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In pursuit of EMR, Gastroenterology Associates of Cleveland upgrades disaster-recovery (DR) operation

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   By James Andrassy, August 2011

EMR implementation forces look at DR options.

By James Andrassy

Gastroenterology Associates of Cleveland sought to support its electronic medical record (EMR) efforts through virtualized storage, backup and disaster recovery (DR) with 99 percent reliability and fast, simple recovery. Other goals included shrinking the lengthy restoration time for compromised data and delivering an easy-to-use system that would not overburden the group's modestly staffed IT department.

Gastroenterology Associates is a seven-physician practice operating since 1965. The group has two offices but hosts all of its data in a 16,000-square-foot patient-care office and surgery center. This data consists of patient demographic and financial information, digital photographic images obtained in the group's surgery center, as well as accounting, human resource and insurance contract information. The organization will soon begin the process of transitioning its paper-based patient records to an EMR system, but first needed to address concerns about DR.

Now, when a chart is missing, we can find it down the hall or in our record room. With EMR, we won't have anything on paper anymore. If a server is down, our medical records are down, and we will have to shut down operations.

Gastroenterology Associates worked with IT consultant Chi Corporation to identify the best possible data backup and DR provider to meet the organization's needs. The group tasked Chi Corporation with overhauling its traditional backup plan, which focused on the storage and archiving of data rather than the protection or recovery of the whole system or site. In such a system, if a disk is damaged or corrupted, administrators face the time-consuming task of re-installing the operating system and applications and then restoring information from previously performed backups to fully recover the entire system. This can lead to costly downtime and damaging data loss of any new data or changes that happened between the last backup and the time of failure.

Therefore, the group settled on continuous data protection (CDP) for all its data and high-speed disk-based data protection with instant, granular recovery. By keeping a complete mirrored copy of data in its native format as well as a series of application- and system-aware point-in-time snapshots, CDP offers the most rapid and granular recovery possible in all disaster scenarios. CDP can also deliver data journaling, which protects information at a per-write level of granularity, allowing recovery up to the last bit of information written before a service outage. Periodic protection, based on snapshots, gives IT administrators numerous bootable recovery images, delivering far more recovery points than a typical nightly tape backup. Furthermore, if an enterprise needs tape backups, CDP can accelerate backup speeds using a zero-impact, serverless model.

Storage virtualization also played a role in Gastroenterology Associates' overhaul. That shift gives the group a single pool of storage with which to address its ever-increasing data store. Previously, increased data groupings had resulted in separate islands of storage within the data center. Each grouping required independent management and protection efforts, taxing the IT staff. The resulting complexity lead to resources that were either under- or over-utilized, wasting power and money.

In contrast, virtualized storage allows Gastroenterology Associates to consolidate storage resources into one virtual pool for simple, centralized management with flexibility, reducing primary storage capacity requirements and cutting storage capital investment. The open, software-based storage virtualization deployed by the group allows for the integration of affordable disk hardware from any vendor — avoiding an expensive commitment to one supplier. Virtualization increases the day-to-day operational efficiency, reduces overhead costs and allows for quick recovery.

The group chose FalconStor Network Storage Server (NSS) and FalconStor Continuous Data Protector (CDP) solutions to provide DR for all of its accounting software, servers, pathology, electronic records, practice management system and insurance payments. By handling all of these functions electronically, the group eliminated half of its paper consumption.

Gastroenterology Associates now has 34 workcenters running on NSS and using the DiskSafe Agent to replicate block-level data to CDP. The group leverages TimeMark technology for operating system (OS) and application data protection, taking OS snapshots twice per day and data snapshots every 30 minutes. The
TimeView feature enables fast recovery of data in the event of OS or application failure. The group continues to rely on NetVault for tape backup creation. Gastroenterology Associates currently stores four terabytes of data — a number that will grow as it continues to store more and more data electronically.

Today, Gastroenterology Associates measures its data recovery time in minutes instead of days. The products we deployed satisfy our needs in terms of restoring data that has been lost or rebuilding a server or partition within a short period of time. I can rebuild a 500-gigabyte partition in 15 minutes and have the server up and running.

In short order, the group can locate and restore lost or corrupted files containing sensitive patient and business information. The reliable data-protection support it deployed enables Gastroenterology Associates of Cleveland to proceed with its EMR plans and capture the time and financial savings of electronic record keeping, while maintaining certainty that its records will also
be available.


James Andrassy is IT manager at Gastroenterology Associates of Cleveland.
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