Data#3 conducts network transplant at Mater Hospital
Cisco turned around a busy hospital’s network from seriously ill to full recovery
A few years ago the IT managers at South Brisbane’s Mater Hospital all agreed that the organisation’s network was in a critical condition.
And with more than 7000 staff servicing half a million patients every year it couldn’t afford to just sit on its hands.
“We were challenged by the very heterogeneous network environment we had,” says Mater chief information officer Mal Thatcher. “We had bits and pieces of just about every vendor you could imagine.”
Ultimately the decision was made to rip and replace all the bits and pieces of kits with the one homogenous platform, courtesy of Cisco and its integrator partner Data#3.
A key part of the infrastructure is the hospital’s wi-fi network which is made up of over 1000 Cisco 1131 ‘g’ and ‘a’ wireless access points delivering speeds of between 10-20 mebagits a second.
At a minimum it is typically supporting some 500 laptops, 100 BlackBerrys, 500 Cisco 7925 VoIP handsets, 100 smartphones, as well as other devices including a small but growing number of iPads, not to mention a growing number of portable biomedical devices.
“Mobility is a key issue in the healthcare environment,” Thatcher says. But he admits that the hospital made a bit of a gamble in moving to an IP-based wireless solution given that the technology it yet to be full tested in hospital environments.
“It was a bit of a gamble that an IP platform would be a key enabler,” Thatcher says.
“We are still seeing a lack of maturity around mobility solution in healthcare.”
A key challenge of the deployment was trying to maximise the range of the devices in the face of myriad physical obstacles. For instance you can’t assume an access point with
a theoretical range of 30 metres will actually give that distance. “It is impacted by buildings, filing cabinets, furniture and the like: it’s a bit hit and miss,” Thatcher notes. “Coverage is a huge issue.”
Nevertheless, the demands placed on mobile networks by hospital’s are increasing with Mater’s doctors and nurses increasingly needing immediate access to bigger and bigger digital records of everything from radiology and pathology reports to MRI scans and xrays.
In fact a number of the departments including neo natal and paediatric intensive care have become completely paperless as part of the hospital’s health records portal project.
One of the key requirements for the wireless network was that it also be able to handle video. “We decided to approach the IP platform from the perspective of not just data but also voice and video,” Thatcher patients served a year says. A technology in particular demand amongst patients is a Tandberg-based portable wireless video conferencing unit which is wheeled around wards to enable patients to enjoy face-to-face communications with family and friends. Another key driver for the move towards wireless is the large number of visiting doctors needing to connect to the hospital’s VPN with their laptops or other portable devices.
However IT staff at the hospital were quite mindful of the security risks associated with providing wireless access.
One of Thatcher’s colleagues in the IT department Peter Nomakos says that the hospital was having to deal with visitors attempting to gain unauthorised access to the network.
“We have seen attempts all the time,” Nomakos says.
It was important therefore to build the network in such a way as to allow for plenty of segregation with each access point routed by the firewall.
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Issue: 316 | July 2013
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