IBM Scales Up for Healthcare

IBM takes apart its grid wares and re-bundles them with storage, server gear

May 17, 2007

4 Min Read
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IBM has boiled down a slew of storage, software, and server products into a single package for healthcare and biotech firms, and is planning to extend the offering to other industries drowning in data. (See IBM Intros Medical Grid.)

The solution, unveiled today, uses IBM's recently launched Grid Access Manager Software to tie together the vendor's EXP3000 and DS4000 storage hardware and System x servers in a package aimed at the healthcare industry. (See IBM Unveils SAS Systems, IBM Turns to LSI for SAS, SNW: First Take, and IBM Deploys 'Low Carb' IT.)

Grid Access Manager is OEM'd from content-addressable storage (CAS) specialist Bycast. (See IBM to Build on Bycast and IBM to Build on Bycast.) The startup, along with Caringo, is one of the world's few software-based CAS systems, which makes it portable across heterogeneous arrays, rather than tied to a vendor's hardware. (See Bycast Casts Out, Bycast Announces IBM Deal, IBM to Build on Bycast, and Caringo.)

CIOs and IT managers in the health sector have already voiced their concern about the storage challenges posed by Picture Archiving and Communications Systems (PACS). (See PACS Poses Storage Challenge and Radiology Group Picks Isilon.) PACS, which is becoming increasingly popular, involves the creation and storage of large digital images, prompting many organizations to rethink their storage strategies. (See Baptist Memorial Healthcare, Baptist Memorial Picks Copan, and Hospital Prescribes VTL, CDP.)

IBM's new bundle, which it calls its Grid Medical Archive Solution (GMAS), is a way for firms to come to grips with the data growth associated with this type of application. "[Because] they are pre-packaged bundles means that they are pre-configured and easy to install," says Hugh Rivers, business line executive healthcare and life sciences at IBM.Thanks to the Bycast software, GMAS also extends beyond just the vendor's own hardware, according to the exec. "You could deploy this on top of IBM storage or on top of EMC storage."

All well and good, but GMAS does not come cheap. Pricing for the package, which is available next month, starts at $250,000 for just 12 Tbytes of storage on EXP3000 or DS4000 hardware, four System x servers, and Grid Access Manager software.

At least one IT manager told Byte and Switch that GMAS has made his life much easier. Alex Veletsos, chief technology officer of Orlando Regional Healthcare, deployed the solution two months ago to support 50 Tbytes of PACS, cardiology, and medical records images. "It's not cheap, but when you're a large hospital organization like ours, you have to be able to provide redundant, highly available, electronic records."

According to the exec, healthcare organizations are coming under increasing pressure to provide long-term archiving and fast access for medical records, thanks to the likes of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). (See NY Healthcare Picks EMC and Medical Center Deploys Brocade.) "That's part of the game now," he says, adding that his firm spent around $600,000 on GMAS, including a discount from IBM.

With Orlando Regional Healthcare's image data expected to grow by at least 30 to 40 Tbytes a year, Veletsos told Byte and Switch that he needed a solution that would be easy to scale. "If you do it on your own, it is not easy -- you would have to separately license replication software, you would have to install separate SANs."Healthcare also looks set to be the testing ground for broader CAS offerings. (See CAS Matures, Confusion Remains.) "The explosion of fixed content and reference data is occurring across all industries," says Rivers, adding that a GMAS-style solution could be deployed in areas such as financial services, digital media, and telecoms. "We have plans in place that we will probably be announcing soon."

Despite all this marketing spiel, IBM is not the only vendor making moves in this space. HP, for example, which also OEMs Bycast's software, sells its grid-based Medical Archive Solution (MAS), and EMC also offers Centera CAS technology. (See HP MAS Grows Customer Base, Bank Uses EMC, and Reports: EMC to Replace Centera.)

Orlando's Veletsos told Byte and Switch that he looked at both of these solutions, but eventually chose IBM thanks to its use of digital signatures to ensure that corrupt data is not replicated between sites. "At that time, we didn't feel that anyone had anything as good as that," says the exec.

James Rogers, Senior Editor Byte and Switch

  • Bycast Inc.

  • Caringo

  • EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC)

  • Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ)

  • IBM Corp.

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