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Easy, Reliable Access to Critical Applications Lets Hospital Caregivers Focus on Patient Care

To improve network management and better support its new electronic medical record system, EpicCare, Overlake Medical Center deployed an F5 solution. With the new solution, critical applications are highly available, which helps physicians and nurses deliver the highest quality care. Overlake is also piloting BIG-IP Access Policy Manager (APM) for authorized single sign-on access to applications from any location through VMware Horizon View.

Business Challenges

 

Overlake Medical Center is a full-service acute care hospital with approximately 1,800 employees and more than 1,000 physicians on staff. Overlake offers comprehensive cardiac care, cancer care, surgical services, a women’s health and childbirth center, and a Level III Trauma Center. The hospital handles more than 43,000 emergency room visits and more than 62,000 inpatient visits a year. Managing the IT infrastructure for such a busy and vital medical center is no trivial task.

Overlake’s small IT team needed a reliable traffic management solution that was easy to manage and enabled IT to work efficiently, but the existing Cisco ACE Application Delivery Controllers were a source of frustration for the team. “The Cisco ACE systems didn’t have a graphical user interface (GUI), so it was difficult and time consuming for our administrators to go through all the configuration files to see what was working or not working,” says Howard Binner, the hospital’s Director of IS Technology and Information Security. Binner and his team even tried using an add-on GUI application, but that didn’t solve the problem. “Often, we’d have to go back to using the command line interface to be sure that changes were actually being made.”

The Cisco ACE solution sometimes removed servers from the load balancing pool without any notification, which put the hospital at risk for outages. “This was just unacceptable. An unplanned outage could have a serious impact on patient care,” says Binner. “Patient care is our number one priority.”

Addressing these challenges was especially important as Overlake prepared to transition from paper-based operations to the Epic Systems EpicCare electronic medical record (EMR) system, which would be tightly integrated with VMware Horizon View. “Moving to EpicCare with View would be a game-changer for us. It would enable us to deliver the type of service we pride ourselves on, but our physicians and caregivers would also be completely dependent on technology. This meant the system needed to be 100 percent reliable and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

"F5 helps us avoid system outages, which is critical for a hospital delivering patient care 24/7.” Howard Binner, Director of IS Technology and Information Security, Overlake Medical Center

Solution

 

To ensure this level of service for all its critical systems, Binner and his team evaluated application delivery solutions from several networking vendors. “We looked at the top networking vendors and soon decided F5 was the right fit for Overlake,” says Binner. “We discovered many industry players are tied to proprietary solutions or invested in their own software or hardware, but F5 solutions integrate well with many other vendors such as Microsoft, Citrix, or VMware. That was a critical differentiator for us.”

It also became clear that F5’s unified platform architecture could easily support the hospital’s long-term growth. “Once you put F5 into the critical points of your infrastructure, you can leverage the technology for more and more. There are so many network and application delivery functions you can add to the same device—without degrading performance.”

Initially, Overlake deployed F5 BIG-IP Local Traffic Manager (LTM) to provide optimal network performance and high availability for EpicCare, Exchange Server 2010, and other internal applications. Following this initial deployment, the hospital purchased additional BIG-IP LTM devices to support remote access to its ONE Chart web portal and VMware Horizon View, which enables 1,600 users to access EpicCare from virtual desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones.

“The flexibility and extensibility of F5’s unified platform proves to us that we didn’t purchase a one-off solution.” Howard Binner, Director of IS Technology and Information Security, Overlake Medical Center

Benefits

With the F5 solution, Overlake now has technology that gives physicians and care givers reliable access to their most critical systems, increases the IT staff’s efficiency, and supports the hospital’s future plans for an “always available” application environment.

High availability for essential hospital applications

 

Since deploying F5, Overlake’s most critical applications, especially EpicCare and VMware Horizon View, are now stable and highly available. “It’s mindboggling how many systems, documents, and data sources it takes to run a modern EMR solution like EpicCare,” says Binner. He explains how patients’ electronic medical records must follow them from physician to specialist, to radiology, to various labs, to surgery—even the pharmacy. “F5 manages the traffic to all those systems now, and since we moved our virtual desktop infrastructure from Cisco to F5, we’ve seen very stable performance. Knowing I have that robust F5 backbone in place is what allows me to get some sleep at night.” He adds, “F5 helps us avoid system outages, which is critical for a hospital delivering patient care 24/7.”

Just as EpicCare and VMware Horizon View are crucial to patient care, Exchange Server is critical for day-to-day hospital operations. With F5 managing Exchange Server traffic, there is never any downtime, and the IT staff is able to upgrade email servers and perform routine maintenance during normal business hours. Binner says, “We would never have been able to do this with our previous solution.”

Ease of use and efficiency for small IT team

Binner appreciates the tools F5 provides that make his team’s job so much easier. These include iApps, a unique wizard-based configuration tool that speeds and simplifies application deployment, and iRules, a simple scripting language for controlling and managing application traffic through BIG-IP LTM.

“I have a small, lean IT team and I need to make sure they’re as efficient as possible and have tools that help support their work. F5 provides that with these tools,” says Binner. Specifically, the team used F5's iApps template to simplify the hospital’s migration to Exchange Server 2010. “That was painful on Cisco ACE, but it only took a few minutes using F5’s iApps template for Exchange Server.”

Control costs and protect investment

F5 helps Binner get the most out of its technology investment. “Being a not-for-profit hospital, I’ve got to spend my IT dollar wisely,” says Binner. “The flexibility and extensibility of F5’s unified platform proves to us that we didn’t purchase a one-off solution. F5 will continue to meet our needs, now and in the future.”

Support for future technology implementations

F5 is helping Binner realize his vision for an always-on infrastructure in which applications are available to users 24/7 from any device or location. To support this capability, Overlake is currently piloting BIG-IP Access Policy Manager (APM), F5’s access security solution, giving users unified global access to applications—and giving IT centralized control of access policies.

Binner particularly likes that BIG-IP APM supports security assertion markup language (SAML), an open-standard format for enabling single sign-on (SSO) capability across both internal and external applications. As Overlake begins to use more software as a service (SaaS) applications, SAML support will be important to have. “With BIG-IP APM, users will no longer have to remember multiple user names and passwords. Instead, they’ll use one set of credentials to access all the applications from any location or device.”