When we first decided that Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center—a nationally recognized academic medical center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina—would deploy a converged infrastructure, I had high expectations for its performance. That’s how it’s always been here; it’s in our lineage.
After all, this establishment is different from most other academic medical centers, as it’s a part of an integrated enterprise that includes educational and research facilities, hospitals, clinics, diagnostic centers, and other primary- and specialty-care facilities serving 24 counties in northwest North Carolina and southwest Virginia. Its divisions include Wake Forest Baptist Health, a regional clinical system with close to 175 locations, 900 physicians and 1,000 acute care beds; Wake Forest School of Medicine, an established leader in medical education and research; Wake Forest Innovations, a research facility with specialized capabilities; and Wake Forest Innovation Quarter, an urban biomedical research and education community specializing in biotechnology, materials, science and information technology.
That said, we were also dealing with some serious legacy issues. The entire IT infrastructure was aging—63 percent of it was more than 7 years old, and 12 percent of it was more than 11 years old. The entire environment was costly, risky and standing in the way of strategic priorities, which meant it seriously affected system uptime and stability. In fact, a significant level of time and resources, potentially up to 70 percent, were devoted to maintenance and support. That in turn led to project delays, space constraints, huge untapped capacity and the ability to respond promptly to service requests.
Again, for all those reasons and our own culture of innovation, we expected a lot from going the converged-infrastructure route. But it turns out our expectations actually fell short: the changes were even bigger than expected.
I certainly didn’t anticipate the impact it would have on our IT team. The most important changes with regard to converged infrastructure haven’t been around the technology and its performance, but how the new environment has allowed our team to operate differently as well as the opportunities it has provided us to grow as IT professionals.
To be clear, the technology enhancements are massive. Wake Forest purchased and deployed three Vblock Systems models: Vblock 720, Vblock 540 and Vblock 340 to provide the infrastructure for our new software-defined data center, Wake Cloud. The environment has been designed to support not only the medical center’s upgrade to Epic 2014 EMR, but also more than 750 other applications—all the way from storing and offering access to the medical center’s imaging studies to supporting its Citrix XenDesktop virtual-desktop infrastructure.
The new technology delivers near 100-percent availability and boosts performance by 30 percent. It also speeds provisioning and slashes maintenance costs. But looking past the bottom line, the benefits are even greater.
As with many IT organizations, our team was previously “siloed” by specialty: we had server teams and storage teams, and we were tasked with maintaining the technology in our specific areas. When planning the deployment of an application, we would have to call the network team and ask if we had the right number of ports, or get quotes for new servers. Visibility among teams was limited to those specific projects.
But with the Vblock System from VCE, those silos just fell by the wayside. The entire team now has visibility across our entire environment, and planning for application deployments has become much easier. Upgrading is no longer a headache. In fact, because VCE pretests and installs all upgrades for us, we save a full day in manpower each month by not having to research and stay current with the latest updates. Our teams have become more collaborative and more proactive. We no longer need to wait for answers from the network team, because we can find those answers ourselves. Our IT team is moving towards a more converged model with fewer team members operating in silos.
Converged infrastructure has also led to changes in our roles as IT professionals. To capitalize on the increased visibility, our team has undergone cross-training to better understand the complete IT environment. This effort has made everyone on my team more well rounded and aware of the latest hardware and software platforms. Although I will never be a Linux or UCS expert, I am now able to better understand those environments, ask fewer questions and move more quickly. The goal is to become converged operators and cloud architects rather than just engineers, and the converged infrastructure is helping us do so.
Ultimately, this new way of operating as an IT team, as well as individual professionals, helps our business grow. For instance, we recently upgraded to a new electronic-health-records (EHR) platform. Our previous upgrades were prolonged and required a great deal of troubleshooting, but the business was asking the team to complete this upgrade in an accelerated time frame. By purchasing a Vblock System and choosing to deploy the EHR upgrade on it, we were able to go live with the application in 10 weeks—and start testing it at about the four-week mark. The deployment was so successful that the area set up to handle inbound troubleshooting requests from users was shut down halfway through the second day because of a lack of complaints. I love problems like that: when a successful IT project causes minimal disruptions and gives the team more time to focus on other projects, it’s a motivational boost all around.
I’m happy we went with the converged infrastructure. If your organization is considering a similar deployment, I’ll leave you with three parting thoughts:
- Approach the change with an open mind and embrace it. A converged infrastructure will affect every aspect of your job, so be open to learning opportunities and take on new tasks. Have high expectations.
- Take advantage of the resources available to you. For instance, we worked with a great VAR for all five of our Vblock deployments, and it was truly a collaborative effort. They were truly experts when it came to understanding the environment, and working closely with them provided some of the greatest learning experiences.
- Understand ahead of time what your team wants to accomplish, and what you want to accomplish personally—there’s room to think big.
About the Author
Shelia Hartness is a lead software systems engineer at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Shelia has 15 years’ experience in managed storage and fabric switch infrastructure. Previously she worked as an IBM/UNIX system programmer at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. Shelia graduated from Gardner-Webb University with a degree in computer science.