Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center Cuts Costs and Improves Performance with Red Hat

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January 8, 2008

Customer: Harvard University / Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

Industry: Healthcare
Geography: North America
Country: United States

Business Challenge:

Migrate core clinical applications to stable, secure operating environment and create new disaster-recovery system with higher availability

Migration Path:

HP Unix to Red Hat Enterprise Linux


Red Hat Enterprise Linux; Red Hat Global File System and Cluster Suite; Intersystems Caché; proprietary Triple A, utility, and security applications


HP DL385 with AMD dual-core processors


Realized $200,000 in annual cost savings, decreased annual downtime from 20 hours to near zero—furthering leading-edge patient care


A Harvard Medical School teaching hospital, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) is renowned for excellence in patient care, biomedical research, teaching, and community service. Among independent teaching hospitals, BIDMC is the fourth-largest recipient of biomedical research funding from the National Institutes of Health. With 3,000 doctors and 12,000 employees on staff, the hospital serves nearly one million patients each year and is the official treatment center of the Boston Red Sox. The Information Systems Division at BIDMC maintains a datacenter with 146 mission-critical applications, vital to the functioning of the hospital.

Business Challenge:

In 2005, Dr. John Halamka, CIO of Harvard Medical School and BIDMC, wanted to migrate the hospital’s IT infrastructure to a more secure, reliable operating system that would reduce operating and capital expenditures. “Our Triple A applications, which are responsible for all of the clinical, financial, administrative, and academic activities in the hospital, ran on HP Unix. But the operating system had memory leaks and required frequent virus patches,” said Halamka. “We experienced approximately 20 hours of planned and unplanned downtime last year,” added Rob Hurst, Sr. Caché Administrator for BIDMC. The hospital not only wanted to move its applications to a more stable and secure operating system, but also wanted to create a new disaster-recovery system that would increase availability from 99.7 percent to 99.99 percent—improving the hospital’s level of patient care even further.


Three years prior, BIDMC had begun using Red Hat for the hospital’s utility services, including mail exchange, spam filtering, and DNS. “Our internal security team was running Red Hat Enterprise Linux exclusively on its servers, so we knew Red Hat provided rock-solid security,” said Hurst. However, executive management questioned whether an open source solution could scale sufficiently while providing the level of reliability needed to support enterprise applications. As the former IT director for another Northeastern hospital, Hurst had gained extensive experience deploying Red Hat for core clinical systems. “Based on my previous experience, I was able to provide BIDMC with benchmark data, demonstrating that Red Hat performance, scalability, and reliability was proven in hospital environments,” he said.

After gaining management approval, Hurst spearheaded the migration project, purchasing Red Hat Enterprise Linux from DLT Solutions, one of Red Hat’s value-added providers dedicated to healthcare and government environments. Hurst’s team deployed Red Hat Enterprise Linux on 11 servers that run Intersystems Caché, as well as the hospital’s proprietary Triple A applications. “Red Hat Professional Services helped us review the architecture design, ensuring a smooth transition to our production environment,” said Hurst. Within six months, the migration from HP-UX to Red Hat was complete, and Hurst is now leveraging Red Hat solutions, including Red Hat Global File System (GFS) and Cluster Suite, to implement a more robust disaster-recovery strategy. BIDMC currently operates four environments—development, testing, production, and shadow production—and runs 11 servers in a cluster.

Using Red Hat Global File System and Cluster Suite, Hurst and his team are creating a multi-tiered architecture that separates the network, applications, and database layers within one stack. “Red Hat GFS creates one file system as if all of the layers are running on one server and redirects files seamlessly as needed. If we have an unplanned outage on one application server, then GFS automatically distributes to another application server or environment, eliminating lengthy wait times,” said Hurst. To perform a planned update, such as a security patch or memory upgrade, GFS enables the team to redirect to a different environment easily without having to shut down the system.


Red Hat’s open source technology, combined with high-level support, provide BIDMC with the reliability and agility it requires to run a leading-edge hospital. “Red Hat solutions, such as GFS and Cluster Suite, are built into the kernel, providing all of the open source technology we need—affordably and without vendor lock-in,” said Hurst. Before moving its Red Hat servers into production, Hurst was impressed when his team was able to communicate directly with the Vice President of Support, 24×7. “Red Hat is an engineering-focused company with executive management and a Global Support Services team that is highly involved and technically capable. This means we can resolve issues quickly and keep our most critical hospital information systems available to ensure leading-edge patient care,” he said.

BIDMC’s roadmap includes moving other hospital systems from HP-UX to Red Hat. “The hospital is currently considering migrating its Oracle and PeopleSoft database applications to Red Hat. “Moving our core clinical applications to Red Hat was the first step. The reliability and performance gains we’ve experienced are proof that we’re ready to migrate our other applications,” said Hurst.

For more about Red Hat’s open source solutions for healthcare, visit the Red Hat healthcare web site

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