Vic sets up world's first coronial database

The Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine has implemented a new thin client and server infrastructure resulting in reduced total cost of ownership in systems and management.

Hosting the National Coroner’s Information System (NCIS) – which provides a Web-based interface to coronial information across Australia – the institute’s infrastructure consists of a Sun Fire 280R server (which runs the database), Sun Ray thin clients, and Intel servers and PCs.

According to the institute, NCIS is the first coronial database in the world and has been set up with the support of the state and federal governments with an aim to improve coronial investigations.

“We support 120 staff, 60 Sun Rays and 70 PCs,” Vicky Winship, informatics manager, Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine and State Coronial Services of Victoria, said. “Our database is Ingres running on a Sun 220R server and uses a proprietary front end written in OpenRoad that runs natively on the Sun X window environment. We serve Microsoft and other PC based applications to the SunRay users via two Intel servers using Citrix. The SunRays are serviced by a SunFire 280R server and we have an additional Sun220R file server running a Storedge N8200 storage array.”

Prior to the changes, VFIM used to run a mixture of X terminals and Sun workstations for the majority of users with some PC's running X emulation for access to the main database systems.

“Our database applications were provided via OpenRoad using X windows and our word processor Applix ran as a Unix application,” Winship said. “We used Sun mail, calendar and Internet browsing and very few PC-based applications. The increased use of PC applications with the requirement to support our legacy X windows based systems required a rethink.”

With the new thin client infrastructure in place, Winship has recognised improvements in application and user management.

“It has provided centralised management of software provision to our Sun Ray users. This enables us to provide new applications by installation of software on one or both of our Citrix servers to 60 users within a very short time period,” Winship said. “The smart card technology allows users to take their sessions from the mortuary or laboratory to office areas and provides much more flexibility in use of limited network connections. Our PC users are gaining access via standard Web browsers to our redeveloped Java server pages implementation.”

The Fulcrum Consulting Group – a Sun iForce partner – proposed the solution to VIFM, estimated that a Sun Ray thin client solution would generate savings of up to $2300 per workstation compared to Windows NT workstation solutions.

“We purchased 50 Sun Rays plus a server and the StorEdge with server as the main system requirements for approximately $50,000,” Winship said.

Although Winship chose a Sun thin client solution, other platforms were considered.

“We looked at using PCs on the desktop and serving X applications to these via an X server; however, the PC software was expensive and unreliable,” Winship said. “We did not consider Linux due to the cost of adding yet another platform to support in terms of backend server technology; however, we do have two Linux servers on the network now and certainly they will be considered in future.”

In addition to the cost savings experienced by the institute in terms of management, Winship claims the Sun Ray’s smartcard session feature has also reduced administration. “It allows a single station to be used by several individuals and letting them take their session with them as they move around the building.

“Centralising administration allowed us to add another terminal simply by unpacking it and plugging it in,” she said. “There is no operating system to load or configuration to be done.”

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