Application virtualization can be a daunting project for many in health care. While most IT professionals realize that virtualization can bring a number of benefits, such as support for mobile devices, simplified maintenance and scalability, it can also carry some risk. Hospitals may face HIPAA compliance issues if their servers go down and data cannot be accessed. So where should hospitals start?
Kirk Larson, vice president and chief information officer at Children's Hospital Central California, offered some virtualization tips in a webinar hosted by the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS). In his presentation, A Pediatric Hospital, an Agile Data Infrastructure, and Real World Results, Larson talked about some of the lessons he and his staff learned during a recent app virtualization initiative. The hospital now runs its Meditech scanning and archiving system, Merge picture archiving and communication system (PACS), Lawson enterprise resource planning software, and 450 virtualized desktops on a set of NetApp servers. The lessons learned included:
- Choose your service provider wisely. Larson said Children's was not looking for a typical vendor, which he characterized as a company that simply drops off components as they are requested. Instead, he was looking for a strategic partnership, in which the technology company fills more of a consultative role and takes a stake in the success of its initiatives.
- Establish goals. Before launching the hospital's latest virtualization project, Larson said he knew he wanted something that would be "future-proof," could build a storage architecture that supported quality-of-care goals, could provide application integration to automate backup and recovery of applications, could increase efficiency of storage, and limit the initiative's impact to normal hospital operations.
- Consider starting small. Children's started with a smaller desktop virtualization initiative before pushing the hospital's archiving system, PACS and other key applications onto virtualized servers. Larson said this project was ultimately successful, which proved that broader virtualization could work at the hospital. It then purchased larger servers to host a full range of applications.
- Think about your servers' location for disaster recovery purposes. Larson said his servers are located on the hospital's campus, which is not ideal when a disaster hits. Hospitals in New York City discovered that after Hurricane Sandy swept through. A single incident can wipe out a hospital's physical infrastructure and servers when they are at the same location. Still, Larson said he feels confident that Children's servers are in a low-risk location.
- Take advantage of training opportunities. Larson said it is important for in-house staff to know how to support servers. A hospital can't rely on its vendor for that over the long term. However, if a vendor offers training to IT staff at the beginning of the business relationship, the hospital should take advantage of it.