The Saskatoon Health Region is the largest healthcare service provider in the province of Saskatchewan. To help improve the service and care experience for residents and reduce costs, the region’s senior leadership team seeks to adopt robust software applications. But keeping up with the pace of technology change was proving to be a challenge. The organization’s IT infrastructure was comprised of servers that were difficult to manage, which prevented the IT team from quickly responding to the region’s demands for new software applications. The infrastructure also did not allow the IT team to implement a comprehensive disaster recovery plan. To address these issues, they consolidated server resources with Microsoft Windows Server 2008 R2 Hyper-V. As a result, the organization now has a more agile IT environment that supports disaster recovery requirements. Situation
The Saskatoon Health Region employs more than 12,000 registered nurses, doctors, and other health care support workers. These professionals strive to give patients, clients and residents the best care and service experience possible. One of the ways the organization achieves this goal is through the adoption of innovative technology, including software applications that speed up the hospital admission process or support telehealth services.
||Any time we can free up to do other things is really important. Because we only have to deal with a few clusters, we can focus more on responding to the business.
||Craig Hackl, Senior Systems Analysts for Windows Servers, Saskatoon Health Region
However, the organization’s IT team did not have the resources they needed to keep up with demands for new applications. The region’s IT system consisted of older servers and PCs. This made it difficult to rapidly set up and test new software, a process that typically required four to six weeks.
The Health Region’s department heads also wanted to reduce the amount of time their critical applications, such as patient information systems and email, were unavailable due to technical issues or regular maintenance service outages. On top of this, the IT infrastructure did not allow the organization to meet disaster recovery requirements.
“If all of the servers at one of our hospitals went down, the results would have been catastrophic because we did not have a way to get our systems back up and running quickly. We would need to scramble and bring in additional staff in order to keep critical IT services. As a publicly funded organization, we simply don’t have the money to pay staff to support these systems manually,” says Craig Hackl, Senior Systems Analysts for Windows Servers, Saskatoon Health Region.
Because the organization operates under a strict budget, it needed to create a cost-effective, highly available, and protected server infrastructure. This way, it could ensure applications met defined service-level agreements (SLAs) for availability and disaster recovery preparedness. The IT team suggested that the organization move to a virtual environment, which enables multiple servers to run concurrently on a single machine. Solution
The IT department started their virtualization initiative by examining the technology solutions options available. At the time, there were two main virtualization products on the market: VMware and Microsoft Windows Virtual Server 2005.
In the end, Saskatoon Health Region selected the Microsoft-based solution, because it was available free of charge, while VMware was out of its price range. The Region also chose Microsoft Windows Server 2003 R2 Datacenter Edition -- a high-end server that scales up to 64 processors -- because it provided a more flexible licensing scheme for the virtual machines.
At the same time, the organization replaced infrastructure servers that were more than seven years old, as well as old PCs and laptops in both rural and Saskatoon locations. This was all part of the broader strategy to enhance the reliability of the technology systems in the Health Region.
Currently, the Health Region has two Windows Server 2008 R2 Hyper-V clusters and two Virtual Server 2005 R2 clusters at its major host data centres. IT management’s goal is to eventually have those clusters speaking to each other across the metropolitan area network, while virtualizing the majority of the organization’s server resources.
“We’re really happy with the ability to have local clusters, but as soon as we get that cross-site clustering capability, this environment is really going to sing,” says Jason Warnes, Team Lead of Network Infrastructure, Saskatoon Health Region. Benefits
Having implemented Windows Virtual Servers, the IT team at Saskatoon Health Region is more agile and efficient. This means IT staff can adapt to meet the region’s needs. They also now have the ability to keep applications running in the event of a disaster.
Improved Disaster Recovery
Now that the Health Region has virtualized a number of its resources, it can ensure applications quickly return to an optimal level after a power outage, fire, extreme weather, or other type of disaster at one of its facilities.
Utilizing Virtual Server’s clustering capabilities, server computational resources are pooled to increase the availability of the application and data in any situation. In the event of a cluster node failing, failover triggers an automatic restart of services on any of the remaining nodes of the cluster. This technology can be used for mission-critical applications such as file and print servers, application servers, and database servers.
“For senior management and directors within the organization, ensuring we can provide the best healthcare service possible at all times is crucial. With Microsoft Virtual Server’s business continuity features, we can rapidly return to a normal operational state after disaster strikes. This helps minimize the impact significant unplanned events would otherwise have on patients and their families,” says Hackl.
Improved It Efficiencies
With a virtualized environment, IT administrators, managers and support personnel are spending less time on routine maintenance tasks. This means they can focus on aligning their efforts with the organization’s broader goals.
“With the small department and the amount of resources we have, any time we can free up to do other things is really important. Because we only have to deal with a few clusters, rather than several individual machines, we can focus more on responding to the business needs of our organization,” says Hackl.
With a more agile IT workforce, the Health Region can quickly test new applications and ensure sure they are providing the public with the best service possible through cost-saving technology. For example, senior hospital managers wanted to test a new software application that eliminates the need for patients to get a carbon copy of an embossed card if they require an order for a procedure. Previously, when the senior leadership team wanted to test a new software application, they would wait four to six weeks for delivery of the necessary hardware. But with the virtual environment, the IT department can provide an isolated replica of their Microsoft Active Directory and a test environment with a very small number of resources. As a result, they can test the latest software packages in the environment within two days.
It also takes the IT team less time to renew or physically replace servers. With virtualization, they don’t have to commission new hardware from scratch because the drivers and disks are already organized. All they have to do is add new nodes to the cluster and distribute the virtual machines to take advantage of the new hardware, which saves about 80 per cent of the time required to replace a server.
Virtualization also allows the IT department to perform maintenance tasks without affecting overall performance. This means IT personnel can do these tasks during normal business hours when previously, they had to schedule service outages and work in the evening. Virtualization is also benefiting the Health Region in other ways.
“There are fewer physical machines running so the Health Region is using less power, generating less heat, meaning it is less costly to run at an optimal level. The consolidation also helps reduce footprint in the server room, so we don’t have to worry about space concerns if we can consolidate several servers on virtual machines,” says Hackl.Microsoft Virtualization
Microsoft virtualization is an end-to-end strategy that can profoundly affect nearly every aspect of the IT infrastructure management lifecycle. It can drive greater efficiencies, flexibility, and cost effectiveness throughout your organization. From accelerating application deployments; to ensuring systems, applications, and data are always available; to taking the hassle out of rebuilding and shutting down servers and desktops for testing and development; to reducing risk, slashing costs, and improving the agility of your entire environment—virtualization has the power to transform your infrastructure, from the data center to the desktop.
For more information about Microsoft virtualization solutions, go to:
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For more information about Saskatoon Health Region products and services, call (306) 655-3300 or visit the Web site at: http://www.saskatoonhealthregion.caThis case study is for informational purposes only. MICROSOFT MAKES NO WARRANTIES, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, IN THIS SUMMARY.