Bringing Life-Changing Proton Therapy to Cancer Patients Worldwide with HPE Nimble Storage

HPE Storage

According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 19.3 million new cancer cases and almost 10 million cancer deaths occurred in 2020 worldwide. While it may seem like the human race faces an uphill battle against cancers, researchers have made massive strides in cancer detection and treatment methods. One of these treatment methods is proton therapy.

Proton therapy is an advanced form of radiation therapy. Proton therapy uses energy from positively charged particles (protons) rather than the X-rays used in conventional radiation therapy. As part of the treatment, doctors direct cancer-fighting energy to precise locations within the body. Because it is more targeted, studies have suggested that proton therapy may cause fewer side effects than conventional radiation therapy. Proton therapy isn’t widely available yet, although new proton therapy centers are popping up globally. 

Headquartered in Belgium, IBA is the worldwide leader in proton therapy technology. We are a multinational company that offers cancer diagnosis and therapy solutions, dosimetry, ionization, and sterilization tools for hospitals and e-beam accelerators (cyclotrons) to produce and distribute radiopharmaceutical tracers. We are also the world’s leading provider of proton therapy that selectively targets cancer cells, supplying treatment rooms to over 45 cancer clinics around the world. Doctors use IBA technology to treat more than half of proton therapy patients. 

We are pushing the limits of technology. Strong, solid, and flexible IT infrastructure is paramount to supporting our worldwide growth and strengthening our position in the market.

We Operate on a Solid Foundation

I joined IBA in June 2020, amid the COVID pandemic, after 10 years spent in various industries (automobile, aerospace, metallurgy). I am part of the Operations PT Service team, which is dedicated to support and maintain the existing proton therapy centers, and to manage implementation of the new sites.

As operations IT Infrastructure technical leader, I spend my days multitasking. With more than 40 centers worldwide, and 10 new sites oncoming, there is always something requiring attention.

It’s my job to spot and resolve IT issues, and I keep abreast of current technology to plan upgrades for existing treatment rooms and the deployment of new ones. Since we offer a turnkey solution to cancer clinics, everything must work before we ship it. My job is to select, order, and set up the servers, backup systems, switches, and routers that we then install at our customers’ premises.

To get everything right, start with a solid foundation: technology vendors.

To get everything right, we start with a solid foundation, which begins with our technology vendors. For the last 20 years, HPE has been IBA’s IT vendor of choice. I recently had to find a replacement for one of our legacy systems—a machine that existed long before HP had become HPE. That long-term reliability holds true for HPE solutions as well as our partnership. We also have an excellent implementation partner in Nexis ICT, who helps us navigate HPE’s latest product releases to find the best solutions for our needs. 

Although we’ve experienced tremendous growth in the last decade, we’ve been in the proton therapy field since the 1990s. Our earliest treatment room went online 20 years ago. The IT equipment at some of our more recent facilities has also reached end of life, so we wanted to replace it—and gain data efficiency, standardization, simplicity, and scalability along the way.

Migrating to HPE Nimble Storage

One of the biggest changes during this upgrade cycle was migrating our storage arrays to the HPE Nimble Storage. 

HPE Nimble Storage promises six nines availability (99.9999% uptime), scales across hybrid infrastructure, optimizes resources, and leverages AI and predictive analytics to detect and resolve issues before they become a problem. This new storage architecture provides high availability and redundancy that ensures 24/7 reliability for all our treatment rooms. We can back up our VMs to HPE Nimble Storage and failover in seconds in the event of an outage of a nimble controller.

The first site we upgraded to HPE Nimble Storage was a Proton therapy Center with 5 treatment rooms in the United States. We also upgraded three other sites in the U.S. and Europe, and will be migrating three more sites, also in Europe and the U.S., to HPE Nimble Storage by the end of 2022. All our new sites use HPE Nimble Storage to standardize and simplify our storage infrastructure across all our locations.

Deploying and Upgrading Infrastructure without Interrupting Patient Care

To avoid interrupting patient care, deploying and upgrading IT infrastructure at our treatment rooms is a precise operation. Patients undergo multiple proton therapy sessions that are scheduled in advance. Their lives are already disrupted, and we don’t want to add to their burden by postponing their treatments due to infrastructure upgrades. There is no margin for error. 

We go through a lot of planning and preparation to minimize and eliminate any disruptions.

After purchasing the needed technologies, we work with HPE and Nexis to configure all the hardware and software here in Belgium before shipping it to one of our worldwide locations. We then dispatch teams of three engineers to replace the infrastructure on site and give them a three-day window to test everything and get it all up and running. The new infrastructure must be ready for patient treatment on Monday morning.

A Two-Way Relationship with HPE

We couldn’t achieve these tight turnaround times or ensure 24/7 availability without HPE support. I’ve had nothing but positive experiences with my HPE contact person over the years, and HPE has always provided an escalation contact who’s familiar with our company and existing infrastructure setup. In the event of a crisis, we don’t have to explain the situation from scratch. 

Working with one vendor means that IT teams can find everything under one roof, and all equipment plays well together.

I’m confident that I can call up HPE at 2 a.m. on a Sunday should a site go offline. Because we’ve been with HPE so long, they’ve gotten to know our teams and our operations. HPE’s in-depth assistance far outshines the basic level of support we get from other vendors, which allows us to resolve our issues faster. This dedication and reliability have created a solid relationship, but that’s only part of why we keep coming back to HPE. 

Unlike other suppliers specializing in a particular technology, HPE’s vast product portfolio covers many of our IT needs. Working with one vendor, instead of three or four, means we can find everything under one roof, and all our equipment plays well together.

Infrastructure Health at a Glance with HPE InfoSight

About one year ago, we started to use HPE InfoSight to manage our HPE 3PAR and HPE Nimble Storage arrays. HPE InfoSight uses machine learning to gather infrastructure intelligence and insights across servers, storage, and virtual resources. It uses predictive analytics and recommendation engines to warn us about potential issues. HPE InfoSight gives us end-to-end visibility into our storage systems and allows anyone on my team to check infrastructure health at a glance. 

This always-on approach is far more proactive than our previous system that would only send an email to a single point person after it encountered an issue. Preventing rather than resolving problems is one more way HPE helps us assure 24/7 availability of our proton therapy centers infrastructure. 

Bringing Life-Changing Proton Therapy to More People

As IBA continues to grow, we’re bringing our life-changing proton therapy to more cancer patients. Thanks to HPE’s stable, reliable, and redundant infrastructure, we can guarantee speedy upgrades and minimal downtime in the event of a hardware or software failure. 

People can beat cancer, and we’re doing our part to ensure that patients have a worry-free experience as they advance and through their treatment regimen. And that’s something that makes us proud.