Largest Illinois healthcare system uproots Cisco to build $40M private cloud

Advocate Health Care replaces Cisco Catalyst 6509 core with 10G Alcatel-Lucent OmniSwitch fabric

LAS VEGAS -- A healthcare network in Illinois is investing $40 million in Alcatel-Lucent switches to consolidate data centers into a private cloud.

Advocate Health Care is the largest integrated healthcare system in Illinois, and the largest emergency and Level 1 trauma network in the state. It employs 37,000 people and has more than 250 sites of care, including 10 acute-care hospitals and two children's hospitals.

With all of those facilities, Advocate needed to consolidate, centralize and virtualize IT operations to reduce costs and power consumption, increase availability and uptime, make the network more flexible and speed application deployment, said Gary Horn, vice president of technical services and CTO in Advocate's Information Systems department.

Horn discussed the project at the Interop 2012 conference here this week.

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"We're consolidating data centers to drive costs down, but it creates network challenges" such as increasing bandwidth, storage and CPU cycle needs, and the requirement for more flexible network services, Horn says.

So Advocate is replacing its Cisco Catalyst 6509 Gigabit Ethernet core with a 10G, and eventually a 40G and possibly 100G Ethernet core, made up of Alcatel-Lucent OmniSwitch 10000s. Top-of-rack devices will be Alcatel-Lucent 6900s and the edge will be comprised of 2,500 Alcatel-Lucent 6850E switches.

The $40 million investment is spread over five years, and also includes Alcatel-Lucent wireless LAN gear, which the company sources from Aruba Networks.

Advocate also evaluated Cisco's Nexus switches, and gear from HP, Brocade and Juniper before deciding to go with Alcatel-Lucent. Alcatel-Lucent was already an incumbent voice vendor to Advocate for more than 10 years.

"VoIP was a big factor in the decision," Horn says, adding that the hospital network is getting ready to deploy Alcatel-Lucent's OpenTouch IP Telephony system as well.

Data centers are located in Chicago, Park Ridge and Oak Brook, IL. Each will have two OmniSwitch 10000s in the core.

Advocate is adopting Alcatel-Lucent's pod and mesh architecture for its network. Pods are 10G meshes of 6900 switches with 2 microsecond latency. Four such pods could connect to two OmniSwitch 10000s in the enterprise core over 40G Ethernet links to configure a mesh supporting 14,000 server ports and 169Tbps switching capacity across 10 48-unit racks with a latency of 5 microseconds, Alcatel-Lucent says.

The mesh will also support the IEEE's Data Center Bridging, Shortest Path Bridging and Ethernet Virtual Bridging specifications for a lossless Ethernet fabric. Shortest Path Bridging will replace Spanning Tree in the Ethernet fabric.

Advocate is also adopting Alcatel-Lucent's virtual network profile (VNP) capability for an application aware network and the ability to manage applications as services with automatic performance tuning.

VNP allows the switches to enforce defined application profiles to prioritize, establish quality-of-service, attach security parameters and provision appropriate bandwidth and capacity for specific applications.

This is intended to ready the network, applications and data centers for public, private or hybrid cloud-based service, in which the network is tuned to execute the application even though it may reside on a server hundreds or thousands of miles away from its target user. VNP profiles are bound to the application as virtual machines move around within and between VLANs extended across locations in the private cloud to maintain service management and service-level agreements, Horn said. Advocate's hypervisor vendor is VMware.

The OmniSwitch network supports all of Advocate's applications: patient care, human resources, laboratory, supply chain, financial systems, admissions/discharge/transfer, e-mail and unified communications, and network mediation. Hosting them in a private cloud simplifies application deployment and disaster recovery because physical operations are centralized while the service infrastructure is virtualized, which also allows for elasticity in network and IT resource scale, Horn said.

The Advocate private cloud can also function as a hybrid cloud when service provider services are delivered onto the fabric and combined with IT services to provide a blended application for users, Horn said.

The three data centers are interconnected by a dark fiber ring Advocate lights up with Alcatel-Lucent's 1696 Metrospan WDM transport system and 1830 Photonic Services Switch. The "MetroNet," as Advocate calls it, supports 32 10G wavelengths but Horn says that will be bulked up to 44 100G wavelengths in the future.

MetroNet WAN services are provided by Alcatel-Lucent's 77X0 Services Router. Services include VPLS and Virtual Private Routed Networks and native optical, among others.

Horn says the OmniSwitch fabric will soon be upgraded to 40G Ethernet to better support medical imaging. He envisions it moving to 100G Ethernet in three to four years.

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Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.