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Hospital treats ailing backup process

The growth of medical records leads one Florida-based medical center to explore a second opinion for its tape library.

The diagnosis and treatment of cancer has seen major changes with the development of computerized imaging and treatment applications that create digital models of cancerous growths. Martin Memorial Health Systems, a community-owned, not-for-profit health care facility in northern Florida, was one of the first in the U.S. to use computerized imaging for diagnosis and treatment.

High-resolution imaging tools and software applications such as Varian and Amicas let the doctors at Martin Memorial diagnose cancers earlier, leading to a survival rate that's better than the national norm while minimizing unnecessary surgery.

At the same time, these tools quadrupled Martin Memorial's storage needs. The facility, which includes 1,200 employees at two hospitals, 30 doctors' offices and five off-site medical treatment centers, moved its information systems center off-site eight years ago. The deluxe IS facility features a computer room in a fortified concrete bunker for hurricane protection, a generator and battery backups, but its storage infrastructure wasn't up to speed -- literally.

Lead technical analyst Mark Winning was backing up 32 servers on a 10/100 Base-T network with 1200 nodes. The IS center had been using three Quantum digital linear tape (DLT) auto-changers, one HP DLT auto-changer and a solo Quantum DLT drive, each designated to back up specific servers -- most of them Compaq ProLiant 6000 or 7000 models with RAID 5 protection and 50G Bytes of hard disk space each, running NT 4.0 or NT 2000. Winning was relying on Backup Exec from Veritas, moving up regularly to the latest version. Last September, he found that the 12-hour backup window was no longer enough.

"Some database programs can't be active while they're being backed up," Winning says, "so sometimes people might have a 45 minute wait after they got into work before they could use an application." And the auto-changers gave the IS staff no slack. They didn't care if there was a holiday or long weekend; someone had to come in to change the tapes.

Winning decided that the answer was to buy another auto-changer to replace the lone DLT drive, so he put out an RFP. One of the respondents was Gabe Scales of Insight Direct Worldwide. He told Winning that Sony Storage had just rolled out its Sony LIB-304/A2 tape library, which comes equipped with two AIT-2 drives. He suggested Winning try a demo. Scales would send him the Sony unit and a handful of tapes. If Winning didn't like it, he could send it back.

At first, Winning was leery of making the switch from DLT to AIT. "If I had a problem with the unit," he says, "I didn't have another AIT drive; I didn't have another AIT." Still, when he considered the speed (a sustained transfer rate of up to 15M Bits/sec with 2:1 compression) and the capacity of the LIB-304/A2 (up to 50G Bytes of uncompressed data on a single 230-meter cartridge), he decided to give it the 30-day try.

Winning swapped in the Sony library in just three hours. But, inevitably, there was a glitch -- a big one. The changer stopped working. That's when the supplier and channel partner showed their stuff. Sony not only replaced the unit the next day, it sent a technician from California to install it and analyze what had happened to the original unit. Now, Winning was impressed.

Not only did he keep the demo unit, paying full price for it and the tapes, he's ordered another. "We didn't expect throughputs to be as high as they were," Winning says. "We more than doubled the amount of data we could back up in a given period."

Several Sony features found his favor. For example, the LIB-304/A2 has embedded chip technology dubbed Memory-In-Cassette (MIC). It speeds data access by creating a catalog of each tape. While searching a tape used to take Winning at least an hour, he's found that he can complete a search of the Sony AIT tapes in minutes. And the import/export mail slot is, he says, "a beautiful thing. You don't have to open up the changer to pull a tape. If you want to pull it for monthly rotation or shelve it for safety, you click on the drive you want and it ejects the tape." That function eliminates those pesky human errors like grabbing the wrong tape or not closing the drive properly.

Says Winning's boss, Judy Garner, director of information technology and services, "It's great to know that our data is securely backed up every night, and that we can meet our users' expectations that the systems are live when they come in."

Although Winning isn't spending as much time backing up as he used to, he has found a downside to the new system: Because it's so reliable and fast, the IS Center can keep giving him more servers to manage. The server roster is at 32 and still growing. But, hey, Garner laughs, "That's called job security."

For more information on Sony check out its Web site.

Additional information on Martin Memorial can be found here.

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  • This was last published in August 2002

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