Smart Storage Solutions: Customizable and Ready for Increasing Needs

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Bassett Healthcare uses EMC's Symmetrix 8730 and Centera systems.

Although data and image storage needs for healthcare facilities are increasing at an exponential pace, vendors are meeting those needs with faster, more efficient solutions—and keeping costs down. Traditional storage methods have given way to un≠orthodox setups and payment structures that might just prove to be ideal. Meanwhile, providers are planning for increasing storage needs thanks to tremendous jumps from technologies such as 64-slice CT.

Virtues of virtual

With price a premium concern, Todd Burress, director of IT for Peachtree Neurological Clinic in Atlanta, found what he needed in Neurostar's Virtual Radiology Network (VRN). The VRN is a complete clinical image distribution, reporting, and archiving solution, providing secure and timely access to images with minimal maintenance, IT staffing, and space requirements based on a monthly subscription fee. The VRN is based on Neurostar's proprietary software backed up by a central bank of servers in a redundant data center. This provides long-term storage and makes images and reports available over the web to authorized users.

For Peachtree Neurological, with nine neurologists and five internal medicine physicians who typically perform 400 studies a month, the arrangement meets both their current and anticipated needs. "Their platform is built for us to expand up without having to replace anything existing," says Burress. "It's built to handle as much as we could send out there."

Neurostar's offering is not an off-the-shelf system. "You can expand and make it as glorified as you want or as simple as you want it," says Burress. He arranged for offsite archiving and PACS all at once. "Fortunately, we were able to switch overnight from film to filmless and have everything archived offsite." Now, after less than three years of using the VRN, none of the practice's data are purged from the current archives. "The data are all real time and searchable. It doesn't matter if the scan was done in 2004 or yesterday," he says. The practice will reach a point, probably in five to seven years, where some of the data will have to be removed from the first layer to a deeper archive.

Shared costs, expertise

Another unconventional setup to meet variable storage needs is that of Inland Northwest Health Services in Spokane, Wash. The company provides storage for 38 hospitals in the Pacific Northwest. That allows each facility to develop a strategic storage plan and then take advantage of the infrastructure Inland already has in place. "The critical mass of infrastructure is already there," explains Mike Smyly, chief business development officer. "We own it; they just pay for the right to use it." Inland does all the support, implementation, maintaining, and upgrading. The setup lets hospital customers plan around the fixed costs.

Aside from the ability to share certain storage costs with other institutions, customers also can benefit from Inland's expertise. Inland has buying power and implementation expertise that allow for a very low risk, says Smyly. "We get better through practice and lessons learned. We see people getting very interested in that. In healthcare, IT projects aren't known as being successful in many cases. If you can go to a group, see it first, try it, and talk to users, it's pretty amazing."

Smyly isn't the only one who thinks so. Inland has been growing at about 40 percent a year for the past five or six years. Recently, the company standardized on IBM's DS8300 storage server. The rapid technology changes have allowed Inland to use a common platform, and their experience with IBM's service over the years drove the decision to use IBM products exclusively. For the most part, all the data storage is done at the data center in Spokane. "A number of independent hospitals have our PACS, and they manage their own storage locally," says Smyly. "We have a central PACS solution as well, and with that strategy, local storage is needed for staging while the images are streaming to our data center storage."

Scalable for now and the future

Change is in the air for other hospitals as well. Lorraine Guillet, PACS administrator at Prince George Regional Hospital in Prince George, British Columbia, Canada, is in the process of migrating from tape to disk. The facility has been a Network Appliance customer since March as a result of its strategy of a storage system they could build onto and add to as needed. "We have allowed for 10 terabytes," she says. "That's lots of space for