Univ. of Penn. health system goes with optical Ethernet

FRAMINGHAM (03/09/2004) - The University of Pennsylvania Health System (UPHS) has overhauled its network system using an optical ethernet (OE) technology from Nortel Networks Corp.

UPHS deployed OE in December to connect multiple UPHS-affiliated hospitals and clinics in the Philadelphia area.

"We were content with our old network setup, but we knew it could not handle the required bandwidth (we needed) as we expanded and added users and applications," said George Brenckle, UPHS CIO. "Our network capacity was starting to get maxed out, and we were also in the process of implementing a picture archiving and communications system (PACS), which would require additional bandwidth."

UPHS is comprised of four hospitals, an administrative office, and multiple outpatient clinics in the Philadelphia area.

Since deploying OE in December, information accessed by UPHS users on clinical applications creates a data file at its host location. The file is also stored at an offsite data center. At the host site, images and patient records are stored, and files that need to be shared are sent through the network by a clinical application to an ethernet switch that routes data in and out of the network and allows it to run smoothly.

When the OE implementation began, UPHS installed Nortel's network connectors and ethernet switches at six sites. Since going live with OE, Brenckle said the network is significantly quicker and, with its recent PACS installation, there is a larger bandwidth capacity.

"Overall system bandwidth has decreased from 85 percent to less than 10 percent, so we are not even close to being maxed out like we used to be," Brenckle said. "Now we have successfully added a PACS on top of our existing (network) backbone made up of health information and practice management information systems, which supports roughly 12,000 users."

Brenckle mentioned that the increased availability of network bandwidth is already making a significant difference. "We have gone from a 10-megabyte network connection to between 1 and 2 gigabytes, and the number of applications we can run (on the network) has risen dramatically," he said. "With only a 10-megabyte connection, our amount of bandwidth was creeping up on us."

Brenckle said that although OE has increased network speed and efficiency, it would be wrong to measure its value in financial terms. "Network infrastructure does not account for ROI, as it may with clinical applications. Most (clinical) applications are focused on increased effectiveness, productivity, patient safety, and satisfaction, and they all require this type of infrastructure."

While he likes the additional network bandwidth UPHS now has, Brenckle would like to see UPHS use OE as a security and privacy backbone. "This (OE) is not required for organizations to be HIPAA-compliant, but limiting (user) access to unauthorized information is a step in that direction," he said.

Brenckle also would like to see the company use OE to communicate across the UPHS network ring for disaster recovery. "This is needed for various network points and is something that needs to be designed with the idea of building it for redundancy so all systems are backed up, and we can then use this technology as a communications vehicle for our backup sites (in an emergency situation)," he said.

Before implementing OE, UPHS relied on a network fiber data direct interchange from Verizon Communications Inc. to connect its facilities and offices. The FDDI ran on a legacy data transport system with a maximum bandwidth of 100 megabytes per second, which could not effectively support UPHS network activity.

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