Magazine Article | August 1, 2003

Consultant Overhauls Healthcare Client's 550-User Network

Trinity Consulting earned a nine-month networking, development, and video production project that included hardware, software, and training services.

Business Solutions, August 2003

These days, VARs and integrators targeting the healthcare market are focusing on ways to help clients meet HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) standards. However, the healthcare company referred to Trinity Consulting (Marlborough, MA) had more than just HIPAA to worry about.

The client was a nonprofit provider of emergency psychiatric care/counseling with several dozen treatment facilities. "Acquisitions during the past three years had doubled the company's number of treatment facilities, personnel, and computer systems," explains George LaVenture, president and CEO of Trinity. "Each new company had different computer systems, operating systems, service packs, firmware, desktop clients, network capabilities, and bandwidth requirements. These systems weren't communicating as efficiently as the company would have liked, and they wanted to start streaming video of counseling services and training courses."

Limit Downtime For Installation Services
Although the customer had some UNIX users, most were using older versions of Microsoft platforms (i.e. Windows NT version 4). In addition, all of the client's sites were networked through a combination of cable, DSL (digital subscriber line), or ISDN (integrated services digital network) connections.

Trinity used protocol analyzers and network usage monitors to determine the low, middle, and high points in bandwidth usage. This helped determine when to install the new equipment so downtime could be limited. "We needed to plan the security structure and management of the disparate systems and telecommunications," LaVenture says. "Ultimately, we designed a package for a multiple-site user rather than one with numerous oases of technology."

A Standardized Software Strategy
With nearly 550 users on the network, the client was unable to replace or upgrade all of its network infrastructure, hardware, and software at once because of budgetary constraints. Thus, the back office and some desktop changes occurred during a nine-month period, with the remaining desktop systems being replaced in phases.

Some of the first changes made occurred in the client's back office where Trinity consolidated servers and reassigned the extras for use as security servers at remote sites. In addition, Trinity standardized the client's firmware and service packs and installed Microsoft Windows 2000 Server, Windows 2000 Advanced Server, Exchange Enterprise Edition, Exchange Server, ISA (Internet Security and Acceleration) Server, SMS (Systems Management Server), and SQL Server. VERITAS Backup and Symantec Anti-Virus were also installed. Desktop users were upgraded to Windows 2000 Professional and Office XP. LaVenture said the software installation was straightforward, but Microsoft did provide some recommendations regarding ISA Server and the client's security needs.

Maximize Bandwidth With Improved Network Design
Trinity needed to improve the client's network performance by providing better protocol management. "You don't need IPX [Internetwork Packet Exchange]-based protocols in a TCP (an open computer communications language)-type of environment," LaVenture explains. "Thus, we reduced the number of protocols to increase available bandwidth."

Trinity also switched the client from a cascaded, hub-based network to a collapsed, backbone-type of network using Cisco switches and CAT 6 network cabling. (Not all sites were upgraded to CAT 6.) This change provided 100 Mb (megabit) performance as compared to the sub-10 Mb performance achieved with the hub-based system. The switches also allowed the agency to perform protocol and port control management, which enhanced security. Part of this effort was due to the customer's plans for video conferencing.

Offer Various Forms Of Training
Trinity produced five counseling training videos for on-demand viewing across the client's network. The consultant also provided hands-on software training for key desktop users and all support staff. In addition, Trinity designed a risk analysis, disaster recovery plan, and documents such as network architecture designs, operations guides, and best practices guides.

"The client's network is easier to manage and more secure than it has ever been," claims LaVenture. "As its business grows, it plans to continue working with us on server clustering and load balancing strategies for its e-mail system."