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Virtual Desktops Follow Hospital Staff On Rounds

VMware's View spins up copies of customized desktops on thin clients throughout the hospital so staff can access patient information from almost anywhere.

Norton Healthcare, the largest health care supplier in the Louisville, Ky., region, has adopted end-user virtualization as a means of giving doctors and nurses a desktop that follows them on their rounds.

The five-unit acute-care hospital chain and supplier of 11 neighborhood clinics is in the process of providing 1,000 thin clients to end-user end points, such as nursing stations, clinic treatment centers, and 50 physician offices. With three shifts a day, most end points have three different users every 24 hours, noted Brian Cox, director of IT customer services.

Norton implemented VMware's View in place of Citrix Systems Presentation Server because it wished to upgrade Meditech, its core patient tracking/medical record application. "Meditech changed the design of the client. It wouldn't work right on Presentation Server. One particular printing session would back up and overrun the system, with 20 to 30 other users calling in" to complain they couldn't access the application, he said.

Presentation Server virtualizes an application and sends application results down the wire in response to the end-user queries. Cox likes virtualizing the whole desktop -- applications combined with an operating system. His VMware View environment spins up copies of golden images (customized desktops) from storage in his Louisville data center and runs them on one of six ESX Server hosts. Each host can handle 160 to 180 virtual desktops, he said.

A few golden images take up "one-quarter to one-third of the space" on his storage area network compared with what he used to devote to end-user applications. In addition, each end user's virtual machine functions in a "sandbox," or set of parameters that limit what memory and other resources it can access. That way, "other users continue to work if one process goes wild," he said.

The nature of the image is determined as the user logs in and calls for a desktop. VMware View retrieves the appropriate image and links the user to a central server. The images are created by IT staffers using View Composer, VMware's virtual desktop modeling tool.

(Citrix Systems, in addition to Presentation Server, now offers virtual desktops through XenDesktop that are spun up from central images.)

With VMware view set up, Cox has been able to let doctors and nurses move around the hospital and still access their desktop from the closest thin client, often at the nursing station of a wing instead of having to go back to their own desks. Their desktops can be called up from any location and used to enter patient information or look up patient records.

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