Large hospital chain deploys 'MAID' storage

The new technology can cut backup time and costs

To say that Baptist Memorial Health Care Corp.'s data storage needs are growing would be an understatement. In 2001, the hospital had 1.5TB of capacity on its storage-area network. By the end of its fiscal year this coming September, the Memphis-based health care organization expects to have 138TB on that same SAN. And it is projecting that its capacity needs will grow by five times over the next four years.

To deal with its storage needs, Baptist Memorial is migrating away from its four data tape silos to a relatively nascent technology known as a massive array of idle or independent disks (MAID). The move has cut backup times by 30% on average, reduced the amount of data center floor space needed to house its archives and cut power requirements.

Moving from tape to disk archival technology has also met the distributed business requirements of a health care organization that spans 62 facilities in three states. Like other such operations, Baptist Memorial -- which cares for more than 45,000 patients a year -- faces more stringent data protection guidelines under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, and it found that backing up 4.5TB of data in over 17 million files to tape was too slow and unreliable.

"Our radiologists, when they talk about having a CT scan study up on [display] screen, they want to see that first image in one second. There's no way tape or magnetic optical could do that," said Hal Weiss, a systems engineer for storage at Baptist Memorial.

Currently, there are two companies selling MAID storage: Longmont, Colo.-based start-up Copan Systems Inc. and Santa Clara, Calif.-based Exavio Inc.

Weiss purchased a Revolution 200T from Copan that has 256 serial ATA drives with 224TB of space at a cost of about $3,000 per terabyte. He installed the box in early December and had it online by midmonth.

"I was very surprised on how easy it was to set up. It was backing up data as virtual tape engine in 12 hours. It floored me on the performance. We have 1TB of e-mail exchange, when we were backing that up to physical tape, every night it took 6.5 hours. When we back it up to the MAID, it takes three hours," Weiss said.

The Copan box lists for $3,500 per terabyte. Generally, MAID capacity prices range from $3 to $5 per gigabyte, depending on the configuration, the amount of redundancy and total capacity, according to analysts. Copan's box can restore about 2.4TB of data per hour -- that's about five times faster than tape access speeds

MAID systems use arrays of relatively inexpensive ATA disk drives that power down when idle in an effort to extend media life and save on power use. By spinning up only when they write or read data, the arrays use less power, mitigating heat issues and allowing drives to be packed more densely into the system. Idle disk drives require about 10 seconds to spin up, but once online, they provide faster access to archived data than tape does. Copan's box only uses about 25% of its disk at any one time.

Using MAID, Weiss said, he has already been able to remove one tape library from Storage Technology Co. with 21TB of capacity, and he plans to remove a second library with another 21TB capacity within the next six months. Weiss expects to keep one of the two remaining libraries to create an off-site archive.

Weiss, who's using the MAID array to store radiological images, patient history folders and e-mail, partitioned the array so that one portion can be used as a virtual tape library, which appears as a normal tape library to application servers but offers far faster backup speeds. The other partition is used to archive data being stored up to nine months. After that, the data is migrated off to tape.

"Now [the radiological technicians] can go up to the terminals and see what doctor did what yesterday, what tests have been performed on the patient and [view] those results from anywhere with our Baptist MD Web portal. And the physicians can do that from their office or home," Weiss said. "I plan to buy more of this technology next year."

Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

Shop Tech Products at Amazon