Howard Regional Health System is a multicampus healthcare provider serving the communities of North Central Indiana. The organization is highly focused on improving patient care by expanding its use of technology. Although Howard Regional has adopted many leading-edge healthcare systems, it was challenged to support these systems efficiently. The organization implemented a solution using Microsoft System Center, the Microsoft family of system management products, to simplify software asset management, updating, deployment, server monitoring, and backup. Now, server issues are corrected in advance, ensuring that caregivers have continuous access to systems essential to patient care. Efficiency is also higher: The IT department is spending 50 percent less time updating software, leaving more time for strategic work, such as implementing additional applications to meet business needs.Situation
Howard Regional Health System, which began as Howard Community Hospital in 1961, in Kokomo, Indiana, is a major healthcare provider for North Central Indiana. Occupying 3 campuses, Howard Regional includes a 30-bed rehabilitation hospital, a 180-bed multispecialty hospital, an outpatient behavioral health campus, an imaging center, a multiple-physician practice serving Kokomo and the surrounding counties, and a free-standing outpatient surgery center, Indiana Surgery Center Kokomo, which is a joint venture between physicians, HRHS, and Visionary Enterprises, Inc.
Howard Regional has worked to improve patient care by expanding its use of technology. The organization’s IT environment includes everything from specialized healthcare software, picture archiving communication systems, and radiology and oncology software, to dictation software, time-tracking software, and a Cisco-based wireless infrastructure. Most of its applications run the Windows XP operating system, and over time, the organization has turned toward a Microsoft-based infrastructure. For instance, it recently implemented Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 for messaging and collaboration and the Active Directory service to help with administration of communications and logon processes.
With a staff of 15 and no centralized management system, the IT department was challenged to efficiently support Howard Regional’s many business applications. The organization’s 1,600 caregivers and administrative staff access these systems from 900 computers. “When we wanted to inventory software on our computers, it meant walking the floor to do an audit,” says Sharon Miller, Vice President Information Systems, Chief Information Officer, and Corporate Information Security Officer at Howard Regional.
“We also didn’t have a good system for software distribution,” says Wayne Jackson, Desktop Support Specialist at Howard Regional. “We did a lot of manual installs using removable media, and spent a lot of time figuring out where we were on licensing.”
Without a clear view into its desktop infrastructure, and with time-consuming and inconsistent updates, it was difficult for the IT staff to maintain a standardized desktop configuration. “We couldn’t achieve hardened security in our previous environment. We didn’t have enough control over our desktops,” says Miller.
As Howard Regional’s infrastructure grew, it required more maintenance to provide users with continuous access to specialized systems. Its MEDITECH healthcare information system gives caregivers and staff online access to clinical systems. Users can place orders for labs, radiology, and pharmacy, access results, and send results to other departments. But to connect to the information in these systems, most of which is handled using the Microsoft SQL Server 2005 data management software, a user’s computer must contain the correct configuration files. Updating configuration files and other software was time-consuming, because it was all done manually. This could result in delays for caregivers—and patients.
Howard Regional had similar difficulties managing the 120 servers that supported its business applications. “We were taking care of issues after a server had stopped working,” says Jeremy Sopher, Network Administrator at Howard Regional. “Downtime sometimes resulted in a stoppage of work in patient care areas.” The IT department found itself performing maintenance on and restarting active servers on a near-daily basis. If there was an issue with a server, the IT department was unable to create a remote connection to perform a diagnosis and repair the problem. “We were using a server operating system that didn’t allow us to remote to the servers once there was an issue,” explains Sopher. And traveling to the data centers where the servers were located resulted in additional delays. “Users weren’t very happy,” says Sopher.
The organization had also outgrown its data backup solution. Data backups were cumbersome and difficult to complete in a timely manner. Howard Regional relied on several different backup agents, so administrators had to track backup progress through multiple administrative panels. Data recovery was also slow, and the length of time between backups left significant opportunity for data to be lost. Finally, the previous tools did not give the department the ability to encrypt tape media for maximum security. “With limited resources, we struggle to meet the high level of demand for new technology,” says Miller. “We needed to implement a powerful enterprise class backup solution to meet the needs of the organization, and we needed to be able to lock down our desktops, run patches on a timely basis, and proactively monitor our servers. Adding more staff wasn’t the best answer because it was costly and could result in coordination issues. We needed to address this problem with technology.”Solution
To improve server and desktop management, Howard Regional decided to implement a solution based on Microsoft System Center products. Howard Regional obtained a license for the Microsoft System Center Server Management Suite Enterprise, which includes Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager 2007, Microsoft System Center Operations Manager 2007, Microsoft System Center Data Protection Manager 2007, and Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2007. Microsoft Gold Certified Partner CDW helped Howard Regional implement its new solution to achieve an integrated, end-to-end service management environment.
||System Center Server Management Suite Enterprise gives us the knowledge we need to proactively manage the environment.
VP Information Systems, CIO, and Corporate Information Security Officer, Howard Regional Health System
Through its asset intelligence features, System Center Configuration Manager 2007 helps IT staff easily track where Howard Regional’s hardware and software assets are and who is using them. “System Center Configuration Manager 2007 has given us a lot of information about our environment that we didn’t have before,” says Jackson. Using System Center Configuration Manager 2007, staff can also perform many management tasks remotely, such as update a computer’s configuration files to provide users with continuous access to the online systems, identify operating system issues, and, through the network, replace an entire computer image—including a new operating system and additional software, whenever necessary. “We also recently implemented a scheduled disk defragmentation task through System Center Configuration Manager 2007,” says Jackson. “This may seem like a minor thing, but it helps our help desk provide proactive maintenance to minimize support calls down the line.” Howard Regional plans to use the Desired Configuration Management capabilities of System Center Configuration Manager 2007 and Network Access Protection to improve its security environment by ensuring that only computers that comply with a desired configuration can connect to the Howard Regional network.
With System Center Operations Manager 2007, Howard Regional has gained greater control over its server environment through proactive monitoring, which helps to ensure the health and availability of its servers. “With System Center Operations Manager 2007, we are alerted if a server is being overworked and take corrective action before our users are affected,” says Sopher. Howard Regional also implemented a clustered server environment for redundancy, so IT staff can perform maintenance on a server or a group of servers without causing system downtime. IT staff currently use System Center Operations Manager 2007 to monitor its clustered Exchange Server 2007 environment and plans to also use it to monitor a forthcoming SQL Server environment.
“With System Center Operations Manager 2007 and our clustered server environment, we can detect issues and correct them without disrupting services,” says Miller.
System Center Operations Manager 2007 also gives the IT department the ability to look for other issues, within server event logs, that affect end users. “We are able to look for user account lockout events and can restore access in a timely fashion, and, from a security standpoint, we can detect brute force attacks and prevent systems from being breached,” says Sopher.
Howard Regional has simplified its processes for backing up business data by using one system—System Center Data Protection Manager—rather than multiple agents, as it did in the past. “We’re able to look at data backups from a single console now,” says Kevin Purvis, Network Administrator at Howard Regional. The IT department uses System Center Data Protection Manager 2007 to back up data on its servers that run the Windows Server 2008 operating system. Used in conjunction with the Windows Volume Shadow Copy Service, snapshots of server data are taken every 15 minutes. And, because System Center Data Protection Manager 2007 is capable of backing up only data that has changed, it shortens the time required to complete a backup. It also allows Howard Regional to encrypt tape backups for enhanced security for patient data.
Howard Regional is testing the capabilities of the Hyper-V virtualization technology, a component of the Windows Server 2008 operating system, which will allow the hospital to use resources more efficiently by running multiple applications on a single server. The IT department uses System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2007 to manage the virtual machines in its test environment, as well as System Center Data Protection Manager 2007 to easily back up these virtual machines.
Howard Regional runs most of its System Center solutions on HP Proliant DL380 server computers. These servers run primarily the Windows Server 2003 and Windows Server 2008 operating systems.Benefits
With Microsoft System Center Server Management Suite Enterprise, Howard Regional Health System has built an integrated IT environment with centralized management for its expanding infrastructure. Faster software updating, proactive monitoring, and better data protection allow the IT department to provide higher uptime for its business systems, resulting in better patient care. And, it is able to accomplish this with fewer resources than before.
High System Availability, Reliability
With a comprehensive suite of management tools to rely on, Howard Regional provides better availability for technology systems that enhance patient care. IT staff can detect and correct problems on servers that deliver applications used by caregivers before these problems result in an interruption of work. “We’ve eliminated a great deal of server downtime,” says Sopher. “When a server crashed, we had to spend time troubleshooting and determining a fix. Now, we do this work ahead of time, because we’re aware of problems before they strike. Before, we were having daily or weekly server issues.” The frequent issues in its previous environment resulted in approximately 10 percent server downtime, monthly. “Since rolling out our new environment including System Center Operations Manager 2007, we’ve had zero downtime.”
||System Center Configuration Manager 2007 has given us a lot of information about our environment that we didn’t have before.
Desktop Support Specialist, Howard Regional Health System
Because System Center Configuration Manager 2007 helps Howard Regional maintain a more standardized, updated desktop environment, it also improves reliability for users. “We’re just starting to tap the possibilities of System Center Configuration Manager 2007,” says Jackson. “It’s given us the foundation to deploy and maintain a standardized desktop and a highly controlled environment.” More Efficient Use of Resources
After Howard Regional deployed its System Center–based solution, the organization experienced a 20 percent staff reduction due to budget cuts. Miller says, “We would have really been behind in meeting the demand for new technologies without this infrastructure. System Center solutions have helped us work more efficiently and therefore deal with the challenges of the current economic environment.”
In fact, System Center Configuration Manager 2007 has helped the IT department reduce time spent updating software by approximately 50 percent. “We’re not doing manual installs anymore,” says Jackson.
System Center Configuration Manager 2007 also automates the software updating process, allowing administrators to perform other tasks while updates are in process. Any errors encountered are logged with detailed messages, so the administrator can resolve them later. Reporting features allow IT staff to organize and present information, inventory, software updates, and more, through predefined or customized reports. This makes it easier for staff to share status of configuration tasks with management. “System Center Configuration Manager 2007 has been a tremendous boon to us. We’re doing the same number of cases, maybe more, with half the staff,” says Jackson. Better Data Protection
System Center Data Protection Manager 2007 helps the IT department provide better backup for business data, and faster recoveries. “We can recover data much more easily than before,” says Purvis. “Recently, one of our vice presidents lost a file and, because of the continuous data protection we have with System Center Data Protection Manager 2007, we’re getting shadow copies every 15 minutes, so the window for losing data has shrunk. We were able to recover the lost file very quickly.”
Improved Patient Care
Access to the entire management suite helps Howard Regional improve the level of patient care, because the IT staff has complete, integrated tools to support its infrastructure. “There were a lot of pieces missing in our old environment,” says Purvis. “System Center Server Management Suite Enterprise has the answers. As administrators, we’re responsible for the entire environment, and the full suite helps us address the environment end to end.”
The organization’s infrastructure continues to grow, with users requesting new tools every day, and the IT department’s newfound efficiencies enable it to meet these requests, and spend more time implementing new technologies. Miller says, “Without integrated management tools, we could not deliver the quality infrastructure required to provide excellent patient care. System Center Server Management Suite Enterprise gives us the knowledge we need to proactively manage the environment. We can influence the technology to meet the needs of the business.”
Microsoft System Center
System Center solutions help IT pros manage the physical and virtual information technology (IT) environments across data centers, client computers, and devices. Using these integrated and automated management solutions, IT organizations can be more productive service providers to their businesses.
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