Take Control of Your Distributed IT Environment

Mitzi L. Amon • December 04, 2019

The fourth in a series of posts that explores the vital signs of a healthcare system’s digital and physical infrastructure, this blog explores the challenges involved in managing an increasingly distributed IT environment. It shows how intelligent, connected, well-organized infrastructure can help network engineers and infrastructure managers ensure access, visibility, and control across assets, keeping decision makers at the heart of the network, simplifying IT complexity, and enabling more confident management.

In the human body, the circulatory system, through its network of arteries, capillaries, and veins, is responsible for pumping blood and nutrients from the heart to every other part of the body, enabling body systems to function as intended. When those connections become blocked, the results can be devastating.

In the IT world, blocked connections between the network closets (where servers and routers reside) and the IT staff responsible for maintaining availability of the equipment can translate into system failure. According to a 2016 study by the Ponemon Institute on the Cost of Data Center Outages, healthcare organizations experience one of the highest costs of downtime, at $918,000 per outage. When IT systems are down due to power outages and other emergency events, hospital staff cannot access or process electronic medical records, physician orders, or billing. Equipment can be damaged, data can be lost, and images can be corrupted, all of which add up to lost money, and more significantly, compromised patient care.

As healthcare networks become increasingly complex and distributed due to M&A and the need to provide health services in more remote locations, they must ensure reliable connections between the heart of the network—a centralized area for control and management—and all their various extremities. This starts with intelligent, connected power and cooling solutions that make up the core of your IT backbone, including a rugged uninterruptible power pply (UPS) with reliable batteries to provide emergency power and precision cooling equipment designed to remove the heat generated by high-density, life-critical technology. When this equipiment is properly maintained, well organized, and coupled with hardware and software solutions that enable remote access and control of assets from a central location, it gives healthcare leaders the visibility and flexibility they need to stay connected to their entire networks, regardless of where assets are physically located.

  • Proper management begins with proper organization
    Today’s healthcare IT leaders are charged with keeping widely dispersed healthcare infrastructure functioning at peak performance around the clock. Given that assets are located in numerous places—including multiple network closets throughout the main hospital facility as well as in remote clinics and ambulatory facilities—this task can easily turn into a logistics nightmare. To help simplify the complexity, each of the various network closets, cabinets, and micro data centers functioning across the network must be set up to connect with a central computing hub and securely send information back and forth.

     

    In addition to choosing smart devices that have the ability to communicate with IT staff, proper organization of the network closets and cabinets helps facilitate these connections and enable remote management while also ensuring easy access to equipment when onsite maintenance is needed. A good organization strategy includes:

     

    • The right racks. Racks support, secure, and organize a wide variety of equipment including servers, storage, switches, routers, PDUs, UPSs, console port servers, and KVM switches. Racks should be able to support high density environments and must be rated to accommodate today’s deeper, heavier equipment. Equipment racks should carry at least a 1,000-lb (454kg) static weight capacity. Some racks, such as the Vertiv™ VR Rack, are specifically designed for easy installation and integration of components and devices while supporting high-density weight loads.
    • Smart PDUs. The power distribution units that feed the servers and equipment in your racks is obviously a key link in your power chain. Using intelligent rack PDUs allows you to monitor power at the outlet level for a detailed view of power distributed to specific equipment. Some smart PDUs such as Vertiv™ Geist™ Rack PDUs, provide notifications when user-specified thresholds for power are breached. This helps maximize uptime while also providing information to evaluate energy usage trends and efficiency. Other features of a good rPDU include hot-swappable capabilities that enable power to be switched directly to equipment to perform maintenance, along with alternating, color-coded outlets to simplify circuit/phase balancing and help prevent overloading a circuit.
    • Cable management. In network closets where space is usually limited, cables can quickly become a problem, cluttering the space, restricting airflow needed for cooling, making it difficult to access equipment for maintenance, and inhibiting moves and changes to accommodate growth, all of which compromise your ability to effectively manage your IT network. Choosing racks that are specifically designed for good rack hygiene or adding cable managers is a must. Ideally, the racks will include cable entry holes, mounted cable management brackets located in the zero U space, accessory mounting holes for tool-less cable management accessories, and integrated cable tie off positions.

 

  • Take visibility and control to the next level with the right monitoring and management solutions
    Smart UPSs and cooling equipment and intelligent rack PDUs situated in a well-organized network closet or cabinet can only take you so far. While these devices add critical protection and can deliver information, in an increasingly distributed healthcare environment, decision makers need a comprehensive picture of network health across all locations where assets reside. Being able to collect real-time data from across your network and see it at a glance, all from one central location, requires integration of power and cooling equipment with the right monitoring and management hardware and software. This can include:

     

    • Rack-mounted environmental sensors. Environmental factors like heat, humidity and moisture pose a severe threat to mission-critical infrastructure in network closets and server rooms, especially in ambulatory facilities where building air conditioning likely turns off at night and in the winter. External temperature, humidity, and dew point sensors, such as Vertiv™ Geist™ Environmental Monitors, allow IT staff to securely observe conditions and view real-time sensor data from a secure web interface. Staff receives alerts when user-defined thresholds are breached, allowing them to take action to protect critical equipment before infrastructure is compromised.
    • Comprehensive monitoring and management software. Integrating UPSs, rack PDUs, and cooling solutions with monitoring and management software allows IT professionals to view and proactively control the environment from a central location without the need to deploy technicians to remote facilities. Centralized visibility allows staff to see hundreds of network closets and ambulatory offices at a glance and immediately detect shifts in heat and humidity, water leaks, declines in battery capacity, and changes in runtime and output load percentage, as well as cooling equipment status, in any location. They can monitor power supply and consumption throughout all the racks and control outlet-level current and power metering. And they can respond as needed before adverse trends become emergencies

       

      Vertiv™ Environet is an example of a comprehensive monitoring solution that affords these capabilities. It uses common protocols to communicate with data center and facility infrastructure across the distributed network to obtain critical data and device statuses. All statuses and values are displayed within one centralized interface allowing IT staff to visualize the overall health of the IT infrastructure, know where devices are located, and receive immediate notifications and alerts when actions need to be taken. All of this enables faster, more informed decisions and quick correction of problems before they cause downtime.

 

  • Planning for the future becomes simpler when you can see everything
    Remote monitoring and management capabilities are about more than keeping your infrastructure operating at peak performance right now. They can give you the insight you need to understand power usage and space availability so you can plan for future capacity and expansion. Some solutions, such as Environet, also come with powerful analytics engines and predictive analysis capabilities that support continuous improvement efforts by helping you visualize and understand system performance and trends over time and pinpoint assets across the network that may not be performing as well as they should be.

 

  • Keep the pulse of your distributed network healthy and strong
    With intelligent, connected infrastructure and the right software for visibility, control, management, and analytics, it’s possible to stay on top of your distributed healthcare network, even as it continuously expands. When you have easy access and complete visibility into the full picture, the heart of your operations is stronger and smarter, leading to increased reliability and even greater efficiency.

 

To learn more about effectively managing your distributed network, contact Vertiv or visit us at Vertiv.com/healthcare to discover how our solutions are helping more than 80% of U.S. healthcare systems achieve continuity for life. And look for our next post to find out more about building your physical infrastructure’s immunity and optimizing healthcare operations for their best possible performance.

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