Leading Cancer Hospital Cuts Costs and Improves Application Stability by Standardizing on Red Hat Enterprise Linux

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July 25, 2011

Customer: MD Anderson Cancer Center

Industry: Healthcare
Geography: North America
Country: United States


Business Challenge:

Needed to cut costs by moving from IBM AIX running on proprietary hardware to a mainstream operating system that could run on commodity x86-based machines

Migration Path:

IBM AIX to Red Hat Enterprise Linux

Solution:

Make Red Hat Enterprise Linux a new corporate standard for running mission-critical applications

Software:

Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Red Hat Network Satellite, Oracle Database, PeopleSoft HCM

Hardware:

HP ProLiant x86 servers

Benefits:

Cut costs by 40 percent; Improved reliability and stability; Streamlined support; Increased user satisfaction

More
Background:

Created in 1941 by the Texas Legislature, the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center is one of the world’s leading institutions dedicated to the treatment, research, and prevention of cancer. MD Anderson is also one of just three original cancer centers established by the National Center Act of 1971. More than 105,000 patients came to the MD Anderson in 2010 for treatment. Nearly 10,000 of them chose the center to participate in clinical trials of emerging cancer treatments. And for seven of the past nine years, U.S. News & World Report ranked the MD Anderson number one in cancer care in its annual America’s Best Hospitals survey.

Business Challenge:

Over the past five years, The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center has experienced  unprecedented growth. Between 2005 and the beginning of 2010, the center experienced a 12 percent  increase in hospital admissions; 14 percent increase in hospital patient days; 27 percent increase in outpatient visits; and 36 percent increase in pathology and laboratory medical procedures. During this period of expansion, the Information Services Division at MD Anderson projected how much it would cost to expand the datacenter infrastructure in order to keep up with the hospital’s growth. The answer: too much.

At the time, MD Anderson had two operating system standards for its datacenter: Microsoft Windows running on commodity x86 machines, and IBM AIX running on a variety of IBM Power 4 and IBM Power 5 proprietary hardware. The latter configuration was the one driving up infrastructure costs. The proprietary systems running AIX cost six times more than the x86 machines. Applications running on AIX were also more expensive. Very few of the applications being used by MD Anderson were natively written on AIX. Most, like Oracle Database and PeopleSoft HCM, were originally coded on Red Hat® Enterprise Linux® and ported to other operating systems. Finally, because of the high cost of the proprietary hardware required to run AIX, MD Anderson couldn’t afford to refresh the systems as often as it would have liked. This meant the hardware running AIX lagged behind the x86 systems in possessing the latest features and functionality.

“We were seeing much more interest in x86-based software from our user communities, plus we were already set up inhouse to manage x86 hardware as a self-service provider,”said Christopher Gray, Manager Server Technical Support, Information Services, MD Anderson. “We decided to switch from AIX to a UNIX or UNIX-like operating system that could run on x86 systems. That meant Linux.”

Originally, the MD Anderson was a Novell Netware shop, and had brought in Novell SUSE to support an identity management application. However, “none of our customers were asking for SUSE,” said Gray. “They all wanted Red Hat Enterprise Linux, so at the end of the day, it made our decision very easy.”

Solution:

The selection of Red Hat Enterprise Linux was made in 2006. The immediate response from the user community was unbridled enthusiasm. Gray said, “Demand for Red Hat Enterprise Linux servers just went through the roof.”

Today, he heads the team that manages more than 300 HP ProLiant servers running Red Hat Enterprise Linux—a number expected to exceed 400 by the end of 2011. “It’s the fastest-growing operating system here,” said Gray. His team works with the MD Anderson application support group when end users request new applications. Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Windows are now the two operating systems supported by the datacenter.

“Sometimes there’s only one application that fits users’ needs, and that application will only run on one operating system,” said Gray. However, applications frequently work with either Red Hat Enterprise Linux or Windows, so his team has to make a choice. In such cases, said Gray, “it’s usually a question of which platform the application performs best on.” At this point in time, requests for applications optimized under Red Hat Enterprise Linux are exceeding requests for Windows-based applications.

Another integral part of the solution the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center implemented was Red Hat Network Satellite. Satellite was a necessary tool for managing the Red Hat Enterprise Linux server population, once it reached critical mass.

Benefits:

By migrating from AIX to Red Hat Enterprise Linux, the MD Anderson has already achieved its number one goal of cutting costs. Gray estimates that refreshing the existing AIX systems and adding enough new systems to keep up with the organization’s growth would have cost more than $600,000 for the hardware alone. By deploying x86 machines, MD Anderson was only $350,000 out of pocket—representing a 40 percent savings. Additionally, customers immediately began reporting superior performance of applications running on Red Hat Enterprise Linux when compared to AIX.

Deploying Red Hat Network Satellite has also proven to be a boon for Gray’s team. “When dealing with large-scale applications running on dozens of servers, automating patching is essential,” he said. “We install the recommended patches in our development environment and don’t proceed to our staging or production environments until they’ve been fully tested. That way, we keep our servers consistent across the entire application environment.”

Looking forward, Gray intends to deploy Red Hat Enterprise Linux in more complex scenarios using Red Hat clustering and Red Hat filesystem technologies. “As the team accrues more experience and training, we’ll take advantage of higher levels of the product,” he said. By utilizing the features and functionality that are standard with Red Hat Enterprise Linux, he’ll be able to eliminate a number of costly third-party products—saving money while simultaneously streamlining support. “Red Hat can provide functionality with one licensing fee, and we only have to make one support call,” he said. “This simplifies our support model at the same time that it gives us better value for our money.”

In the future, the MD Anderson anticipates that user requests for Red Hat Enterprise Linux will continue to grow—requests that his team will be delighted to fulfill.

“We’re running a world-class hospital,” said Gray. “We need a mainstream enterprise operating system with enterprise support. Red Hat delivers that support with Red Hat Enterprise Linux.”

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