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Nursing Facility Turns To SaaS For Network Management

The Jewish Home of San Francisco is a nursing facility for older adults. The home has over 420 residents on a nine-acre campus with five buildings. Richard Navarro, director of IT, is tasked with maintaining the health of the organization's network. Earlier this year he decided to implement service management software to help his small IT staff keep better tabs on network and application uptime. He chose a SaaS offering from a provider called AccelOps.

Service management maps the dependencies among components of an IT service, such as e-mail, to help IT understand how all the components fit together. A good service management tool can also help IT track down the root cause of a problem more quickly. "A simple network performance problem can appear as an application problem," says Navarro. "If five or six people call and complain that their e-mail isn't working, the help desk assumes it's an e-mail problem. They pass that to the engineers who start there. We wanted to point the engineers in the right direction from the get-go."

With just five IT professionals to support critical functions such as electronic medical records and financial and payroll applications for 1,000 staff members, Navarro wanted a product that could be brought online quickly while also meeting his budget. One company that appeared on his radar was AccelOps, a Silicon Valley startup that offers service management software as both a virtual appliance and as a service. AccelOps offers integrated datacenter monitoring, alerting, analysis and reporting across performance, availability, security and change management.

Navarro investigated AccelOps and was particularly attracted to the company's ability to aggregate, cross-correlate and manage many different sources and types of operational data. AccelOps can map IT services down to the network level and allow IT staff to perform root cause analysis without recreating incidents or manually pulling data from a variety of different network appliance and component sources. "I've been working with a lot of commercial systems from Nokia, Cisco, HP, and others," says Navarro. "All have plusses and minuses. The ones that have business intelligence built in tend to be pretty expensive. Instead of having it all in house, I was willing to have it hosted by [AccelOps], since the cost is so much better." According to AccelOps, the company charges $2,000 per month for up to 250 devices.

Because he was working with a brand-new system, Navarro kept a few options open. "I did look at purchasing another system in case AccelOps didn't work." That turned out not to be necessary. He was pleased with the deployment and configuration of the service. "I thought the process would take a week or so, but the discovery took around 20 minutes and the configuration was done in a couple of days," he says.

The organization has a multi-campus LAN environment and approximately 50 servers in its data center, most of them virtualized. "They were able to talk to and collect information from everything we had. We have a heterogeneous environment, and it picked it all up." He says that it was also much easier to set up the dependency mappings than other systems.

With the deployment largely complete, Navarro says that the monitoring system helps his small staff deal more quickly with network and application issues that arise. "AccelOps allows us to program all the systems and have an operational dashboard. It can tell us if there's a switch port having problems, and what other systems are being affected. Then, when an engineer is looking at it, they can ask what changed and get the source of a problem or situation that might be affecting a particular switch."

Many IT organizations are reluctant to employ SaaS for IT functions because they are uncomfortable with sensitive network and operations data being stored by the provider. Navarro also had reservations, particularly because JHSF falls under a variety of regulations, including HIPAA. However, he says the SaaS element hasn't been an issue.  "The data that they're collecting is strictly network information, no personal or proprietary information, so it met our privacy, security and regulatory issues," he says.

He also says the service has helped meet some regulatory requirements. For example, AccelOps can show the strength of the passwords on all network devices and the last time passwords were changed. "That was a nice view into the network environment," says Navarro. "AccelOps can also give you the count of bad login attempts (from any source) on a device or network node. I though this was very cool."

However, the service isn't perfect, and lacks some features he would like. "What I've been pushing them for is a little more modern telephony/VoIP environment." He's also not shy about sharing his thoughts with the company. "I put it on our team to tell AccelOps about the things that aren't there. We've been giving them feedback, and they're moving on them."