Private cloud creates control, ROI for large health care firm

Private cloud can give large enterprises an edge over competition, if IT teams realize potential costs and end-user requirements.

As a large health care provider, there was an almost immediate need to deliver core centralized workloads to doctors,

nurses and staff members spread across various regions. The challenge was designing an environment able to handle growth, redundancy and disaster recovery.

To stay ahead of its competition, Advocate Health Care, the largest health care integrated delivery network in Illinois and one of the largest in the Midwest U.S., the Advocate IT team had to develop a solid portal-based environment that allows users to access applications. The key was ease of use and stability for its 7,000 remote access users over 10 major hospitals and numerous satellite offices.

About five to 10 years ago, the majority of our offices were paper-based. Things have changed drastically as VPN and WAN solutions have improved. Our ability to scale with lightweight [systems] has been important.

Ted Kliebhan, director of portal technology for Advocate Health Care

After calculating management, deployment and growth costs, IT staff determined that using a private cloud was the best option. Built on Cisco UCS hardware with a backbone of an IBM XIV SAN and a unified Citrix cloud component core, the provider deployed a customized and highly scalable private cloud environment.

“A private cloud helps us solidify our remote access into one ‘brand’,” said Ted Kliebhan, information systems, director of portal technology for Advocate Health Care. “Our organization provides access to employees and non-employees. This private cloud had to be secure and easy to manage; our private cloud allows us to expand our scope for remote access and gives us any device/anywhere capabilities.” 

Many organizations looking to use BYOD have moved toward a cloud environment to help achieve their goals. Advocate thought ahead when it designed the environment with virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) in mind to ensure redesigned would not be required to utilize access to centralized workloads.

“Our doctors are using multiple devices -- [iPads], smartphones, etc., to access applications and files. This is a big change from just a few years ago,” Kliebhan said. “About five to 10 years ago, the majority of our offices were paper-based. Things have changed drastically as VPN and WAN solutions have improved. Our ability to scale with lightweight [systems] has been important.”

Advocate created its private cloud environment with several things in mind. The health care provider needed to ensure DR was a component of its private cloud and IT teams were able to customize applications, portal design and other aspects to better deliver workloads to end users. In creating the private cloud, Advocate’s IT teams created a DR strategy that allows them to replicate the core environment to a secondary site, allowing for faster recovery and higher uptime. Much of this was possible because IT had direct control over the environment.

Advocate Health Care continues to innovate by expanding its environment to meet the needs of end users. By maintaining a private cloud, the Advocate IT team can focus on its data centers and achieve business goals and directives.

Large organizations should carefully evaluate their cloud computing options. Advocate determined that working with its existing infrastructure and expanding its private cloud presence was the right choice. Where some companies have been offloading a portion of their IT environment to the public cloud, it’s important to know what the current infrastructure has and how it can continue to work for the organization. From a budgeting and a technological innovation perspective, Advocate has seen direct ROI from its private cloud move; end users have provided positive feedback in their ability to access centralized workloads.

 

Bill Kleyman, MBA, MISM, is an avid technologist with experience in network infrastructure management. His engineering work includes large virtualization deployments as well as business network design and implementation. Currently, he is a virtualization solutions architect at MTM Technologies, a national IT consulting firm.

This was first published in March 2012

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