Melbourne Health builds networked images database

Linux left out of Windows database shop

One of Victoria's largest public health providers, Melbourne Health, is preparing to go live with an integrated medical images application that allows access to disparate data sources through one interface.

The Molecular Medicine Informatics Model, or MMIM, project began as a way of integrating health research data collated by clinicians in different institutions.

MMIM is also an IT platform that links heterogeneous data sources, according to Melbourne Health senior database administrator Naomi Rafael.

Data from sites in NSW, Canberra, and Victoria will also be integrated into MMIM when it comes online in a few months.

"About half the images are brain scans and with about 45,000 consultations there are over seven million images," Rafael said.

Melbourne Health had three basic requirements for the technology that would underpin MMIM. The first was the ability to store images, second was to extract image header information on demand, and third was it had to be "economically viable and sustainable".

Rafael searched for a possible solution and four possibilities. One was deemed to be too expensive and proprietary, while others were open source and only ran on Linux.

"Our systems are all Windows so we didn't have permission to use Linux," Rafael said.

The other option was Oracle's next-generation 11g grid database which has native support for the Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine (DICOM) standard for medical images.

Melbourne Health then became one of the first local organizations to use 11g and joined the beta testing team.

"We tried out Oracle inside a virtual machine and had some problems but we got help from Oracle," Rafael said. "Oracle could load the images and extract the metadata and we found that the size of the images in the database as compared with the space taken up on the file system was equal so we will look at compression."

Why Linux wasn't installed in a virtual machine to try one of the open source solutions is unclear.

"The MMIM project is looking to provide a means of accessible storage of archives and 11g has provided the technology," Rafael said.

Oracle's vice president of database product management server technologies, Mark Townsend, said with more than 450 new features, 11g "continues to raise the bar with unstructured data.

"Businesses are starting to run on a lot of unstructured data like e-mail, images, and XML," Townsend said, adding that 11g provides the same performance as a flat file system but comes with the security and manageability of a database.

Customers using supported releases can upgrade to 11g as part of their existing maintenance contracts. Versions 9i and 10g can be upgraded directly to 11g.

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