Data Access Key To Patient Health

To handle increasing amounts of data cost-effectively, Cleveland Clinic Foundation is using hierarchical storage-management technology.
The importance of a piece of information can vary greatly based on a variety of factors, including the kind of business a company is in. For most companies, information on customers is among the most important data they collect. In the health-care industry, having the right data on a customer--that is, a patient--can mean the difference between life and death.

Robert Cecil, business-technology director for radiology at Cleveland Clinic Foundation

"All our patient data has value," says Cleveland Clinic Foundation's Cecil.
"All our patient data has value, and the oncology department, for instance, holds on to data for at least 10 years, whatever the course of the illness," says Robert Cecil, business-technology director for radiology at Cleveland Clinic Foundation, a health-care company that provides services through 11 hospitals in Ohio. "Even when patients expire and we have the ability to delete the information, the value of it in research could change the life of a new patient."

Cleveland Clinic faces multiple challenges: It must find ways to manage and store large amounts of data, deploy systems that can access and retrieve needed data quickly, and have the capability to analyze that medical data to find new ways to help ailing patients.

Cecil has storage needs to rival that of any business-technology executive. He expects the amount of data the clinic collects to grow at a rate of 2 terabytes per week by next year. "The screens get bigger and the equipment works faster, and a 5-Mbyte to 10-Mbyte image could catch an illness earlier," he says.

To handle the data, Cecil is looking at hierarchical storage management, in which information is kept on different types of storage media based on how current the data is and how quickly it might be needed. Over time, rarely used data is shifted to lower-cost media such as tapes, while data that might be needed quickly is kept on high-performance hard-disk drives. Cecil is now overseeing the migration of some of the clinic's less-used data to higher-density and lower-cost storage systems.

While the price of hard-disk storage keeps falling, Cecil says the clinic's storage needs are growing twice as fast as prices are declining. So he needs business-technology systems that let him migrate data from one form of storage to another. He also wants a system that lets him index the information.

In the next few months, the clinic plans to deploy a second Storage Technology Corp. PowderHorn tape library, with 2 petabytes of capacity. The library will let the clinic mirror information for backups, testing, and other work without having to shut the system down.

The clinic uses Sun Microsystems servers and hard-disk storage. Sun is developing a software and hardware architecture to make it easier for customers to deploy a storage infrastructure. The clinic is testing Sun's dynamic tiered storage appliance, along with StorEdge Storage Archive Manager storage-management software. Cecil also is looking forward next month to data-migration software, which will let him move information out of imaging systems from Koninklijke Philips Electronics N.V. and Siemens AG. "The front-end imaging vendors don't make it easy to retrieve old data quickly," he says. "Sun has been involved like this from the beginning."

Sun is responding to customer needs with the new appliance and software, says Mike Karp, an analyst at Enterprise Management Associates, a business-technology research firm. "It should be bundled as an appliance so it should be simple to install, provide value right away, and require minimal maintenance," he says. "Such an easy-to-use system should be very attractive."

Sun plans to ship the dynamic tiered storage appliance, which doesn't yet have a formal name, in June; pricing isn't available. Marti Baldwin, Sun's storage solutions marketing manager, says businesses need the simplest storage systems they can find. "Companies are pushing online requirements back into central business technology," she says. "The level of technical expertise is lacking."