North York General Hospital doubles storage performance

Cutting costs and simplifying management by standardizing on IBM XIV

Published on 15-Jun-2011

Validated on 05 Dec 2012

"Coming from a traditional storage administrator’s perspective, it’s actually hard to believe that managing storage can be this simple… You can set up a new system with a few mouse-clicks." - Brendan Kwolek, Systems Engineer at NYGH

Customer:
North York General Hospital

Industry:
Healthcare

Deployment country:
Canada

Solution:
IT/infrastructure, Optimizing IT, Optimizing IT, Storage Consolidation, Virtualization - Storage

Overview

North York General Hospital (NYGH) is a Canadian community hospital with three main sites in Toronto, ON. The Hospital has close links with the University of Toronto, and is one of Canada’s leading teaching hospitals. It employs 5,000 people including 962 medical staff, and handles more than 111,000 emergency visits per year, admitting and treating over 27,000 inpatients.

Business need:
NYGH’s aging storage platforms were struggling to keep up with the demands of faster servers and growing data volumes. The Hospital wanted a single standard storage solution for all data.

Solution:
Deployed two IBM® XIV® Storage Systems, using the built-in migration tool to move existing data with near-zero downtime. Decommissioned the old systems, reducing data center costs.

Benefits:
Doubled application performance by reducing I/O bottlenecks. Provided a single platform for all applications, and simplified storage management. Zero maintenance costs for the next three years.

Case Study

North York General Hospital (NYGH) is a Canadian community hospital with three main sites in Toronto, ON. The Hospital has close links with the University of Toronto, and is one of Canada’s leading teaching hospitals. It employs 5,000 people including 962 medical staff, and handles more than 111,000 emergency visits per year, admitting and treating over 27,000 inpatients.

“Like all modern hospitals, NYGH relies heavily on IT systems to support both clinical and non-clinical operations,” comments Alshad Damji, IT Manager at NYGH. “Our main hospital information system (HIS) plays a critical role in clinical management, and it is growing all the time: for example, we are currently building an electronic patient records system, which will be very data-intensive. From the point of view of IT infrastructure, this was creating a number of challenges.”

The challenge of growth

The Hospital’s server infrastructure had recently been upgraded, but its main storage environment was almost ten years old, and was reaching end-of-life.

“We had expanded the main storage system as far as we could, but we were still running out of capacity,” comments Brendan Kwolek, Systems Engineer. “We estimated that within 12 months, we would have no space left to expand the HIS. The limitations of the SAN had also forced us to run most of our non-clinical systems on smaller direct-attached storage systems, which made the infrastructure fragmented, complex and difficult to manage.”

Damji adds: “There were performance issues too: the I/O performance of the existing SAN was lagging behind the rest of the infrastructure. Even though our servers had the latest processors and plenty of memory, the overall system performance was limited by bottlenecks in the storage infrastructure. We wanted to find a new platform that could offer us greater capacity, higher performance, and a simpler, more standardized and manageable infrastructure.”

Finding the right technology

Since NYGH had not purchased a new enterprise storage solution for several years, its first priority was a full review of the products and technologies available from the leading vendors.

“Before we even went to tender, we invited several vendors to visit and educate us about their latest products,” says Kwolek. “In many cases, the storage systems they showed us were larger, faster, more energy-efficient, but not exactly revolutionary. But when IBM presented the XIV Storage System, we realized that it was on a whole other level from our existing platform.”

The XIV Storage System uses a massively parallelized grid architecture to deliver tier-one performance from relatively low-cost SATA disks, and features an innovative graphical user interface that virtualizes and manages the entire storage infrastructure while hiding the traditional complexities of storage management from the user.

Unbelievable simplicity

“Our old system had a very inflexible user interface, but the XIV system is very easy to use and runs on multiple operating systems—which is great for those of us who don’t run Windows on our PCs and laptops,” comments Kwolek. “Coming from a traditional storage administrator’s perspective, it’s actually hard to believe that managing storage can be this simple. You don’t need to worry about RAID arrays or performance tuning, and you don’t have to wait 20 to 30 minutes while the system formats a volume. You can set up a new system with a few mouse-clicks.”

NYGH decided to purchase two XIV racks, each half-populated with 27 TB of usable disk capacity. This would be more than enough for the immediate future of the HIS system, and would also provide enough space to house the non-clinical applications. Once the XIV systems had been delivered and some of the servers had been updated with the latest patches, the Hospital began migrating its applications and data onto the new platform.

Ease of migration

“We had good support from IBM, but the solution is so simple that we were able to handle most of the implementation on our own,” comments Damji. “The XIV migration tool is fantastic: once you’ve set it up, you can leave it to run and the data is moved from the old systems onto the XIV in the background. There’s zero downtime while the migration is running, and hardly any noticeable impact on system performance. In fact, our users had no idea it was happening – they just noticed that their applications ran faster once it was completed!”

He adds: “Hospitals operate 24/7, so it’s always an issue if you’ve got to take systems offline for any length of time. One of our main concerns when we started thinking about the storage refresh was how we’d be able to move our data without the downtime causing major issues. The XIV completely solved the problem for us, and avoided what would probably have been a long, painful and complicated set of migration projects.”

Supporting a heterogeneous IT landscape

Currently, the Hospital is using one of the XIV systems for its clinical applications, while the second supports back-office applications.

“At the moment we have both XIVs in our main hosting center, but in the near future we plan to move one of them to a second site, and link them using the XIV asynchronous remote mirroring feature,” says Damji. “This will give us a really robust disaster recovery capability at no extra cost. The fact that remote mirroring, monitoring, snapshots, thin provisioning and other tools are all included as standard with the XIV is a huge advantage. Tools like these can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars when you need to buy them separately.”

Significant performance improvements

By significantly improving I/O performance, the introduction of the XIV systems has enabled NYGH to eliminate the bottlenecks that were constricting application performance. In the AIX environment, the average proportion of time a process spends waiting on I/O has been reduced from 14.2 percent to just 6.0 percent. This translates into a significant increase in response time for many important applications and batch processes.

“We do a full backup of our 850 GB HIS database every night, which used to take six hours,” comments Kwolek. “Now we can do it in approximately half the time, and we are seeing similar improvements in a lot of other large batch processes. It even makes a difference to little things like individual users’ login times, which have been reduced from 3.5 seconds to just over 2 seconds. Better performance across the whole IT infrastructure translates to a better user experience and fewer complaints, as well as making our life easier in the IT department.”

Damji concludes: “The success of the XIV implementation has enabled us to retire our old storage systems, reducing our rackspace requirements and thereby cutting data center hosting costs. It also means that we don’t have to pay maintenance fees on the old equipment, and since a service contract is included with the XIV systems, we will enjoy three years of zero maintenance for our storage infrastructure. But cost isn’t the most important factor: the main benefit of this project is that we now have a fast, resilient and flexible storage architecture that will support NYGH’s mission-critical IT systems for years to come.”

Products and services used

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

Hardware:
Storage: XIV

Legal Information

© Copyright IBM Corporation 2011. IBM Systems and Technology Group, Route 100, Somers, New York 10589, U.S.A. Produced in the United States of America, June 2011. All Rights Reserved. IBM, the IBM logo, ibm.com, AIX and XIV are trademarks of International Business Machines Corporation in the United States, other countries or both. If these and other IBM trademarked terms are marked on their first occurrence in this information with a trademark symbol (® or ™), these symbols indicate U.S. registered or common law trademarks owned by IBM at the time this information was published. Such trademarks may also be registered or common law trademarks in other countries. A current list of IBM trademarks is available on the web at “Copyright and trademark information” at ibm.com/legal/copytrade.shtml. Linux is a registered trademark of Linus Torvalds in the United States, other countries, or both. Microsoft and Windows are trademarks of Microsoft Corporation in the United States, other countries, or both. Other company, product and service names may be trademarks or service marks of others. References in this publication to IBM products or services do not imply that IBM intends to make them available in all countries in which IBM operates. Offerings are subject to change, extension or withdrawal without notice. All client examples cited represent how some clients have used IBM products and the results they may have achieved. The information in this document is provided “as-is” without any warranty, either expressed or implied.