Enterprise Long-term Storage: Plan for the Worst, Hope for the Best

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Long-term storage can be a CIO’s worst nightmare. Worries begin on the cost front. As datasets grow, storage gobbles more and more of the IT budget. Then, there are labor issues and costs to contend with as storage management requires human resources. Finally, the specter of disaster haunts every CIO.

Disaster takes many forms. Consider, for example, Medical Imaging Northwest in Puyallup, Wash. The three-site imaging practice lost 10,000 studies when three hard drives failed during a planned migration in March 2006. “At that point, everyone realized we needed more security,” recalls Annette Simmons, IT manager/network administrator. Long-term storage became priority No. 1.

Whatever drives the decision, sites that invest in robust long-term storage report multiple benefits including reduced costs, better patient care and improved physician satisfaction. And the CIO gets a good night’s rest.

This month, Health Imaging & IT tours four very different facilities with one common denominator—an enterprise long-term storage strategy.

Best of both worlds

Scottsdale Medical Imaging CIO Jim Whitfill, MD, leaves little to chance. Last year, the 11-center, Phoenix, Ariz.-based practice implemented its third-generation archive, a two-tiered architecture combining Hewlett-Packard NAS spinning disk technology with a Plasmon UDO Archive Appliance. The NAS serves as onsite storage, and Plasmon UDO is housed in an offsite data center.

“We minimized our vulnerability to data loss through geographic diversity and a mix of storage technology,” explains Whitfill. The new configuration represents a considerable upgrade from previous architecture. Neither the first-generation tape library nor second-generation DVD archive provided secure durability or bulletproof, rapid access. Plasmon UDO Archive Appliance, on the other hand, demonstrated its durability after surviving a Hurricane Katrina-level soaking at New Orleans South Central Healthcare. After the water receded, the IT department recovered all patient data from the libraries.

Still, a mix of storage technology allows disparately located facilities to more securely cover various potential problems such as a batch of hard drives with an undetected glitch. “Data loss can occur with every type of media. In many cases, unpredictable events rather than major disasters cause data loss,” says Whitfill. By spreading and diversifying its storage infrastructure, Scottsdale Medical Imaging cuts its risk.

The small scale solution

After Medical Imaging Northwest lived the nightmare of hard-drive failures during a PACS migration in 2006, the imaging center honed in on storage, focusing on developing a secure, long-term solution. The primary challenges for small sites revolve around costs and resources. Medical Imaging Northwest completes 100,000 studies annually with a one man IT shop. “Onsite long-term storage requires additional staff, which raises its cost,” Simmons points out.

The practice turned to InSite One InDex Recovery for a secure disaster recovery solution. Images are archived to PACS and transmitted to two InSite One locations for redundancy. Medical Imaging Northwest achieves additional economies of scale, tapping into InDex Recovery for enterprise data and exchange backups. The solution eliminates tape costs and maintenance challenges, says Simmons. Plus, the practice retains control over its offsite data as InSite One uses a non-proprietary DICOM formula to store data, simplifying removal.

The enterprise archive

Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions (JHMI) in Baltimore, includes three hospitals and two outpatient centers. Its storage needs are tremendous. Less than three years ago, the system relied on a departmental, silo approach. Different departments used different vendors, and each system needed dedicated staff. Plus, images were not easily or universally available to all care stakeholders.

Fast forward three years. “JHMI has achieved significant cost and patient care benefits, images are visible on 12,000 workstations across the system, and referring physicians are delighted because they can see all of their patient images with access to 3D and fused datasets,” says James Philbin, senior director of enterprise medical imaging. The difference is an enterprise-wide, long-term storage strategy. The new strategy centers on a single replicated archive for all images from all ‘ologies.’ So far, radiology, radiation oncology, cardiology, orthopedic medicine and vascular surgery share