More Free Time and Greater Productivity with the Move to HCI


Sometimes, achieving success is about making the best of your situation. Take organization size, for example. The grass may seem greener within large, well-funded IT departments. Modest operations don't come with big budgets, so they have to learn to do more with less. Staff within smaller companies often have to tell end users “no” when they ask for elaborate solutions. All of these things can create stress and uneasiness, leading to the belief that bigger IT departments have it easy.

In reality, however, there are clear advantages to smaller IT teams. Chief among these benefits is a greater connection with end users. Because staff is limited, members of smaller IT teams usually wear many hats, and each of these hats is an opportunity to touch projects from a different angle and become more familiar with user needs.

This enhanced familiarity is powerful. The better IT staff know everyone’s needs, the easier it is to meet them. This is especially critical in healthcare. In matters of life and death, technology supports and empowers our frontline workers.

Full-Service Healthcare in a Mid-Sized Town

At Sauk Prairie Healthcare in Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin, we are a small but full-service medical organization serving a modest town. We operate a 35-bed hospital with four clinics, and through a variety of locations and specialties, we provide nearly everything our residents could need. 

In matters of life and death, #technology supports and empowers frontline workers. #NutanixStories

Patients receive the typical short-term assistance in the form of urgent care or general surgery. Sauk Prairie Healthcare also provides long-term support in everything from rehabilitation to orthopedics. Because our decision-makers live within our community, we are very focused on the needs of our residents. That is why, in addition to basic health care services, we also provide a number of community supports related to mental health, counseling, and drug addiction. 

Outside our services, Sauk Prairie Healthcare has another distinction that is increasingly rare in healthcare. We operate as an independent entity. So far, we have resisted being purchased by one of the nationwide conglomerates. Being on our own provides us with a level of autonomy in serving our residents. We function as a holistic health organization for our town, the same way our IT staff provides well-rounded technology assistance to the medical and administrative staff.

The Need-Based Journey From Legacy to Lifeline

For years, we operated on a three-tiered architecture. We used Cisco UCS servers and storage alongside NetApp, and everything ran on Cisco in the backend for interconnectivity. We had major difficulties with the multi-vendor approach. It was extremely challenging to troubleshoot problems, and every query rapidly devolved into finger-pointing. If we had an issue with NetApp, they would claim the problem must be on the Cisco servers. Meanwhile, Cisco would indicate an issue within VMware.

IT's work is essential to help medical staff control the flow of inpatient services and provide efficient and effective care. #NutanixStories

These difficulties led to downtime. Downtime in a healthcare institution is unacceptable. Our technology maintains everything from patient records to monitoring equipment. IT's work is essential to help medical staff control the flow of inpatient services and provide efficient and effective care for those who require it most.

Our architecture worked well when it was first designed. But, like all technology, it eventually began to expire. As the software aged, it was no longer supported. In our case, an aging system could potentially interrupt vital treatment for the residents of our community. Nothing made this reality more apparent than the attention we received during downtime. Most people don't think about IT when everything works great. But when it doesn't work, everybody looks to us.

On one particular occasion, this became painfully clear. We had both NetApp controllers fail at the same time, which forced 130 virtual machines offline for half a day. That attracted the attention of top leadership. For much of that time, we had our CEO right beside us as we searched for solutions. Additional pressures aside, it is a very uncomfortable feeling knowing that our antiquated system can be the most pressing problem our CEO has for a day.

It was time for a change.

Moving to a New Solution with Nutanix

We knew it was time for something new because managing the old setup was becoming a full-time job and we could no longer rely on our architecture. As I mentioned before, in a small organization everyone has to multitask. We cannot afford to let maintenance dominate our time.

Network and Security Manager Scott Vaughan and I began the selection process by looking at all our options. The last thing we wanted to do was to rush into another arrangement that wasn't right for Sauk Prairie Healthcare. We brought in several of the big hyperconverged players and allowed them to conduct product demonstrations.

In the end, we decided to go with Nutanix. We were impressed with the ease of use of Nutanix compared to other hyperconverged solutions. Since we are a small office, we needed something simple to use and straightforward to manage. For us, this was not a typical vendor purchase. We were looking for a partner, and that meant finding a company with excellent customer service.

We were confident that Nutanix would deliver. A call to their team would result in assistance from an engineer, whereas other companies often force you to wade through intake staff. Nutanix also gave us access to their customer community, XTRIBE. Through XTRIBE, we could gain real feedback and knowledge from existing Nutanix customers.

Everything We Wanted—and More

As a testament to our selection process, getting our new system up and running was seamless. We had a contractor involved in the migration, but altogether the implementation only took around a week. That included about three days to physically stack equipment and set up elements like interconnectivity, firewall rules, and switch ports. The remaining days were mostly for training and knowledge transfer. Knowing that similar processes can easily take months, the fast implementation alone was nearly worth the price of the purchase. 

We experienced a stellar onboarding process. Nutanix offered us access to a number of training modules and an academy. Best of all, most of these resources were offered for free, or at least much cheaper compared to other vendors. That was a huge selling point for us because a fancy new system is worthless if we don't know how to utilize it, and these resources allowed us to learn faster than we could have done on our own.

As for immediate benefits, we were able to consolidate 60–70 rack units down to only four units. That had an immediate impact on our heating and cooling bills. All this happened without a noticeable interruption to the end users.

The long-term impacts were even better. Our initial system was too cumbersome and complex to manage. Scott and I spent way too much of our time addressing problems. With three days each week dedicated to maintenance, we would have had to hire another person before long.

When you can manage an entire system from a single pane of glass, it’s a lot easier to pin down problems and propose fixes. #NutanixStories

Since we started to use Nutanix, we can manage the entire system from a single pane of glass. That makes it a lot easier to pin down problems and propose fixes. Our days of searching through four separate platforms to find the issue are over. It also means we no longer treat our network as a separate full-time job. We've gone from needing another staff member to searching for new projects to make our organization better and more efficient.

We’re still small, and our staff continues to wear multiple hats. Only now, we have the time to proactively help medical and administrative staff to find ways that technology can improve operations. Scott sleeps better at night knowing our infrastructure is more stable and easier to manage. At the end of the day, we use Nutanix technology to empower our users to save lives.