Under Control

Roger J. Miller, left, chief technology officer of the Army's North Atlantic Regional Medical Command, and Earl Timberlake, center, network management division chief at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, say Unicenter tools increase server uptime. At right is Lt. Col. Vaseal M. Lewis, CIO of the regional medical command.

Henrik G. DeGyor

Army medical center keeps IT assets healthy

Because the Army's most famous hospital never closes, its servers and workstations are on duty 24 hours a day.

So the IT staff at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington needed more than a help desk toolbox. Without any third-party help, the staff set up an asset management system that automatically reboots servers when necessary and pushes new software and patches out to desktop systems.

Walter Reed's enterprise management program incorporates several tools from Computer Associates International Inc.'s Unicenter line: Unicenter ServicePlus Service Desk, Network and Systems Management, Software Delivery, Asset Management and Remote Control.

Now that the medical center's systems are under control, the IT staff is rolling out the tools to other Army clinics in the northeastern United States.

As the Defense Department's largest health care facility, Walter Reed has 18 buildings, 125 servers, a nine-domain network and 4,500 client systems, said Lt. Col. Vaseal M. Lewis, CIO of the Army's North Atlantic Regional Medical Command. There are about 70 hands-on IT employees.

Most servers are rackmount units running Microsoft Windows NT or Windows 2000, said Earl Timberlake, chief of network management. Walter Reed also has two 4T storage area networks from MTI Technology Corp. of Anaheim, Calif.

Depending on their type and purchase date, the client systems run Win9x, NT or 2000.

The IT staff had been using Remedy Help Desk from Remedy Corp. of Mountain View, Calif., but they needed more asset-management features than a help desk application could provide, said Roger J. Miller, chief technology officer for the command.

Incomplete information

Information about types and locations of clients was incomplete. The staff needed to know exactly what was installed, analyze usage and maintenance patterns, and push security patches, all from a central location.

'We'd be in all weekend sometimes, fixing the servers,' Lewis said. 'Now the systems aren't down as much, and we can plan the downtime.'

Unicenter initially managed applications on 1,300 clients around the campus and then was extended to the rest of the systems.

Employees now report computer problems via a self-service intranet. Walter Reed also uses several Unicenter knowledge tools, said Jacob Lamm, a Computer Associates senior vice president. They are an automated frequently-asked-questions generator and natural-language search and interactive rich-media dialogue tools.

Unicenter Remote Control has noticeably reduced unplanned downtime. 'We're not saying the servers never go down,' but when they do, they automatically reboot themselves and page the on-call IT staff member, Miller said. 'We've scripted them to do that.'

Before, servers sometimes would go down on Friday, and no one would know until Monday morning, Timberlake said. The tool has 'been a real helping hand to the IT staff,' he said.

Walter Reed officials looked at the Remedy replacement more in terms of cost avoidance than return on investment. Every other month or so, temporary workers would have to be hired on one-time maintenance contracts, Lewis said. Now the center no longer has to budget $300,000 a year to hire temps to install PC patches.

Expanding applications

Unicenter ServicePlus Service Desk and its companion applications now will go into 11 core Army treatment centers and 19 smaller centers in the North Atlantic Regional Medical Command, with a total of 12,000 licenses throughout the region, Timberlake said.

The command encompasses medical, dental and veterinary clinics at 12 Army sites ranging from Fort Drum, N.Y., to Fort Bragg, N.C., and Fort Knox, Tenn. The Walter Reed IT staff is now installing the Unicenter tools at Fort Meade, Md., and will move on to Fort Belvoir, Va. By the end of next summer, the entire $3.5 million North Atlantic regional deployment will be completed, Timberlake said.

Instead of using an integrator, a core group of six IT workers took Computer Associates' training and did the work at Walter Reed themselves, Miller said. They will purchase some project management services from CA, but the team will continue doing most of the work.

Software installation was not that difficult, Timberlake said. The tricky part was creating separate images for the various existing configurations. Applications had to be pushed separately to Win9x, NT and 2000 systems because there was no standard configuration.

Now the Walter Reed staff can lay a plan for managing the lifecycles of all the IT systems, Lewis said.

The employees generally liked the previous Remedy application, Miller said, 'but once we got this into their hands, they said, 'Why didn't we get this before?' '

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