Data-center network overhaul nets big savings for healthcare system

Cisco's portfolio of data-center networking gear is at the core of Kaleida Health’s modernization efforts.

Visualization of data in motion through a data center corridor of servers.
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Modernizing a data-center network is no easy task under any conditions, but when a healthcare system that includes hospitals and emergency care depends on that network, the pressure is only more intense.

That’s the challenge that Tom Hull, CIO of Kaleida Health, the largest healthcare system in western New York, has undertaken in the past year-and-a-half with the goal of building a secure, software-defined data-center environment capable of moving the provider into the future.

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“We had an older healthcare-network systems environment that had lots of single points of failure, no business continuity, and a barely good disaster-recovery operation, so the idea was to remake that into a more flexible, dependable software-defined data center that takes the risk out of the equation and gets us into a more private, cloud-capable environment,” Hull said.

In addition, about 90% of the infrastructure, from compute and storage to networking, was reaching end-of-life and just wasn’t going to be able to support future plans, Hull said. Technology integration and consolidation will enable Kaleida to simplify its IT operations, decommission at least nine monitoring and management tools, and save millions of dollars each year as a result, Hull said.

The overarching plan is to support two data centers to provide full redundancy, automatic failover, and the hardware flexibility to support 11,000 users, 30,000 endpoints, and remote sites that include acute-care hospitals, hundreds of specialty clinics and a mobile visiting-nurse association.

The network between the two data centers, headquartered in Buffalo, NY, is currently a 40Gbps Ethernet-over-fiber pipe that we will soon be increased to 100Gbps, Hull said. The system’sextensive WAN connects remote sites via a mix of internet connections and MPLS depending on security and application needs, Hull said. 

The phone system is supported by PRI trunks, but the goal is to move to VoIP, Hull said.

For the modernization effort the healthcare firm and Hull’s 300 member IT team has implemented a raft of Cisco technology including Nexus 9000 switches in the data centers and Catalyst 9300 and 9400 switches in other core locations.  

It is also using Cisco Unified Computing System (UCS) servers and Cisco’s hyperconverged infrastructure platform HyperFlex for its virtual-desktop infrastructure as well as NetApp for storage and Commvault for backup and restore capabilities.

Across its networking environment, Kaleida runs Cisco’s Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) software, which is Cisco’s core software-defined network (SDN) package that lets the healthcare firm implement network and policy changes on the fly to ensure data delivery. 

ACI addresses a number of criteria Kaleida wanted to meet: It can support a mix of users, applications, devices, and partners; and it helps with HIPAA compliance, security, backup, and disaster recovery, Hull said.

In combination with Cisco Secure Workload package for microsegmentation, ACI lets Kaleida manage and contain access to any server, application, or piece of data. "And we’ll be able to map our applications and see all network traffic in real-time, which will streamline monitoring and troubleshooting,” Hull said.

As a large healthcare provider, with tons of medical records--Kaleida supports 11 different medical-records systems--and other core data, security is a major challenge and a key driver for anything the healthcare provider does.  The Cisco software it has implemented lets Kaleida segment, protect, and manage over 35 different partners, hospital and partner networks, Hull said.

“Being able to segment the network on the virtualization layer gives us great options and control of access and applications,” Hull said.

Kaleida Health is also one of the first customers to use Cisco’s recently announced Intersight Workload Engine (IWE), which includes a Kernel-based virtual machine (KVM) hypervisor. 

“Right now we have three hypervisors, and whether it’s cost, complexity, or constraints, they all have issues,” Hull says. “We’ll put IWE in our core infrastructure, get rid of the hypervisors, and save five to 10 million [dollars] a year in licensing costs alone.”

Also part of the overall management of Kaleida’s environment is the deployment of Intersight and Cisco’s DNA Center platforms that ultimately will be a one-stop shop for management and monitoring of the Kaleida environment, Hull said.

DNA Center is the core-networking control platform that features myriad services from analytics, network management and automation capabilities to assurance setting, fabric provisioning and policy-based segmentation for enterprise networks. Intersight is Cisco’s cloud-based management platform.

Hull says Cisco Intersight will bring together the monitoring and management of  Kaleida’s compute and storage infrastructure, and ultimately will integrate it with ServiceNow for inventory and asset management.

“DNA and Intersight are letting us understand network and application utilization, and our response time to issues,” Hull said. “We are really still in phase one of this modernization but ultimately those products will let us move toward hyperautomation where we completely automate responses to trouble tickets and problem management as well as redirect traffic around problems without human intervention. That’s where we are going.”

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