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Hospital Facility Managers have seen exponential increases in data centre requirements over the past few years. As technology has advanced, data centres have become more complex and have more sophisticated technical requirements for successful operation. They have specialized needs in IT, cooling, security, lighting and backup power, and new construction must often be integrated into existing infrastructure. Data centres are also peak energy consumers and require sustainable solutions to energy consumption.

In the recent years, large healthcare facilities began moving their data storage off site to a regional centralized data storage centre to deal with data storage requirements that exceeded in house capacity. The rationale was that off-site storage centres would reduce both space allocation and staffing at hospitals. In addition, off-site storage could reduce exposure to risks associated with on-site data rooms, and offer greatly enhanced storage capacity.

Although this approach has benefits, recent feedback shows that an off-site centralized data centre model could use more improvements, as healthcare facilities are facing higher OPEX (operational) costs than anticipated. 

The trend now sees data centres moving back on site for improved local control of the systems.  A good example of this is one of our clients in downtown Toronto who is in the process of bringing their data storage facilities back in house.  As we are designing the systems for the enlarged data centre, we’re finding solutions for a number of unique challenges.  The expansion means a larger footprint within the hospital, which can be difficult to retrofit. Greater bandwidth demands require greater processing capacity due to the rise of e-health (transmission of large image files), as well as diverse IP applications.  An additional challenge is working in a live environment, where critical systems need to operate 24/7.  

Any data centre retrofit is an inherently complex challenge to execute in terms of both design and scheduling, and requires detailed knowledge and deep experience from the design engineer. To overcome these challenges, data centres need to be designed as a converged infrastructure, integrating storage, power, cooling, management software, network and servers. These data centres require system resiliency as a key priority.

Larger bandwidth and performance needs are also paramount concerns for the high performance computing requirements of hospitals affiliated with research centres. Research centres require large data processing capabilities for analysis, such as for DNA sequencing. A high performance computing data centre requires significantly higher power and cooling needs, and often at high power densities, requiring special cooling solutions. Recent examples of high performance computing data centre systems designed by HH Angus include SickKids’ Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning, and the Centre Hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal.

For the typical Healthcare Facility Manager, bringing data storage back in house presents potential operational risk.  Complex equipment and the advanced sequence of operations requires that Facilities staff are specially-trained and that procedures are documented. Maintaining close co-ordination with the systems’ designers, who are in the best position to provide guidelines and instructions about critical aspects of the operation of the data centre, is also key; for example, for maintenance shutdowns, the most critical part of the process is to use a properly designed, implemented, and supported operations and maintenance program to minimize risk and reduce costs. A poorly organized program, on the other hand, can quickly undermine the design intent of the facility, putting its people, IT systems, and the business itself at risk of harm or interruption.

A hospital data centre’s operations and maintenance program is an operational expenditure, rather than a capital expense, and this is also where most potential cost savings reside. To optimize savings, it’s advisable, where possible, to consult the original designer to gain the best understanding of how the facility is performing. Consulting engineers with ICT and mission critical best practices knowledge and experience bring significant value to both the systems design and operational excellence of these critical healthcare spaces.

Lubo Madzarevic, P.Eng. is a Senior IT/Communications Consultant at HH Angus and Associates Limited.


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