Client Success Stories

Williamson County Thrives with Explosive Growth with Brocade and Mark III Systems

Williamson County Texas logo

In an economic era of flat or shrinking budgets for state and local governments, the combination of explosive population growth and insatiable public demand for new forms of information services can put an incredible strain on the IT departments of counties and municipalities to deliver for their constituents.

Williamson County, located in the north Austin metropolitan area, is no stranger to these challenges. As one of the top 10 fastest growing counties in the nation, Williamson County has seen its population explode by 70% from 2000 to 2010, riding the wave of Austin's northern expansion. Covering over 1,000 square miles and with key county buildings in fast growing suburbs like Round Rock, Cedar Park, Leander, and Georgetown, Williamson County's Information Technology Services department is responsible for all information services across the entire county. With two active-active datacenters and 17 separate county buildings with over 50 users each, providing information connectivity in agile and flexible ways on a tight budget can often be a challenge, especially with a lean systems management staff.

In 2012, Williamson County undertook a comprehensive evaluation of possible options to upgrade their network switch infrastructure in one of their two datacenters and across all 17 of their key buildings. During the course of this process, the county turned to Mark III Systems to help craft a multi-year custom solution that would meet or exceed their users' performance expectations, possess the ability to scale to meet growth over the coming years, and simplify management for its lean IT staff. Williamson County hoped to achieve all these objectives, while at the same time significantly cutting costs versus the status quo with their current network hardware provider.

In order to meet the county's goals, Mark III Systems partnered with Brocade to design a solution that would deliver on exactly what was needed. For the datacenter switch refresh, Mark III and Brocade architected an Ethernet Fabric solution based on Brocade's award-winning VDX switch line. Featuring a unique set of technologies called Virtual Cluster Switching (VCS), the VDX switches enable Williamson County to create a load-balanced, self-optimized Ethernet Fabric for their VMware vSphere virtual infrastructure. Deploying a proven Ethernet Fabric for VMware would allow Williamson County to optimize performance, scale to meet growth requirements, and significantly simplify VMware network provisioning tasks (via the VDX's integration with VMware vCenter), all of which while practically eliminating ongoing network administrator intervention.

For the 17 county buildings, Mark III and Brocade proposed enterprise-class ICX series stackable network switches with Power over Ethernet and high-speed uplinks to the central Williamson County network. Designed to have a very short learning curve for network administrators familiar with other major networking manufacturers, the ICX line is the perfect fit for users looking to deploy enterprise network switches with rich functionality for evolving campus networks-at a reasonable price.

In the end, Williamson County chose both the VDX and ICX solutions, as they exceeded the objectives they had initially set out to achieve with their network upgrade, all while providing the county the significant cost savings that they were seeking.

"Choosing Brocade saved us over 50% versus what we would have had to pay with our current network hardware provider," explained Jeff Smith, Network Administrator at Williamson County. "Not only that, we were able to get the high-speed uplinks we needed to future-proof our network, whereas that wouldn't have been possible with our other provider."

The subsequent rollout completed successfully and truly has delivered on all the benefits that Williamson County had hoped for when they chose Brocade.

"We finished the implementation of both the ICX and VDX switches without a hitch and they have been running with no issues," added Smith. "Even though I personally had no prior experience with Brocade, everything was incredibly intuitive and simple. I was able to learn everything quickly on-the-fly."

"Not only that, our local Brocade and Mark III Systems teams have been there to support us every step of the way when I had questions. It's nice to have help available to us from local, knowledgeable engineers who know our environment."

Harris Health System delivers critical value to patients

Harris Health logo

Established in 1965, Harris Health System serves the county-wide metropolitan area of Houston, Texas with some 50 locations that include three hospitals with approximately 1,000 beds, Level 1 and Level 3 trauma centers, clinics, and community health centers. With 1.7 million ambulatory visits a year and the majority of its patients uninsured, Harris Health System is especially cost and efficiency conscious in an effort to maximize the availability of healthcare services funded by the taxpayers of Harris County.

With its size and volume, Harris Health System was struggling to be flexible in meeting the needs of its patients first and foremost, but also in addressing regulatory changes and other operational functions. By upgrading its storage system, Harris Health System can now provide universal, cost-effective, efficient and extremely fast access to applications, data and medical records. This has been revolutionary for its 3,400 physicians and 5,000 clinical and administrative users. "We've taken a journey from probably worst to first," says Tim Tindle, Harris Health System executive vice president and chief information officer, describing the role technology played in improving patient care and hospital operations.

Meeting the challenges of growing data

The hospital began its modernization in 2004 with the addition of an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system to handle financial operations, supply chain, human resources and other administrative functions. Harris Health System immediately began seeing benefits. The supply chain's procure-to-pay cycle, for example, shrank from 140 days to 34 hours, winning the Hospitals & Health Networks Innovation Award and putting Harris Health System on the path to ongoing technical advancement.

The subsequent adoption of the Epic Systems, Inc. suite of products—which handles inpatient and ambulatory electronic medical records as well as scheduling, patient accounting, and management of operating rooms, laboratories and radiology—led to an integrated clinical and administrative management approach. This approach contributed to Harris Health System twice receiving the Most Wired Award from Hospitals & Health Networks magazine.

However, the technology adopted to that point had not been a cure-all—for while the use of electronic records and other digital functions increased, the growing number of users and transaction volumes created poor system performance. Harris Health System ambulatory pharmacies were experiencing slow transaction processing, adding an estimated 30 seconds to the time it took to fill a prescription. "With 16 pharmacies across the county filling more than 2.5 million prescriptions annually, the wait times in our pharmacies became unacceptable," says Tindle.

Relieving bottlenecks with tiered storage

The answer lay in IBM storage solutions implemented with the help of IBM and IBM Business Partner Mark III Systems of Houston—and in the storage tiering strategy and performance improvements the IBM solutions made possible. With data increasing at an estimated 50 percent annually, and data and applications mixed almost randomly on storage with little regard to usage needs, access times were becoming increasingly slow.

To relieve bottlenecks, Harris Health System now leverages a Storwize V7000 with SSD drives. Response times, noted Will Aymond, Harris Health System IT lead, architecture and systems, immediately dropped from an average of more than 30 ms to less than 1 ms. "Those don't sound like big numbers," he explains, "but in the context of 700,000 operations per second, several milliseconds can make a huge difference."

It wasn't long, in fact, before people did notice—and IT began receiving notes like this one from a clinical coding reimbursement compliance manager: "Doggone if these ad-hoc account query reports run fast in Epic now. I may have died and gone to heaven. Many thanks to whoever did this."

Improving patient care with IT performance

The implementation, which featured the Storwize V7000 storage system and Power Systems servers, produced tangible benefits for both IT and end users.

"We have seen between a 25 and 30 percent performance improvement at the user level," explains Tindle, "and we've seen backups that used to take 12 hours reduced to 30 to 40 minutes. Also, our night production runs—which extract out production data into other databases—previously took 10 or 11 hours, but now take less than an hour." And those pharmacy transaction times? The new system has reduced the 30-second transaction times down to just five seconds per transaction—a significant difference.

In healthcare environments, it's nearly impossible to separate IT and end-user benefits. The Storwize V7000 allows continuous data and application availability for clinical functions. In a hospital system such as Harris Health System, with high levels of critically ill and injured patients requiring services such as portable x-rays in the emergency room or split-second decision making and immediate transport to the operating room, availability is of the essence. "These systems have become critical for life safety," says Tindle.

"What it means is that from the time patients hit the door until the time they leave, there are people and computer systems that track where they are and provide and capture critical data in order to save lives. Now everyone is spending less time with the computer and more time with our patients."

Moving ahead with still greater benefits

Improvement is an ongoing process for the healthcare industry. In moving to a smarter storage approach, the next planned step for Harris Health System is to add System Storage Easy Tier technology to continue improving disk response and availability. Harris Health System is also sharing its technology base across the Houston community—exchanging medical records with other institutions, including Federally Qualified Health Centers, county mental health facilities, jails and other providers.

As for Harris Health System itself, Tindle sums up the results for an equally wide-ranging community: "Every single nurse, doctor, registration person, respiratory therapist, radiologist, radiology tech, laboratory specialist—every single person attached to the clinical, administrative or diagnostic role in this organization—has benefitted."

Triple-S Steel celebrates a decade of powering their business with IBM and Mark III Systems

Triple-S Steel logo

In an age of unprecedented global expansion in both developed markets and emerging economies, no building block is arguably more important than steel. Whether it is machinery in factories, airplanes, or bridges, the infrastructure for the world's economy relies heavily on high-quality steel. It is in this global context that Triple-S Steel has grown from a Houston-centric steel supplier over the last few decades to a global supply giant with key operations in North and South America.

To help position itself for future growth, Triple-S approached Mark III Systems nearly ten years ago to help build a robust and scalable IT infrastructure that would run its key applications, including a critical ERP application targeted at the steel industry. Triple-S had endured integration issues at the time and turned to Mark III to help them fix their issues and optimize their installation on IBM Power Systems and IBM Storage. By leveraging its strong staff of local Systems Engineers in the Houston office, Mark III was able to help Triple-S Steel right its installation and quickly enable the new ERP system to start producing immediate business value for the company.

"We have 100% trust in all the engineers that we work with at Mark III. They fixed our issues 10 years ago quickly and efficiently. To this day, we won't make a strategic move without their input," said Leonard Abrams, Sr VP of Finance and Administration at Triple-S Steel.

Over the last decade, Mark III has worked with Triple-S Steel on multiple refreshes of their ERP infrastructure, including its most recent upgrade to an IBM Power 770 and IBM Storwize V7000 Storage System. In addition to helping with refreshes, Mark III also assists with routine maintenance and has always been readily available to help Triple-S Steel address any questions that they might have about their IBM infrastructure investment.

"Our Mark III sales rep is incredible. She always goes above and beyond and is literally available 7x24x365 for us, in case there is an emergency," explains Abrams.

"Beyond great salespeople and excellent engineers, we've continued to work with Mark III throughout the years because of the fundamental level of integrity that Mark III consistently displays. We have complete trust in everyone that we work with."

Kelsey-Seybold Clinic Delivers high-quality patient care with virtualized desktops, IBM Flex System and IBM FlashSystem

Kelsey-Seybold Clinic logo

Serving the Houston area with a network of 20 ambulatory healthcare facilities, Kelsey-Seybold Clinic is the nation's first accredited Accountable Care Organization. Some 375 physicians in 50 specialties and a full-time staff of nearly 3,000 serve more than a half million patients and approximately a million visits a year—with rapid growth in clinical services and technology needs. Services and operations at Kelsey-Seybold are supported by an IT team of approximately 140 and a full array of server, storage, networking and clinical technologies.

Ensuring that patient care is best-in-class.

In the late 2000s, Kelsey-Seybold determined that if the clinic wanted to continue supplying patients with best-in-class services, elements of its technology infrastructure would need to be refreshed. The focus of change was to improve the operation and use of its Epic electronic medical records (EMR) solution by upgrading the server and storage systems—and later by implementing virtualized desktop infrastructure (VDI) capabilities—to enable clinicians to more efficiently and effectively deliver patient care.

Kelsey-Seybold Clinic enhanced servers and storage supporting its Epic solution and provided virtualized desktops to improve and expand services.

From the physician standpoint, explains Martin Littmann, chief technology officer and chief information security officer at Kelsey-Seybold, the goal was to remove interruptions from the practice of medicine. "There's an expectation that they're going to get a very responsive interaction with the EMR. We want to ensure that physicians aren't waiting for system responses in their conversations with patients."

From the patient standpoint, the goal was also to use technology to remove barriers. "Patients have seen the elimination of paper," Littmann explains. "They now have the ability to sign up and gain access to their own private information through a secure patient portal."

Evolving clinic capabilities with virtualization

Kelsey-Seybold already had implemented an Epic EMR system on IBM Power® 770 servers while virtualizing other applications and services on other IBM servers. So the task was to extend virtualization to desktops to make the EMR system even more accessible. At the same time, the clinic needed to enhance its storage environment that included IBM DS8000®, IBM Storwize® V7000 and IBM XIV® Gen3 storage to accommodate the massive amounts of data that its enterprise solutions produce.

To achieve its goals, Kelsey-Seybold engaged IBM Advanced Business Partner Atlantis Computing, Inc. and Houston-based IBM Business Partner Mark III to revamp its storage and server infrastructure. The solution included the IBM Flex System solution and FlashSystem storage systems for the VDI solutions, SAN Volume Controller for storage virtualization, the Citrix XenDesktop solution for delivering virtual desktops and Atlantis ILIO software for accelerating performance, lowering cost and increasing scalability of its virtualized systems. Such a large-scale implementation meant that, to maintain operations while bringing improvements on board, the organization needed to evolve rather than replace its existing infrastructure.

Kelsey-Seybold worked with IBM and its key partners to implement a solution that could achieve patient care results that are far reaching—the clinic supports 5,000 endpoints across its 20 sites. It also achieved business results—its high-performance, robust desktop virtualization implementation helps avoid wasting storage capacity and helps applications avoid the risk of outages during peak usage. This solution is also scalable, enabling Kelsey-Seybold to expand and continually improve care.

Continuing to grow and improve with IBM

The new IBM Flex System and FlashSystem capabilities are key to the evolution of the infrastructure. "Our virtual desktops are used in our contact center, nurses' stations and reception areas," notes Chris Breaux, manager of enterprise technology systems at Kelsey-Seybold. "We have people in IT and business operations using non-persistent and persistent virtual desktops."

The Flex System provides a simplified, flexible and reliable infrastructure to accommodate the clinic's business needs. Compute nodes, storage solutions and network switches can be housed in one chassis, simplifying procurement, deployment and systems management. For compute functions, IBM Flex System x240 provides the performance and reliability that a healthcare facility needs. Deployed as virtualized servers that support the Epic EMR client software and virtualized desktops, IBM Flex System x240 is, as Breaux puts it, "our go-to strategy for x86."

IBM FlashSystem meets the demanding input/output storage requirements of the VDI environment, where the need to access records and information can vary widely depending on clinical use, but where speed is always critical. Optimized by the Atlantis ILIO solution and configured with the Epic EMR system running on Citrix XenApp, this integrated solution enables Kelsey-Seybold to enhance delivery by quickly accessing information and eliminating long wait times. Faster data access and application performance can also speed and streamline back-office functions for more effective business operations. Taken together, the upgraded Epic EMR solution deployed on IBM and partner solutions provides a high-performance, highly responsive platform to meet the clinic's needs today and tomorrow.

Memorial Hermann Health System delivers outstanding patient care Spotting illnesses early thanks to fast access to medical records provided by IBM storage

Memorial Hermann Health System logo

Memorial Hermann Health System is the largest not-for-profit health care system in South East Texas, managing a total of 12 hospitals at over 75 locations and employing more than 5,000 physicians.

Providing healthcare services for the community

To fulfil its duty of caring for the millions of people in its communities, Memorial Hermann Health System must deliver effective, high-quality medical services that meet the needs of its patients throughout their lifetimes. At the same time, the organization is under constant pressure to make its processes more efficient—a key concern for all not-for-profit bodies. Memorial Hermann Health System relies on IBM technology to stay at the forefront of medical research. "Deploying high-performance storage has taken our analytics capabilities to a new level, so we can now spot signs indicative of certain ailments before they are published in medical journals," says Dr. Robert Murphy, Chief Medical Informatics Officer.

As part of this drive for efficiency, many departments at Memorial Hermann Health System have deployed Cerner software to provide electronic medical records, which can be shared far faster and more economically between the various institutions involved in patient care compared to physical files. The ability to share information quickly is critical in the healthcare industry, as delays in identifying and treating illnesses can often mean the difference between life and death. Dr. Robert Murphy, Chief Medical Informatics Officer at Memorial Hermann Health System, explains: "Switching to electronic medical records means that we have huge quantities of healthcare data available in one place. We wanted to find a way to analyze all of this data to spot signs indicative of certain ailments and diagnose diseases early, as this would help us provide the best possible care for our patients."

Strong organizational growth and rising volumes of more detailed medical data at Memorial Hermann Health System have quadrupled storage requirements in recent years. The IT department knew that expanding its existing storage environment, which comprised devices from four different vendors, was not efficient or sustainable. It needed instead a solution that could provide ultra-fast data access and rock-solid reliability—combined with excellent value for money.

High-performance storage

Memorial Hermann Health System decided to deploy 2 high-performance IBM FlashSystem arrays, which provide the high throughput required for many of the organization's tier-one mission-critical applications, including the Oracle databases used by the Cerner solutions to store patients' electronic medical records, which had been growing at a rate of one terabyte per month. Mark III Systems, an IBM Premier Business Partner, provided technical support throughout the implementation.

Ty Hall, Infrastructure Manager at Memorial Hermann Health Care System, comments: "Mark III Systems helped us to implement the FlashSystem devices quickly and easily. Most importantly, we avoided downtime—a critical factor, given that doctors require access to the information they need to treat patients 24/7." Additional tier-one storage is provided by IBM System Storage® DS8800 devices, while tier-two applications are supported by IBM Storwize® V7000 devices. Memorial Hermann Health Care System has virtualized its entire storage environment using IBM System Storage SAN Volume Controller, which creates a flexible pool of storage and provides a single point of control for all devices, saving time and effort in storage administration.

Memorial Hermann's decision to virtualize with SAN Volume Controller continues to pay large dividends in terms of performance, efficiency and cost savings, while the Storwize systems are designed to help improve application availability and resource utilization. Moreover, the DS8800 and DS8700 devices feature the IBM System Storage Easy Tier® function, which automatically moves frequently-accessed data to ultra-fast solid-state drives, enabling Memorial Hermann to achieve dramatic performance benefits, gain efficient access to the data used most often, and drive utilization of multi-tier and single-tier systems.

Rapid access to critical medical information

Migrating to FlashSystem storage has enabled the organization to slash average query response times for its Oracle electronic medical records database to just 1.3 microseconds, providing doctors with faster access to the information they need to make the best treatment decisions. "Teaming up with IBM enables us to leverage the big data analytics and fast storage we need to help us achieve our goals and improve patient care." —Ty Hall, Infrastructure Manager at Memorial Hermann Health Care System

"The speed and reliability provided by the FlashSystem devices play a key role in helping us look after our patients," remarks Dr. Murphy. "For example, we are currently trying to reduce the number of patients who die from a condition called sepsis, which causes the body's immune system to go into overdrive so that even a basic infection can lead to critical organ dysfunction or even death. When treating patients with sepsis, every second counts. "By rapidly analyzing the medical records of all patients across our 12 hospitals in real-time, we can detect patterns that indicate early or severe sepsis and take the appropriate action in minutes instead of hours—that can easily be the difference between life and death for many of these patients."

He continues: "Data analysis is even revealing new findings that haven't been published in academic journals, such as certain patterns in symptoms indicative of particular medical ailments. In the past, we could have failed to spot these correlations, but now the analyses help us stay at the cutting-edge of medical research. Going forwards, these insights will help us to take preventative action in more and more cases, helping us better serve the healthcare needs of our community."

Cutting energy bills

The highly efficient FlashSystem solution also features low power and cooling requirements, helping Memorial Hermann Health Care System to cut its energy consumption. Hall comments: "Our old storage system was the size of three refrigerators, while the FlashSystem is the size of a pizza box! Since the migration, we have cut our power consumption by 96 percent, cooling requirements by 95 percent and rack space usage by 98 percent. These savings are helping us to adopt a greener approach to IT and cut our energy costs, so we can invest more of our funds in our primary purpose: providing top-notch healthcare services."

He concludes: "We plan to install additional FlashSystem devices to cope with the increasing demands fuelled by our organizational growth. Once we have moved all of our data to FlashSystem devices, their compact nature means that we will not need to expand our data center to accommodate the extra capacity. "We believe that IBM can help make us a healthier planet. We are investing heavily in population health and teaming up with IBM enables us to leverage the big data analytics and fast storage we need to help us achieve our goals and improve patient care."