Case Study: Centuries-old Hospital Adopts State-of-the-Art Backup and Archiving System

Famous British hospital moves to integrated backup, e-mail archive system

As data grows exponentially, securely managing both e-mail and file backups across multiple locations has become a challenge for many businesses. For the Royal Hospital at Chelsea in London, the issue was compounded by the variety of servers and databases spread over the 64-acre hospital site, as well as many governmental regulations on data handling.

Located in central London, the Royal Hospital at Chelsea is a British icon, famously known for providing health care and assisted-living services for retired British soldiers. The hospital was created in 1681 by King Charles II to care for elderly or disabled soldiers of the British Empire; some 300 retired soldiers reside there now as pensioners.

The challenge facing Isabel Prieto-Cordero, the IT and communications technology manager at RHC, went well beyond managing health-care records securely, however. The hospital grounds, on the banks of the Thames, are an architectural landmark in London and so fall under government rules for an historic location. Since the site is also a national tourist attraction with a large museum and historical archive, Prieto-Cordero had extensive data backup and archiving concerns.

Driven by frustrations with the current tape backup system, as well as a need to comply with various governmental regulations regarding data storage and retrieval, Prieto-Cordero began a search for a new backup and archival solution several years ago.

The information system at RHC consists of 11 servers running Microsoft Exchange, file-and-print services, and an accounting database. The main servers are located in a specially built IT equipment room in one building, with second and third backup servers in different buildings on the 64-acre hospital site, all connected by fibre.

Before moving to the new system, Prieto-Cordero was relying on a Veritas tape backup system, which worked, but “was a bit of a headache because we needed to use many different types of tapes for different servers,” Prieto-Cordero says. “My assistant used to spend half an hour changing tapes every morning.” Also, restores proved to be a headache if the software version had changed since the previous backup. A restore “took us easily a day” Prieto-Cordero says. In short, “we were unhappy with the system.”

In March 2006, the hospital rolled out an integrated data archiving and backup solution that includes Quest Archive Manager for e-mail archiving, and BridgeHead’s HT FileStore for file storage. Because compliance rules require a high level of availability to archived data, RHC is using HT FileStore to create and manage a disk-based multi-copy archive, using a pair of separate Network Appliance network-attached storage (NAS) storage systems. Each storage system is located in a different physical location on the hospital grounds.

The combined solution’s automated e-mail and file archiving provides access control and auditing capabilities. That feature in particular was important, because the RHC falls under three different agencies for legal compliance around data management: as a health care provider, historic site, and part of the British military.

With the combined solution, RHC can use the same secondary storage and network structure for file archiving and e-mail archiving, setting up automated policies to identify general files for the NAS repository. HT FileStore also provides metadata and content-search capabilities, making archived information easy to store and find. Also, the archive provides access controls and auditing capabilities, essential for compliance with British law.

Automated policies can be set to either stub or entirely remove older, less-likely-to-be-accessed files and e-mail entries from the primary disk space. Through this automated grooming, RHC can save on the need for additional primary storage space. Finally, the file storage solution has reduced the recovery process from a day, to about an hour for a full rebuild and recovery.

Prieto-Cordero researched different solutions and made the decision to move to the Bridgehead and Quest solution after considering a number of possibilities. She found the system to be affordable, and it was easy to implement from the start. In fact, after the initial sales presentation, the system “seemed too good to be true.” When she asked for a demonstration, technicians completly deleted the patient database on a test server, then installed the operating system only and an IP address, and performed a restore. “Within half an hour, it was working” with all applications. That, Prieto-Cordero says, convinced her to make the purchase.

Product rollout took about a week, in which RHC set up system basics that included how long files and e-mail would be archived, how users would retrieve information, and how the backup system would work. Prieto-Cordero’s advice: “You need to be very clear [in setting up the system], or later you’ll regret it.”

The 250 employees at RHC all use the Quest portion of the system for e-mail archiving, and after some initial adjustments, Prieto-Cordero says users seem happy with the system. In hindsight, she would probably educate users more thoroughly on system details prior to the actual rollout. “I’d be more careful about implementing policies for users,” she says, explaining that some workers were initially confused when information was moved to new locations.

In terms of seeing a measurable return on investment, Prieto-Cordero is thinking long-term. For one thing, the hospital saves because it needs less space for data on current equipment. “Just in terms of file storage and the main server, by archiving information, we don’t have to purchase lots of new hardware,” she says.

Eventually, Prieto-Cordero hopes to scan in the hospital’s entire database of historical documents, using the Bridgehead technology to archive and store it, thus creating a fully searchable archive for posterity. “We’re a very old entity, nearly 400 years old, so there are a lot of old records.” She’d like to scan those documents and make them available to the public on an archived, searchable Web site. “Then people could look up historical information whenever they liked. This information is so precious. If we could actually make it digitally available, would be great for the future.”

About the Author

Linda Briggs is the founding editor of MCP Magazine and the former senior editorial director of 101communications. In between world travels, she's a freelance technology writer based in San Diego, Calif.