Improving healthcare capability with virtualisation

July 2010

virtualisation trainingSpace and power are core issues facing any progressive IT department and Dorset HealthCare NHS Foundation Trust (DHFT) had a pressing need for data centre space to meet growing requirements. However, sited on a limited power supply, expanding the data centre was not possible as the main power phase was already stretched to the limit. But help was at hand as Jon Leary, Consultant at CSA Waverley explains.

In a nutshell, Waverley were able to unlock critical data centre constraints and improve overall capability with virtualisation by developing a creative resilient solution that unlocked space, reduced power draw and provided a flexible future proofed infrastructure for the Trust.

The client

DHFT is a specialist Trust providing mental health, learning disability, addictions, community brain injury and community dental services for over 700,000 people in Eastern Dorset and a number of services across the whole of Dorset.

The organisation operates across 30 sites with over 2,000 users backed by more than 50 servers, 1000 PCs and laptops.  All sites use individual backup mechanisms and an IT team of 10 provides service, support and management functionality across all mental health services throughout Bournemouth, east and west Dorset.

The challenge

  • Overcome power supply overdraw and zero server room space;
  • Increase capability and functionality;
  • Provide a resilient and flexible architecture capable of matching Trust progression;
  • Deliver business continuity.

DHFT sits on a limited spur of the local electricity network and is housed in an old Victorian building with poor energy performance credentials. Legacy infrastructure also generated considerable amounts of heat that demanded large amounts of cooling, which in turn drew heavily on power. 

With pressure to increase capability to cope with N3 and Community of Interest Network (COIN) projects, the IT team had to find space and power to house two full cabinets of equipment. 

Nigel Rodgers, Head of Information Technology at the Trust, explains: ‘We had critical issues with power and our old building.

‘These chronic problems meant we were overdrawing power by 10 per cent with inefficient servers and overburdened air conditioning that couldn’t cope. The power problem became critical in the winter months when staff used electric fan heaters. But due to the size of the server room we couldn’t legally introduce a second phase, to load1 the room, to cope with any further technology.   

‘Worst case scenarios have seen one phase blow, which put a third of the building out, including the computer room and a temporary return to a paper based office system.  This is totally unacceptable as patients sometimes found themselves in the dark. 

‘Our electric bill was astronomical and our IT systems were far from resilient.

‘The IT team’s mission to improve capability either meant a new building, the purchase of a sub-station or a technological miracle.

The solution

A Novell PlateSpin Power Recon Assessment was used to qualify that DHFT could consolidate its existing estate of over 30 servers, reducing power requirement and saving space. 

A plan was then formulated to consolidate the Trust’s Windows server estate, based on HP DL Servers, but still maintain some existing HP UNIX technology for flexibility. Virtualisation became the only feasible option given the constraints of the challenge. 

Three HP blades2 running VMware ESX3 and two management blades were introduced. 

The application of VMWare and blade architecture has paved the way for future projects to consolidate and migrate both live and legacy UNIX systems to a virtual environment.

A tight implementation plan, with little tolerance for downtime was developed to allow for testing and to introduce the virtual infrastructure before the cooler autumn months, when the Trust’s power requirement classically went up. 

The project managers had to design a staged and managed process of build and migration as the poor power availability limited the parallel operation of both the new and old infrastructures.

Benefits

According to Nigel Rodgers, Head of Information Technology at the Trust, ‘We have consolidated our infrastructure by 67 per cent and saved 74 per cent on our energy bill thanks to a refined and efficient data centre that meets green IT imperatives.

‘Energy has been saved by using less hardware and HP blade power management, which powers-down unused capacity during low usage periods. In turn, our air conditioning has been turned down by five degrees per unit. The proliferated impact has been phenomenal.

‘We’ve survived the power crisis and freed up space to add the core of a resilient WAN4, as well as testing and refining failover services. Without virtualisation and blades we simply couldn’t have fitted it into the building. 

Nigel believes that the Trust’s capability to accommodate the next generation of applications and deliver services beyond community of interest projects is now assured. 

Nigel goes on to say ‘The savings objectives have been exceeded so much that we have also added another ESX blade and doubled the storage capacity on the SAN overnight.  Provisioning of a large data warehouse has become a simple operation.’

The Trust has unlocked its flexible backup, improved its speed and can now test encryption processes. This has elevated the credibility of its DR and backup policies, providing an extra layer of security and resilience.

Nigel concludes by saying ‘Overall we have achieved 100 per cent resilience, eliminating physical issues, black-outs and downtime since project delivery. Increased capability and functionality have enabled us to better serve staff and patients in a more sustainable manner, providing highly available, load balanced applications and improved business continuity.’

Appendix

1 The term ‘load’ refers to the room being too small to support a multi-phased power supply. The power infrastructure couldn’t handle any more items requiring power consumption.

2 Blade servers consolidate and share power, cooling, networking and external disk connections to bring cost and infrastructure savings whilst retaining all the features and functionality of a standard rack mount system.

3 VMware ESX is an enterprise-level virtualisation product.

4 A wide area network (WAN) is a computer network that covers a broad area (i.e., any network whose communications links cross metropolitan, regional, or national boundaries). WANs are used to connect LANs and other types of networks together, so that users and computers in one location can communicate with users and computers in other locations.

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