Greenville Health System Treats Backups SeriouslyBy Samuel Greengard
At the center of today's digital technology is storage. Fast, efficient systems, along with dependable backups and archiving, are critical.
For the Greenville Health System (GHS), which encompasses seven hospitals, more than 200 physician practices and about 1.5 million patients scattered across South Carolina, the journey to digital transformation—including managing electronic medical records (EMR) and billing—has led the organization down the road to improved storage technology.
In 2014, the organization switched to an EPIC EMR system, which replaced nearly 50 different systems, applications and tools. "In the past, we were doing standard tape backups with little or no virtualization," recalls Greg Johnson, manager of the Information Services Systems Engineering Team at Greenville Health.
Although the organization migrated to disk-based storage, many problems continued. For instance, IT lacked visibility into the backup infrastructure and ended up spending inordinate amounts of time addressing performance problems.
"We were using old technology from different vendors, and it couldn't deliver the features and performance we required, particularly with the enormous data growth we are experiencing," Johnson explains.
Because the former system was inefficient and delivering subpar performance, GHS was using 90 percent of its compute resources to manage backups, choking off the ability to handle other regular compute tasks. The engineering team couldn’t purge old backup sets and retire points that were no longer needed, so backup storage utilization was hitting a frightening 90 percent.
"We didn't want to risk running out of backup storage on critical EMR and billing records, so we had to purchase more appliances and systems," Johnson reports.
Embracing a Sophisticated Approach to Storage
The approach was unsustainable, especially across multiple facilities and locations. So, GHS, after examining the vendor landscape and analyzing different solutions and approaches, opted to embrace a more sophisticated approach to storage.
The organization turned to solutions provider Veeam and deployed its Availability Suite in late 2015. It delivers 24x7 availability; support for major application and data platforms the organization uses (including AIX, Windows, Citrix and VMware); simplified IT management; robust features; and security integration.
The capabilities include document management, patient identification tracking and laptop encryption. What's more, the storage framework ties into mobile devices, including the smartphones and tablets used by the health practitioners.
The results have been impressive. GHS now has access to patient records through EPIC on a 24x7 basis—something that delivers "increased operational efficiency," Johnson says. It also benefits from more reliable backups and a recovery framework that saves the IT department about 1,300 hours per year, which amounts to about $70,000 in direct labor costs.
The organization also saved another $250,000 in backup storage costs by eliminating outdated appliances. Overall, the Greenville Health System is realizing about a 50 percent cost saving over a five-year span, Johnson points out.
Most importantly, GHS now has complete visibility into the network and all storage systems within the enterprise. This makes it possible to identify problems quickly and resolve issues before they escalate into full-fledged emergencies.
"In the past, we had a person dedicated to handling only backups on a full-time basis," Johnson reports. "We have taken a giant step forward and built a framework that introduces greater efficiency, cost savings and performance gains.
"We are now fully prepared to take advantage of the opportunities offered by digital technology and electronic medical records."