A Lesson in Streamlining Operations and Simplifying Network Management
Big companies get a lot of glory and make a lot of headlines, but there’s often an advantage to remaining small and nimble. Regardless of the company size, the challenge is to find a way to thrive.
This trickles down to those of us in IT. We don’t get a say in the extent of our tech operation, and no matter the size of the department, I am sure most of us can remember a time when more staff would have been a lifesaver. Most of us are also familiar with the regular struggle to get budget approval for upgrades. Whether or not we get that approval, IT leaders must learn to work with whatever resources we can garner to do the job.
For organizations with very small IT teams, this constraint means learning to become as resourceful as possible. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. Limits in personnel and financial support often drive efforts to improve efficiency and automation. That is exactly what happened at Lakeland Surgical & Diagnostic Center (LSDC) in Lakeland, Florida. At the end of the day, our constraints led to a technology enhancement that we may not have found otherwise.
Making the Most out of Limited Resources
LSDC is a medium-sized facility dedicated to same-day surgical and diagnostic care. Doctors throughout our community trust us to provide comprehensive diagnostic services so their customers can receive the treatment they need. We also provide a wide range of outpatient surgical procedures. Our area specialties include gastroenterology, reconstructive surgery, orthopedics, pain management, urology, and radiation oncology.
I have had the pleasure of working with Lakeland for 13 years and I currently serve as Information Services Manager. In that position, I am responsible for the entire connected technology system, including desktops and biomedical equipment. This setup includes the expected end-user devices like tablets, wireless guest devices, and smart TVs. But it also includes a variety of mission-critical items, like patient bedside devices.
During my time with the organization, I have removed and replaced nearly every component of the infrastructure at least once—and some technologies have been replaced multiple times. Through a variety of migrations and updates, my IT team has managed to keep everything running.
To clarify: My “IT team” includes myself and another colleague. So as you might imagine, much of our efforts over the last decade have been focused on finding ways to leverage the efficiencies of technology. Every time we can find software or hardware designed for easy maintenance, we reduce the financial and staff burdens on my department. Doing more with less is the name of the game.
Pushing Past Legacy Systems
In my early years at LSDC, we operated as a traditional shop. We had the same stacks upon stacks of server racks that were common across the IT landscape at the time. This architecture was unsustainable for us, largely because of the Florida climate. Hurricanes caused frequent electrical and cooling issues for onsite equipment. It was also an incredible hassle to turn off all the systems, applications, and devices during weather emergencies.
Every time we believed we had achieved the right environmental control, there were new problems with heat or moisture. We were constantly adding and replacing components related to cooling. Breakdowns and outages were also a problem, since we had very little redundancy. These power failures were more than just a headache for IT staff. Increasingly, equipment problems were causing delays and downtime, which impacted medical operations as well.
We knew we had to take a new approach, so in 2017 we started to consider different technologies. We considered various solutions from companies like HP and Cisco, but eventually, we went with the Nutanix hyperconverged infrastructure. This wasn’t a decision I took lightly. As a small shop, the last thing we could afford was moving to a solution that created more stress. I wanted to be absolutely sure that whatever architecture we selected would work for LSDC’s needs.
We selected Nutanix for its combination of service and technology. Their technology was top-notch, and the platform was easy to use and understand. But I was especially impressed by the personal touch we received from Nutanix representatives. Nutanix staff came to visit our facilities to personally observe and understand my operations. Having a personal connection to a solutions provider can make all the difference in feeling like we’re just as important as much larger companies. That experience matched the positive feedback I heard from other shops using Nutanix.
At the time, Nutanix was an up-and-coming solution. There were other vendors with more recognizable names or longer product histories. However, the hyperconverged structure was generating excitement, and Nutanix took the time to prove that its solution could work for us. Instead of going the virtual infrastructure route, we chose to take a chance on Nutanix.
Up and Running in a Day
My personable treatment did not stop with the signing of the contract. Prior to the migration, we underwent a few months of discussions and planning. Nutanix staff helped me design the exact architecture and configuration we would need. The hyperconverged structure was new to us, and throughout the planning process, they were always willing to answer questions and help me avoid problems.
As for the actual deployment of the solution, it took less than eight hours. We started at about 9:00 a.m. and were able to rack mount and set up the entire system by the end of the day. It was so easy that toward the end of the process, I kept looking for a problem. I just knew we had to have forgotten something—but I was wrong.
Anyone who has ever completed a migration knows that the initial setup is usually the worst part. Migrations can easily take days or even weeks when there are problems. Completing everything in a matter of hours was a great feeling, and made it easier to consider adding new systems and applications in the future.
Reliable Support for Critical Applications
Today, we use a variety of Nutanix solutions as part of our overall structure. We use a number of applications that are vendor-agnostic, and we run these on Nutanix AHV. Several of these applications are designed to work with VMware, but Nutanix's staff is always helpful with solving any issues.
Above all, we love hosting these other systems on AHV because of the redundancies we’ve gained. We have multiple nodes in our environment. It is incredibly simple to just roll these applications from one node to another in order to handle updates, upgrades, or troubleshooting.
That’s of great value to us, as we have to keep medical operations going, regardless of what’s happening in IT. In fact, our workloads require that level of stability. We deploy virtual desktops on one of the Nutanix clusters. That includes the computers that are directly involved in patient services. The nodes are also running apps related to clinical services, including X-rays and tracking surgical equipment. We also have general office applications like email, active directory, print services, and medical records.
Enjoying a Working IT Solution and a Simpler Life
Throughout all this, the Nutanix platform is unseen. The software and hardware are part of the hidden backbone of the clinic, but nearly everything runs off those systems. As the ultimate compliment to IT technology, the end users didn't even notice anything different during the migration. The silence of medical and administrative staff going about their day without thinking about IT is the most beautiful thing I can hear.
For those of us working in IT, however, we have a different set of standards. Most of these criteria revolve around making our lives easier. For example, we have to make fewer calls to outside electricians or other technicians. We get fewer support calls and therefore have to spend less time troubleshooting.
In the case of updates or upgrades, we approach the job with less stress since we know it is much simpler to maintain the environment. It’s easy to plan for the future because scaling is a breeze. We can also add or make changes to the environment easily without compromising stability or performance. Best of all, the new platform gives me time to focus on other possibilities. We are now considering off-site backup options and improvements to our core systems.
I no longer need to commit human resources to maintenance. We streamlined tech operations at LSDC and greatly simplified the management of our network. When we chose Nutanix, the technology was just beginning to gain popularity. Choosing to make a long-term investment with a newer technology was not easy, but it was worth the leap. Today, Nutanix is a proven company and the hyperconverged solution is demonstrably stable and low risk. There’s no reason for anyone to hesitate anymore.