Microsoft Virtualization: Data Center to Desktop
Customer Solution Case Study
/ UPMCSpeeds Application Deployment, Improves Stabilitywith Virtualization
Country or Region:United States
The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) operates 20 academic, community, and specialty hospitals, and has nearly 5,000 employed and affiliated physiciansand an array of rehabilitation, retirement, and long-term care facilities.
UPMC needed a way to efficiently deploy applications, eliminate application conflicts, and consolidate its server silos.
UPMC virtualized its applications and improved their reliability, using Microsoft Application Virtualization for Terminal Services.
- Reduced Citrix server silos by 60 percent
- Boosted stability
- Cut application deployment from five days to five minutes
Dave Hall, Operating Systems Engineer, UPMC
The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) is an internationally recognized health enterprise, known for advancing the quality and efficiency of healthcare. As an innovator in information technology usage, UPMC is always looking for ways to streamline, simplify, and improve application delivery services to improve patient care. By switching to Microsoft Application Virtualization for Terminal Services, UPMC consolidated its server silos—reducing its Citrix server silos by 60 percent and cutting application deployment time from one week to just five minutes. Equally important, it created a stable, high-performance application environment that met the healthcare industry’s demand for performance.
University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) is a U.S.$8 billion nonprofit health enterprise with nearly50,000 employees. Based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, it has 20 hospitals and 400 doctors’ offices, outpatient sites and long-term care facilities, and a health insurance division that serves 1.4 million members. UPMC not only has an International and Commercial Services Division designed to drive transformation of healthcare delivery worldwidebut it also operates internationally renowned programs such as transplantation, neurosurgery, psychiatry, orthopedics, and sports medicine, and it was ranked thirteenth in the U.S. News & World Report “America’s Best Hospitals 2009” listing—marking its tenth year on this prestigious honor roll.
Its commitment to excellence extends to using advanced information technology to assure quality in patient care and streamline its business practices. The UPMC IT staff was looking for ways to standardize and simplify the deployment of the organization’s 1,200 applications, while ensuring a stable and dependable environment.
Every time IT staffers installed a new or updated application on a server computer, they had to coordinate with the owners of all the other applications running on that server to ensure there would not be any conflicts. “There could be 150 applications on a given terminal server already, and that meant all those application owners would have to test their software to make sure it worked with the new deployment,” says Dave Hall, Operating Systems Engineer for UPMC. “This was a time-consuming process.”
In addition, new installations often would require downtime. Staggering the deployment across a farm of servers allowed for users to remain online and the ability to fail back if needed. While this met goals for uptime, it was difficult to coordinate simultaneous deployments across all servers. According to Hall, “We installed the new application on one-fifth of the servers during the night and, for load balancing, waited until it was on all the servers before we made it available to users. It took five days to fully deploy each new application.”
To reduce the chance of application-related crashes, UPMC put conflicting applications on separate servers. “Servers can handle hundreds of users. But it wasn’t uncommon for us to publish an application that had less than 25 users—and that couldn’t run alongside other applications—on its own server. And, for redundancy purposes, we would also have to install the application on a second server,” Hall says. This led not only to server sprawl and the creation of more server silos, but also to increased costs for data center resources as the servers were underutilized and time-consuming for IT to manage.
Problems would also arise if users made changes to an application’s settings, because any changes would then affect all other users. When this happened, the help desk was deluged with calls from people who couldn’t figure out how to use the application. The application owner would have to spend time reverting the application back to its standard configuration.
“UPMC employees rely on information technology to do their jobs. We had to do everything possible to minimize application-related issues,” Hall says.
UPMC wanted to stabilize its application environment, reduce its data center footprint, and consolidate its five server silos. It believed that using virtualization technology to eliminate application conflicts would help IT accomplish these goals.
UPMC identified Microsoft Application Virtualization for Terminal Services as a way to solve its challenges and, in February 2008, UPMC IT staff contacted Microsoft to see if the product could meet its needs. “We did a proof of concept, where Microsoft consultants virtualized a handful of applications that were problematic in the Citrix environment. Everything performed great with Microsoft Application Virtualization for Terminal Services,” Hall says.
In August 2008, UPMC moved forward with a pilot project of Microsoft Application Virtualization (App-V) for Terminal Services, which its IT staff implemented largely on its own. Using what they learned during the pilot project, IT staff created best practices and documentation that specified how to sequence applications. With this information in hand, the UPMC IT staff began a full deployment in the winter of 2008.
To date, UPMC has virtualized about 150 applications using Microsoft Application Virtualization for Terminal Services, including Microsoft Dynamics GP 10, TeleTracking Technologies Bed Management Suite, Askesis Development Group PsychConsult Provider, Nuance eSignature, and GE Muse. UPMC also virtualized its Microsoft Office 2007 programs and runs it alongside an installed deployment of Microsoft Office 2003 programs.
In July 2009, UPMC joined the Microsoft Technology Adoption Program for Application Virtualization for Terminal Services to take advantage of the product’s new 64-bit support and enhanced performance, and then deployed the release candidate on 21 IBM BladeCenter HS21 terminal server computers. The terminal servers run Citrix XenApp 4.5, and host virtualized applications for 2,000 concurrent users and 30,000 unique users. UPMC uses XenApp to deliver applications to users within the UPMC network, and it uses Juniper Networks NetScreen to make them available to external users. It runs the Windows Server 2003 Enterprise operating system and expects to begin migration to Windows Server 2008 R2 in the first half of 2010.
UPMC is also planning to extend its App-V deployment to desktop computers using Microsoft Application Virtualization Desktop Client. “One of the great benefits of using Microsoft Application Virtualization is that we can sequence an application once and deploy it to any desktop or terminal services environment,” Hall says. “In most cases, we can package it for an older operating system and run it on the latest operating system—which will be very helpful when we migrate to Windows Server 2008 and Windows 7.”
In addition, because different UPMC IT teams manage its terminal services and desktop environments, repurposing virtualized applications will eliminate duplicate packaging efforts. “We’ll be able to get away from multiple packaged formats and reduce the packaging time by fifty percent,” Hall says.
Using Microsoft Application Virtualization, UPMC consolidated its server silos and improved reliability of its application environment while drastically cutting application deployment time.
“We created an easy-to-manage and highly stable application environment,” Hall says. “Our users are no longer hampered by poor application performance, so they can focus on using applications to provide quality patient care.”
Reduced Citrix Server Silos by 60 Percent
By enabling applications to run on the same servers without conflicts, UPMC reduced its number of server silos from five to two. One silo runs all the virtualized applications; the other runs select installed applications that are not suitable for virtualization.
“With this solution, we are running server silos with higher application density. This enables us to get the most out of our hardware. Instead of having machines that are either idle or running at 10 to20 percent of their capacity, we have 60 to80 percent processor utilization during peak hours,” says Hall. “Not only does this make it less time-consuming for IT staff to manage, we’re able to save money from reduced power consumption and hardware.”
The greatest benefit UPMC has realized from using virtualization is enhanced stability of its application environment. “Once a virtual application is packaged, it stays the same—nothing can change it or break it,” says Hall. “That means we don’t have to worry about users changing settings on a medical record application, such as the way columns are sorted, and then requiring every other user to adjust to the settings—or, more likely, having IT change the application back to the way it was. With Microsoft Application Virtualization, instead of changes being made to a common file on the server, individual user preferences are stored separately so no one else is affected by them.”
Applications also aren’t at risk of conflicting with each other. According to Hall, “The great thing about virtualization is that applications can’t break other applications. Our application owners really appreciate that they don’t have to worry about these kinds of problems because, now that their applications are encapsulated, they stay static. This makes applications so much easier to manage.”
In some cases, virtualization also helped to reduce the number of application-related calls to the UPMC help desk. “The support calls for some applications disappeared once we virtualized them using the Microsoft solution. Application performance issues and crashes simply don’t occur,” Hall says.
Cut Application Deployment from Five Days to Five Minutes
UPMC IT staffers now spend drastically less time and effort deploying applications. “We don’t have to take servers offline during deployments anymore because we don’t have to reboot them. We just point the new virtualized package to the servers and users can launch it immediately,” says Hall. “In the past, it took five days to install an application on all of our servers because we staggered the deployment. But now it takes just five minutes to deploy a virtualized application to all of them.”
Deployments are also easier for application owners, since they don’t have to perform compatibility testing before each new application is made available to users. “Because applications are isolated and can’t affect each other, there’s really no need for this type of testing,” Hall says.
Microsoft virtualization is an end-to-end strategy that can profoundly affect nearly every aspect of the IT infrastructure management lifecycle. It can drive greater efficiencies, flexibility, and cost effectiveness throughout your organization. From accelerating application deployments; to ensuring systems, applications, and data are always available; to taking the hassle out of rebuilding and shutting down servers and desktops for testing and development; to reducing risk, slashing costs, and improving the agility of your entire environment—virtualization has the power to transform your infrastructure, from the data center to the desktop.
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