Originally published on the Microsoft NHS Resource Centre on 03 March 2009
The headlines about virtualisation technologies tend to focus on cost savings. However, as Sally Whittle finds out, Microsoft’s Hyper-V virtualisation system is also making the IT department at Moorfields Eye Hospital more agile and more capable of supporting new initiatives across the trust.
Moorfields Eye Hospital is an international centre of excellence, providing care for more UK patients than any other eye hospital or clinic. Last year, it carried out more than 23,000 ophthalmic operations, as well as managing the largest ophthalmic research programme in the world.
To do all this, Moorfields relies on thousands of electronic scans and images, patient records, patient appointments and research documents. This information requires a massive amount of computing resource to store and manage. And this has to be secure, scalable and cost-effective.
A new generation of virtual servers
Providing enough physical servers would be prohibitively expensive in this environment, so Moorfields has been using virtual servers for many years, says Barrie Winnard, head of ICT at Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust.
However, even virtual computing was proving to be a costly option by 2008. “We had been using virtual servers and VMware Server for some years, but full VMware was prohibitive in terms of cost. “So we began looking for alternatives,” Winnard says.
Moorfields began testing Microsoft’s Hyper-V virtualisation technology on Windows Server 2008 in beta, and the results were extremely encouraging.
“We liked it so much we started using it for new servers that were required,” Winnard says. “Then, when Server 2008 was released, we started migrating over the VMware virtual machines to Hyper-V, and we set up a second server.”
Today, the hospital has four Hyper-V servers running around 40 virtual machines, and Winnard has ordered two more servers for use with Hyper-V to increase Moorfield’s capacity.
The key driver for adopting the Microsoft virtualisation technology over VMware was financial, says Winnard, but Moorfields was also impressed with the usability of the Microsoft technology.
“There’s a lot of familiarity with Microsoft tools and no command lines or complex set-up,” he says. “The advanced features of other customised solutions would be nice, but they aren’t essential for the simple consolidation scenarios we use virtualisation for.”
Simple migration and maintenance
Moorfields is also using System Centre Virtual Machine Manager to help manage the virtual environment. The technology has been invaluable, says Winnard, especially in helping to improve the efficiency of data migration.
“We have been using the P2V feature to migrate existing older, physical servers to Hyper-V, and we’re also using the Virtual Machine Manager to migrate another four servers we have,” he says. “Both of these tasks have been very awkward and time-consuming in the past, but with Virtual Machine Manager, it’s much quicker and efficient.”
The key benefit of virtualisation for Moorfields has been that the trust has been able to reduce its IT expenditure because it no longer has to continually invest in new hardware.
“Now, new projects can be up and running more quickly and with less expense, because we don’t have to buy new hardware for them,” Winnard says. “Also, we don’t need to keep ‘spare’ servers, so it’s quicker to set new servers up.”
At last: IT that moves at the speed of its users
Since adopting Hyper-V and Windows Server 2008, Moorfields has completed a number of new installations, including a new optometry system that runs entirely on Hyper-V. “That project runs in a completely virtual environment and was installed at very short notice, without needing any new hardware,” says Winnard.
“The best thing about virtualisation is that there’s peace of mind. We have capacity for new servers as required, and these can initially be specified quite low and then upgraded as the use of the application grows – or even migrated onto real hardware, if that’s what is required. It’s enormously flexible.”
The trust’s IT team also regularly uses Hyper-V for testing, demonstration and training applications. “It means we can easily host them on virtual servers without a lot of cost or complexity,” Winnard says.
Today, many minor services at Moorfields are also supported on Hyper-V – making it easier to provide a full range of services to employees. “We can provide staff with more applications, more quickly than ever before. The immediate benefit for patients is that this enables our workers to provide them with a better service.”
The trust plans to continue investing in Microsoft’s virtualisation technologies, and there are already two more servers on order. As the technology continues to develop, Winnard can see a day when the hospital’s IT infrastructure is completely virtual.
“As this stuff develops and our physical servers get older, we may get to a point where everything is virtual except the hosts themselves,” he says.