Free toolsets assist automated support

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SEATTLE—A surprising amount of freely accessible tools, many included with common operating system software such as Microsoft Windows or most flavors of Linux, are available to help provide time-sensitive support across a distributed environment, which is critical to maintaining a reliable imaging infrastructure.

“By adopting and implementing these low- and no-cost tools, it is possible to provide the high levels of automation necessary to maintain support in today’s complicated informatics environments,” said John Zatawnik, manager of imaging core systems at the Cleveland Clinic Health Systems.

Zatawnik shared strategies and techniques that he has deployed to manage and support one of the largest radiology environments in the United States with a limited number of personnel at the 2008 Society for Imaging Informatics in Medicine (SIIM) annual meeting.

“The imaging infrastructure supported by informatics is increasingly comprised of complex systems running on multiple platforms, quite often acquired from multiple vendors,” Zatawnik noted. “These systems are being distributed across large, complex networks with multiple physical sites and must be managed and supported by a limited number of IT infrastructure personnel according to the critical timelines necessary to sustain patient care.”

According to Zatawnik, there are several technical solutions available on the market today, and they range in price from fully supported enterprise-level applications to their free open-source alternatives.

The Cleveland Clinic Health Systems uses the Kbox systems management appliance (KACE; Mountain View, Calif.) as the backbone of its enterprise administration initiative, Zatawnik said.

“This appliance provides hardware and software inventory, asset management, software distribution, patch management, scripting, and a variety of additional systems and software management capabilities,” he said. “It has already been used to automate the deployment of new applications as well as application upgrades to over a thousand machines in a national network.”

In addition to this commercially available software package, the institution relies on various command-line tools built into the Windows, Linux, and UNIX operating systems.

“The support functionality hinges largely on scripting these commands to perform baseline operating system management functions,” Zatawnik said. “These include, but are not limited to, the restarting of critical services on remote machines, file system security changes, user account management, and preventative maintenance.”

He noted that the use of these available tools has resulted in the automation of thousands of full-time equivalent employee hours of work.

Another set of tools actively in use to support the Windows environment are PS Tools, a no-cost suite application suite used for a variety of tasks such as process execution, batch file and script running on remote workstations distributed across the Cleveland Clinic Health System’s enterprise.

“These readily available automation tools and industry-standard techniques allow a limited number of informatics professionals to support these increasingly diverse systems across very large networks,” Zatawnik said. “If you do it more than once, it’s worth automating.”