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2/7/2006
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Boston Hospitals' Patient Information Saved From Lock Down

CareGroup Healthcare uses the latest release of Symantec's i3 to ensure access to data.

About 10 a.m. on a Sunday morning late last month, Ayad Shammout received a page at home telling him that users were not able to access the patient information database used by the three prominent Boston-area hospitals where he serves as senior database administrator/analyst.

The users included patients outside the hospitals who were trying to look up lab results and medical records. More importantly, doctors and nurses caring for patients at the three hospitals were unable to access the information. The hospitals are the New England Baptist Hospital and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, both in Boston, and Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, all part of CareGroup Healthcare Systems.

To troubleshoot the problem, Shammout dialed into the hospital system over a virtual private network, activated the beta version of a new release of an application performance management tool, i3 from Symantec, and looked at the patient information application. It indicated that all users were locked out of the database, and as he looked deeper, he found that another application, running on a new production schedule, was contending for patient data at the same time. The conflict had prompted each application to try to lock out the other, freezing everyone's access.

Fortunately, says Ayad, it was a slow Sunday morning, and only a few patients were inconvenienced. "On a busy weekday, there would have been thousands of users trying to access information, and that would be a real problem," he says. Doctors have dispensed with many of their former paper records and "have come to depend 99% on the technology," he notes.

Shammout cancelled the offending job and ordered it to be rescheduled to a time when it wouldn't run into conflict with the patient information application. The i3 application monitoring and analysis tool he used moved out of beta testing this week to become the generally available 7.5 release of i3, formerly known as Veritas i3. Symantec acquired Veritas in June and this is Symantec's first upgrade of the application performance system.

Shammout says CareGroup has in the past used a variety of SQL analysis and other tools to detect problems in applications that rely heavily on database performance. What he likes about the new release of i3 is that it combines the troubleshooting of several tools into one. "It takes us hours, maybe days, to use multiple tools. I3 is a one-stop location. It's become our main tool," he says.

The software consists of InDepth, Inform, and Insight modules that collect information from the network, the application server, and the databases running behind the applications to pinpoint a problem. If there's a slowdown on an E-commerce site, i3 can inspect operations down to the SQL statement that's trying to complete a shopping-cart checkout.

Users of the tool can set up dashboards with key performance indicators, performance thresholds at which alerts are sent to system administrators, and a set of rules that determine if some specific, automated action is to be taken, such as adding a server to a cluster.

The InDepth module collects information from agents placed at different levels in a company's production software. Inform displays the information and Insight analyzes it in a data warehouse, correlating a trouble spot in one tier, such as the Web application server, with information on database operations and other elements in neighboring tiers.

I3 is priced at $1,500 per CPU. Dual-core CPUs count as one CPU, so a two-processor server (with four cores) incurs a $3,000 license fee.

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