One Year On: Cisco UCS Making Headway

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One year after it started shipping its Unified Computing System, Cisco has about 1,000 enterprise customers – with a lot more in the pipeline

When networking king Cisco Systems officially entered the full-service data centre systems market on 16 March, 2009, with the launch of its Unified Computing System, it jumped into a pool of sharks named IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Fujitsu and Sun Microsystems (now Oracle).

Plus, it took a major risk in opening a whole new field of business during the most dangerous macroeconomy since the Great Depression in the 1930s.

That investment and risk in time, capital and personnel appears to be paying off, despite the competition and a dour economy: In only one year since it started shipping the network-centric UCS systems in July 2009, Cisco now counts more than 1,000 enterprises running them on a daily basis.

eWEEK also has learned that Cisco has a lot more customers in the pipeline as the world economy continues to repair itself.

Cisco’s Unified Computing System

The UCS consists of a proprietary Cisco data centre architecture, Cisco-made servers, and a set of management software and services based on Intel’s quad-core Nehalem Xeon processors. Cisco partners are providing all hardware and software that isn’t in the networking realm; storage can be supplied by virtually any vendor.

One of Cisco’s key UCS deployments involves the largest teleradiology provider in the United States, NightHawk Radiology Services.  NightHawk, like any institutional IT system user, has made a leap from the familiar confines of an old-school IT system into the new-generation UCS data centre; any switch of that nature is never an easy transition.

NightHawk provides digital MRI [magnetic resonance imaging] and CT [computed tomography] services – including 3D images – to about 1,600 hospitals in the United States [26 percent of all hospitals] and employs 144 radiologists scattered around the world.

MRI is primarily a non-invasive medical imaging technique used in radiology to visualise detailed internal structure and limited function of the body. Computed tomography is a medical imaging method employing tomography created by computer processing.

Digital geometry processing is used to generate a three-dimensional image of the inside of an object from a large series of two-dimensional X-ray images taken around a single axis of rotation. MRI and CT produce a volume of data which can be manipulated through a process known as “windowing” so as to demonstrate various bodily structures based on their ability to block the X-ray beam.

Huge number of digital images processed daily

NightHawk distributes a huge number of digital imaging files on a daily basis – from hospital to data centre, from data centre to radiologist, from radiologist back to the data centre, and finally back to the hospital.

“We do about 9,000 studies [individual radiology sessions] a day – a little over 3 million a year,” NightHawk vice president of information technology Ken Brande told eWEEK.

A “study,” Brande said, “is any type of medical image transaction, whether it’s an X-ray on a broken bone to a chest-abdomen-pelvis X-ray that shows a progression or regression in growths or a cancer. It’s any and all of those things  that typically would be offered in a hospital setting for viewing of a patient.”

Nine thousand sessions involving medical images is a ton of data to be transported through IT pipelines each day.

Nighthawk workflows

Nighthawk’s procedure works this way: Each hospital has a virtual private network (VPN) tunnel to one of three Nighthawk data centres. As the images enter the system, they are immediately distributed to one or more of the 144 radiologists on the NightHawk staff, who are on continuously overlapping shifts that cover the 24/7 spectrum of the business.

Amazingly, depite the glut of images pouring through the UCS, medical determinations based on the digital images are made very quickly.

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