Virtualization and Networking

EJ Piersol, CIO, Sage Technologies

In early 2013, Sage Technologies began planning to invest heavily in networking and virtualization. To provide some background, Sage is a management services organization (MSO) based in Illinois that helps health care providers collect, analyze, report out and act on the huge quantity of patient care data that the current health care marketplace requires. We have contracts with health maintenance organizations, physician hospital organizations, preferred provider organizations, third-party administrators, accountable care organizations, and more.

At the time we started thinking about virtualization in 2013, our data center had grown to more than 30 servers due to the complexity of the different services required by our clients. We decided to move away from such a large data center and virtualize for several reasons:
• Virtualization and networking would give us more control over hardware maintenance and support while also improving the reliability, availability and redundancy of our data processes every day.
• To become a more “green” company, this would cut costs. 
• The last major consideration was that by creating a more virtualized data center we would benefit from the high level of security and recovery capabilities that comes with virtualization.

The first important step was finding the right staff to accomplish this large transition.

Once that was accomplished, the next phase was to clearly communicate what the goals of the transition were and to start working as a team to plan all the necessary steps to effect this major move to virtualization by the end of 2015.

Last but not least, due to our company’s growth we also set in motion the implementation of a SAN environment. We are currently looking at virtualizing our storage as well, which would mean moving to a flash-based SAN.

We selected, licensed, and used Microsoft Hyper-V as our virtualization solution. Beginning at the end of 2013 and for the whole year in 2014, we upgraded and rolled our servers to a fully virtualized environment. As of today, we have moved our data center from about 30-plus physical servers to about 12 physical servers and more than 40 virtual servers; we will be down to just eight physical servers and up to more than 50 virtual servers by the end of the year.

Our data center is now more secure, more redundant, and on top of that, faster. Our processing is extremely efficient. Our new platform gives us the ability to support our clients and staff and to accomplish what we need to do to enable timely data analysis.

At the same time, we installed a full Microsoft Remote Desktop Services (RDS) solution with Hyper-V that gives full remote accessibility to clients and staff with Cisco VPN encryption. This has created incredible flexibility for clients and staff, allowing them to access what is needed at any time within a secure and redundant environment. This, in turn, has given Sage the ability to accomplish tasks and support our clients in real-time.

With our network upgrade, we moved all internal legacy PBX hardware to a VOIP environment. We now have increased productivity internally, with rollouts of phones and computers happening at a much faster rate than ever before. We use VMWare vSphere for our VOIP servers. We are currently running a Cisco Call Center solution, and looking to expand it to our remote staff as well.

All of these networking and virtualization upgrades have created a stable and flexible platform that helps us be nimble in our responses to clients. It also permits us to adapt quickly to changes in our business model – which is essential in today’s changing health care marketplace.