A healthcare software provider has upgraded its Gigabit Ethernet network to improve service to customers and reduce errors during backup.
HealthMEDX, a Missouri-based provider of software for long-term care, home health and rehabilitation organisations, didn't increase the speed of its backbone. It merely swapped out switches from Cisco to Brocade to achieve wire-rate performance, which eliminated the backup errors and helped save the company's reputation with its customers.
"We were facing port errors every single night," says Chris Bingham, vice president of infrastructure at HealthMEDX. "We were facing bandwidth restrictions or available capacity restrictions. We had to meet maintenance and application delivery requirements and development requirements. We needed a faster network."
HealthMEDX replaced 18 to 20 Cisco Catalyst switches, anchored by two oversubscribed Catalyst 4507s in the backbone, with an equal number of Brocade FCX Series and Brocade FastIron WS Series Power over Ethernet (PoE) LAN switches. The company also installed Brocade-labeled wireless LAN access points - which are OEMed from Motorola.
The switches interconnect 100+ physical servers and 200 to 300 virtual servers, Bingham says.
HealthMEDX also evaluated HP Networking switches when undertaking the upgrade. HP is HealthMEDX's server vendor.
The Brocade system came in 35 to 40 percent lower in price than the Cisco bid, Bingham says, and the company expects a return on investment in 14 months. HealthMEDX has been using Brocade SANs since 2009 and the company says it completed the network transition in less than six hours without any downtime or disruption to users.
"From a financial standpoint, it was one of the best decisions we ever made," Bingham says.
HealthMEDX had a number of backup activities that occurred in parallel over the network and those jobs were failing, Bingham says. Switch ports would produce thousands of port errors - an uplink port with 3,000+ receive errors, and 700 or 800 discard errors per port channel group.
From thousands to zero port errors
"We were basically running into situations where the network lag or latency was so high that backup jobs were failing," Bingham says. "We have literally zero port errors after making this change. Overnight we went from thousands of receive errors and transmit errors to zero. One night, we're done."
Because the backups failed, HealthMEDX had to extend its maintenance window to attempt to complete them. That cut into time customers were spending on the company's site to access HealthMEDX software.
The result was a downgrade in network performance for those customers. Bingham says.
"What it cost me was really more reputation," he says. "Performance affects reputation with customers."
On the wireless LAN side, one of the key objectives for HealthMEDX was unifying its wired and WLAN environments to help the company meet the security and privacy requirements of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Due to these requirements, HealthMEDX had to ensure that users could access only the parts of the network that were relevant to them. To do this, the company set up virtual WLANs with the Brocade access points and firewalls internally to keep users only on the portions of the network where they are allowed.
Meeting HIPAA-compliant security standards on its wireless network helped HealthMEDX spend less time preventing unauthorised user access and more time on building and deploying new software packages for customers.
Another clincher for Brocade was that its command line interface is very similar to Cisco's, Bingham says. Network operators at HealthMEDX are well versed in Cisco CLI language and did not have to be retrained to learn the Brocade structure, he says.
HealthMEDX plans to upgrade its backbone to 10G Ethernet in the next few months, Bingham says.