Storage Virtualization: The magic software behind the curtain

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Storage Virtualization: The ‘magic’ software behind the curtainThere is a storage technology that lurks in the background at many healthcare facilities that is running the show and performing amazing data management “magic.” But unlike the Wizard of Oz, users of storage virtualization software could very well never have a (metaphorical) Toto that reveals the man behind the curtain, or in this case the software that makes everything happen seamlessly.

Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Trust in Newcastle, England, is a healthcare behemoth of sorts as a 2,200-bed hospital with 11,500 employees. It is the third largest healthcare facility in England. Their enterprise-wide storage system currently includes approximately 100 Terabytes (TB) of data, including the management of about 8.5 million images each year. This information is coming from some 21 departments, managed by 21 clinical directors and 12 supporting directors. That’s a lot of information coming from every type of clinical modality, too.

To help them manage it all, Newcastle contracts with Ferrania Life Imaging for the technology used to manage and store medical images and patient information. The system includes a PACS and RIS which were installed about two years ago. About 16 months ago, Ferrania integrated Acuo Technologies software — AcuoMed Image Manager and AcuoStore Digital Asset Manager — which helps to virtualize the data storage on the network level from the back end.

The Acuo software could be likened to a “black magic box” that quietly grants information access in a transparent fashion from the user perspective, says Robert Shaw, head of Information Management & Technology, at Newcastle.

“We couldn’t achieve the business benefits we have without it. The size and the volumes we shift through would not be possible,” says Shaw. About two years ago before they installed these systems, the image flow was “dreadfully slow” and it could take up to three hours for a film to be located. “Now with three clicks of a mouse, it’s there,” adds Shaw.

Every Newcastle employee has an active account with certain permissions and a personal login via web browser. To gain access to certain types of information — for instance PACS for radiology — a user goes to a web browser ‘Favorites’ where links to the different applications are located. The user is able to walk up to any one of the 6,500 laptops and PCs at Newcastle and with their account details, click on the system they want, and away they go. This simple process is supported by Acuo which sits beneath this scene feeding image requests and retrievals, speedily granting access regardless of where the information is actually being stored across the network.

Shaw believes that the system is so easy “that expectation has risen. Whereas before if it took three hours to find a film packed in the film library, the response was ‘hey ho that’s the way it is.’ Now if it’s not available in three seconds they are on the phone demanding to know where it is.” On the flip side, however, the complaints demonstrate that the system is being used, and also how dependent users have become, Shaw says.

High demand and use would likely bring on a major data jam were it not for the Acuo software. It is able to dynamically manage system traffic so that it does not slow down the network overall, which is highly important given the “kinds of volumes and file sizes that we are shifting around,” says Shaw.

Also, the software provides for access to all data across the network at any of its three main sites throughout the city of Newcastle, as well as any of the hospital’s peripheral sites through the network. Web-based access also is possible through a VPN or via any of the hospital’s more than 200 wireless access points.

Being a major tertiary care center, Newcastle has seen an influx of images sent from other hospitals in the U.K. To handle the inbound images, they created the “Foreign Film Archive” which is where images generated by other facilities reside for 90-days. These images can be viewed and used as needed until the 90 days is up. However, if it is necessary for images to be kept longer, the data become part of Newcastle’s records and are placed into the deep archive.

Beyond easing information access, and efficient information network management, storage virtualization has been good for the hospital’s bottom line. “We’ve already achieved our return on investment, and we achieved that about four months ahead of plan,” says Shaw. “We make net savings on an annual basis. We’ve been able to release