IBM storage helps transform Toronto hospital

When St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto realized that updating its antiquated IT infrastructure could not only simplify IT management but help reduce doctor errors and improve patient health, the hospital embarked on a multiyear project to install new servers, storage and medical applications in a partnership with IBM.

St. Michael's is a teaching hospital that provides medical services to the inner city of Toronto with about 5,000 staff members and 600 physicians, said Ken Westerback, technology architect for St. Michael's. The hospital's management wanted to move away from a fragmented department-based IT infrastructure to a more centralized approach that could provide real-time patient information to doctors and other health care providers, he said.

After spending much of the initial phase of the project working on renovating portions of the hospital to accept new telecommunications gear and modern server equipment, St. Michael's did not have much time to select a vendor for its server and storage purchases. The decision came down to IBM and Hewlett-Packard Co., and the hospital chose IBM after giving that company a slight edge in storage products and local services, Westerback said. He shared his experiences with reporters and analysts Wednesday at a storage briefing at IBM's office in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

IBM's storage services team has probably been the most helpful of the various partners Westerback has worked with during the implementation of his new network, he said.

Westerback set up two data centers with IBM's Enterprise Storage Servers (ESS) and FastT900 storage products. The goal was to create two mirrored storage facilities that could provide physicians with easy access to critical patient data.

The main data center holds an ESS product along with a FastT900 server that stores 12 to 18 months of image data, Westerback said. The other FastT900 is located in a separate data center as a disaster recovery unit, and hosts a mirror of the main data center.

IBM's SAN (storage area network) Volume Controller software allowed St. Michael's to purchase the less-expensive FastT900 server to mirror the ESS data center, Westerback said. SAN Volume Controller allows IT managers to move data around a SAN from device to device without having to assign a dedicated piece of storage for a particular application.

St. Michael's also has to ensure it has adequate storage capacity to comply with patient record legislation from the Canadian government as well as legislation under consideration by the province of Ontario regarding patient record storage, similar to the requirements placed on U.S. health-care providers under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA.

For now, Westerback thinks the hospital has enough storage to maintain secure patient records in line with the legislative requirements. Storage management and performance management software tools are the next pieces of the puzzle for the hospital's IT infrastructure, he said.

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