Medical University of South Carolina

Alleviating performance problems with IBM System x and BladeCenter solutions

Published on 03-Feb-2012

Validated on 01 Aug 2013

"For us to be able to have better technology and have it at a better price—you can’t get any better than that." - Jack Hoffman, Leader, Systems Administrator Group, Medical University of South Carolina

Medical University of South Carolina

Healthcare, Education

Deployment country:
United States

Linux, Optimizing IT, Virtualization, Virtualization - Server

IBM Business Partner:
Dynamix Group, Inc.


The Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) is a top public health sciences center, with a 700-bed teaching hospital and a comprehensive academic institution.

Business need:
As part of an ongoing commitment to delivering highly reliable IT services, MUSC needed to make a number of IT infrastructure investments to reduce transaction backlogs and reduce costs.

MUSC implemented IBM System x® 3850 X5 and IBM BladeCenter® HX5 servers with Intel® Xeon® processors to support its Cloverleaf financial and clinical transaction environment as well as virtualization efforts while migrating from UNIX-based systems to Linux in the process. MUSC also implemented x3850 X5 servers running in multiple Oracle RAC clusters.

The IBM solution eliminates a clinical and financial transaction backlog, supports better patient care through real-time information access, and accommodates massive growth while reducing costs.

Case Study

The Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) started in 1824 as a small private medical school in Charleston. Since then, it has grown into a top public health sciences center, with a 700-bed teaching hospital (MUSC Health) and a comprehensive academic institution that trains students in medicine, nursing, pharmacy, dental medicine and other disciplines. The university graduates more than 2,500 healthcare professionals each year.

MUSC Health is highly regarded in a number of medical specialties, including neurosciences, cancer care, transplants, digestive disorders, pediatric medicine, cardiovascular care, musculoskeletal disorders and respiratory medicine. The institution was named one of “America’s Best Hospitals” in 2009 by U.S. News & World Report.

The IT department of the organization is equally impressive, supporting approximately 15,000 students, faculty and staff, and providing the IT services required to support more than one million patient encounters each year.

“We’re here to serve the medical community, and the end result of what we do is patient care.” says Jack Hoffman, team leader for UNIX systems at MUSC. “If the IT systems aren’t doing their jobs, that means the medical staff can’t do their jobs. That’s how we look at it.”

Alleviating performance headaches

As part of the organization’s ongoing commitment to delivering highly reliable IT services, MUSC recently made a number of IT infrastructure investments—with a view to both improving IT performance and reducing costs. Hoffman says these projects started on the UNIX side of the data center with the deployment of a more robust server infrastructure to support MUSC’s massive Cloverleaf implementation.

“Cloverleaf is basically a traffic cop for financial and clinical transactions, from patient registration and billing to lab work,” Hoffman explains. “This single environment handles all those transactions, interfacing with Oasis, Epic, McKesson, Practice Partner and Keene. Over the course of the day, it’s taking hundreds of thousands of transactions.”

MUSC had been running Cloverleaf on a handful of UNIX-based systems but was plagued with ongoing performance problems. Hoffman says the systems were running at 99 percent utilization around the clock, but transactions were still backing up by the thousands. It was a major problem for Hoffman’s team, which couldn’t add new interfaces or otherwise grow the system without further impact to system performance.

Upgrading the existing hardware seemed like the smoothest course of action initially. Says Hoffman, “We were looking to replace those machines with some larger UNIX-based systems, but what we discovered is those systems were not suitable for the single-thread architecture of the Cloverleaf application.” At this point, Hoffman’s team began researching infrastructure alternatives that would alleviate the transaction backlog.

Making the move to Linux on System x

MUSC evaluated IBM, Dell, HP and others, visiting briefing centers and running demo equipment onsite before deciding on the IBM System x 3850 X5 platform. Working with IBM Premier Business Partner Dynamix Group, MUSC procured two x3850 X5 servers, delivered with energy-efficient Intel Xeon processors. In the process of implementing those servers, MUSC migrated from the UNIX operating system to Linux.

“The performance we got out of those two boxes was incredible,” Hoffman reports. “Our utilization went from 99 percent to about 2 percent.” And Hoffman says the transaction backlog has disappeared, leaving the door wide open for expansion. “This environment is going to continue to grow,” he says, “but we’re confident that we’ve got what we need for the next three to five years.”

Extending the success of System x

Shortly after migrating the Cloverleaf application to System x, MUSC embarked on a second project to refresh the McKesson server environment, which supports in-patient applications. Based on the performance results the team saw from the x3850 X5 in the Cloverleaf environment, MUSC implemented nine additional x3850 X5 systems running in multiple Oracle RAC clusters to support McKesson—also with Intel® Xeon® processors.

“We were really pleased with what we saw out of the IBM X-Architecture®. And we were really happy with the price point that we were getting. Being a state institution, budget is important. For us to be able to have better technology and have it at a better price—you can’t get any better than that.”

Hoffman says his team was impressed with how smoothly the System x implementations went, as well as with the rapid rate of acquisition. “Implementation was fairly simple—we did it ourselves,” he says. “And the acquisition process was very quick. I’ve noticed that IBM can deliver things faster than other vendors can.”

A prescription for better patient care

Over the years, MUSC has been no stranger to IBM. The organization recently migrated its VMware environment from a competitor to the IBM BladeCenter HX5 platform. The solution supports a burgeoning virtualization infrastructure, with more than 600 virtual machines currently in production and more added every day. MUSC also runs IBM Power Systems™ and a wide range of IBM storage solutions, including IBM System Storage® DS8300, IBM SAN Volume Controller, IBM XIV® Storage System, and IBM Storwize® V7000.

For Hoffman, being able to rely on IBM boils down to one benefit: “We can do the things that we’re supposed to do. We can get the transactions done in a timely manner. Our point of care is faster because of the performance of these systems, which means that our physicians and nurses are more successful at their jobs, which means that patient care is better. That’s really all that matters to us.”

For more information

To learn more, contact your IBM representative or IBM Business Partner, or visit us at:

For more information about Medical University of South Carolina, visit:

For more information about Dynamix Group, Inc., visit:

Products and services used

IBM products and services that were used in this case study.

BladeCenter HX5, Storage: DS8300, Storage: Storwize V7000, Storage: XIV, System x: System x3850 X5

Operating system:

Legal Information

© Copyright IBM Corporation 2012 IBM Systems and Technology Group Route 100 Somers, New York 10589 Produced in the United States of America January 2012 IBM, the IBM logo,, BladeCenter, System Storage, System x, Storwize and XIV are trademarks of International Business Machines Corp., registered in many jurisdictions worldwide. Other product and service names might be trademarks of IBM or other companies. A current list of IBM trademarks is available on the Web at “Copyright and trademark information” at Intel, the Intel logo and Xeon are trademarks of Intel Corporation in the U.S. and/or other countries. Linux is a registered trademark of Linus Torvalds in the United States, other countries, or both. UNIX is a registered trademark of The Open Group in the United States and other countries. This document is current as of the initial date of publication and may be changed by IBM at any time. Not all offerings are available in every country in which IBM operates. The client examples cited are presented for illustrative purposes only. Actual performance results may vary depending on specific configurations and operating conditions. It is the user’s responsibility to evaluate and verify the operation of any other products or programs with IBM products and programs. THE INFORMATION IN THIS DOCUMENT IS PROVIDED “AS IS” WITHOUT ANY WARRANTY, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, INCLUDING WITHOUT ANY WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY, FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE AND ANY WARRANTY OR CONDITION OF NON-INFRINGEMENT. IBM products are warranted according to the terms and conditions of the agreements under which they are provided. Actual available storage capacity may be reported for both uncompressed and compressed data and will vary and may be less than stated.