

The 445-bed not-for-profit hospital also operates 95 primary care and multi-specialty clinics in the region. In all, it handles about 425,000 ambulatory visits, 180,000 outpatient procedures and 75,000 emergency visits annually.

Nearly three years ago, the facility upgraded to electronic medical records. and it has continued to add electronic systems. “Storage has traditionally been expensive on a per-gigabyte or per-terabyte basis—and refresh cycles demand large capital expenditures,” Thomas points out. “Although the costs have come down in recent years, we needed to find a more efficient storage model.”

At the same time, Memorial Hospital began to virtualize desktop systems so that doctors and other practitioners could access EMRs and other data more easily and securely.

However, as the number of virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) systems grew to 1,800 users, the cost and performance pressure of operating a traditional storage area network (SAN) swelled. For instance, if the demand for medical charts and other data reached a critical threshold, the IT department had to reset systems, and users were temporarily shut out.

Replacing Disks With All-Flash Storage

After analyzing the way staff members were using systems and then surveying the vendor landscape, the medical facility decided to move beyond the spin cycle and replace disks with flash. It turned to Kaminario’s K2 all-flash storage solution to support the VDI systems and the VMware servers, and deployed the arrays in January 2016.

“We needed a highly reliable, high-speed storage platform that could also deliver a high level of flexibility,” Thomas explains. “When we looked at speed, performance, reliability and the overall cost per gigabyte, flash storage made sense.”

Thomas also liked the manageability of the solution. It enables the IT team to handle an array of tasks, including provisioning, from a console.

The flash technology has reduced backup times by 4x and reduced latency to below 1 millisecond. In addition, the system delivers real-time metrics that aid in performance analysis and troubleshooting. Finally, built-in logic handles deduplication and compression tasks automatically.

“The system is able to perform some pre-fetching tasks, which further speeds operations,” Thomas says. Memorial Hospital currently has about 160 terabytes of storage capacity available from two K2 flash arrays, which operate as one logical device.

Thomas says that the initiative is part of an overall evolution toward value-based healthcare. The organization will expand the use of flash storage in the coming months and years, including relying on it for storing and managing radiological images.

“The technology has been massively beneficial,” he says. “We have eliminated potential choke points and provided high-reliability systems to doctors and other practitioners. They now have high-speed, reliable access to electronic medical records.”


Samuel Greengard
Samuel Greengard
Samuel Greengard writes about business, technology and other topics. His book, The Internet of Things (MIT Press) was released in the spring of 2015.

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