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Florida's Medical Business Service rethinks data backup and disaster recovery with EVault

With healthcare IT in the midst of transition to digital records, organizations such as Florida's Medical Business Service (MBS) are redesigning their data backup plans.

Medical Business Service (MBS), located in the hurricane-prone Miami suburb of Coral Gables, Fla., replaced its tape data backup and tape-based offsite disaster recovery plan with Seagate Technology subsidiary i365's EVault disk-based data replication in the midst of healthcare's digital transition.

MBS is a 300-person company that handles billing for hospital-based physicians. Syed Faisal came in as CIO a year ago from the University of Miami Medical Center. "I came in to deploy enterprise solutions, which required new sets of skills to improve the technical foundation of the business," he said.

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Faisal said the goal is to double the size of the business in the next four years, and that means refreshing the company's entire technology infrastructure. "Data continues to increase," he said. "And this industry is so competitive that if you don't continue to innovate and contain costs, you won't survive in the healthcare services sector."

Much of the coverage of healthcare IT's transition has been focused on compliance with regulations for data security such as the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), or this year's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). The ARRA, better known as the economic stimulus plan, set aside just under $20 billion in federal funding to switch to electronic medical records.

Faisal said MBS has to comply with HIPAA, but doesn't have patient medical records that need archiving. Instead, it has thousands of small document images being created daily, and about 3.5 TB of data to be backed up nightly, so Faisal decided to begin the IT overhaul with data protection and disaster recovery.

Up until six months ago, MBS had been running nightly tape backups with Symantec Corp.'s Backup Exec software and shipping tapes offsite with Iron Mountain Inc. In the event of a hurricane approaching the South Florida coast, Faisal said the company would have to shut down operations in Coral Gables, fly employees to a secondary site in Georgia, ship tapes to the secondary site, and set up the secondary environment from those tapes, a project that could take days.

We needed to make sure data was secured and encrypted at all times. There have been too many incidents where tapes are stolen in transit.
Syed Faisal
CIO,Medical Billing Services
There were also security reasons for getting rid of the tape-based backup system. "We needed to make sure data was secured and encrypted at all times," Faisal said. "There have been too many incidents where tapes are stolen in transit."

Faisal said EVault, marketed by Seagate Technology's i365 subsidiary, came recommended by two of MBS' application vendors for document imaging. He also evaluated the disk-based backup features of Symantec's NetBackup, but found EVault's pricing more affordable. EVault can be deployed with the secondary site managed by a company in the cloud or on premise, which is how MBS deploys it. The software continuously backs up the company's servers on a local appliance, and replicates only changed blocks to the secondary site. A set of scripts means that in the event of a hurricane, servers throughout MBS' branch offices can be redirected to the secondary site without requiring tapes or personnel to be sent there.

"We can cancel our Iron Mountain contract and eliminate those costs," he said.

Faisal said he hasn't done a full-blown restore yet, but has tested the restore process. "It's far easier than tapes," he said. "We can restore files in minutes instead of hours."

The next step is to automate failover between sites, he said. "We still haven't finished incorporating the software on all our servers—only our most critical business apps."

After that, the company will look into replacing its direct-attached storage (DAS) with a storage area network (SAN). Faisal said he may eventually add SAN-based replication to the EVault data protection scheme for double backups. "SAN replication allows availability of all systems at all times, and could still play a role in case of a virus or Trojan" on one of the servers that infects the secondary site, he said.

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