Army tests a new hospital net | GCN

“The medical community
is changing faster than a lot of industries.”





The Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center at Fort Gordon, Ga., is headquarters for
the Southeast Regional Medical Command and for a pilot to improve networks in hospitals
servicewide.


The 13-story, 176-bed hospital has almost 15,000 inpatients a year and more than 60,000
outpatients. It provides consulting and referral services for the Army’s medical
service in the Southeast.


“The concept of doing business is evolving,” said John Peake, EAMC systems
manager. “We are taking on additional responsibilities as lead agent for the regional
medical command.”


But in 1996, the medical center still ran network technology from the early 1980s, a
collection of single-segment Ethernet stovepipes supporting individual applications. Most
of the medical apps had text interfaces because network bandwidth was insufficient to
support graphical user interfaces.


“The network was also taking care of a portion of our office automation
needs,” Peake said. “E-mail had become extremely valuable,” but connections
to the outside world were over an inadequate 56-Kbps link, he said.


The situation was not unique to EAMC, so in November 1996 the Defense Department
Medical Command selected the medical center for the program to test network architectures.


Today, EAMC is running a suite of new applications over a 155-Mbps asynchronous
transfer mode backbone, which also supports a digital radiology link with an Atlanta Army
clinic.


Access to the Internet and the DOD backbone network are over an OC-3 connection through
Fort Gordon’s communications office.


EAMC, which specializes in cardiac surgery and interventional cardiology, is a teaching
facility for residents in surgical and primary care. Because it emphasizes research and
specialty care, access to up-to-date technology is critical, Peake said.


“The medical community is changing faster than a lot of industries,” he said.


For the new network, the medical center has standardized on technology from Bay
Networks Inc. of Santa Clara, Calif. Peake said the shift to a single vendor will likely
save money because the center needs to train staff on only one core technology.


The network’s backbone uses Centillion 100 MultiLAN/ATM switches, with Bay System
5000 intelligent hubs to deliver LAN traffic. The center configured users in a virtual LAN
topology, segmenting the network’s nodes into workgroups that it can track using
Bay’s Optivity Network Management System.


The hospital complex has more than 30 wiring closets, each equipped with a Centillion
switch and a System 5000 hub. The hubs have remote management modules, Ethernet
shared-media modules and Bay’s Terminal Server modules.


The backbone core is made up of five Centillion switches at the network center. The
switches connect to the network center over active load-sharing redundant multimode fiber
links. The hospital’s Digital Equipment Corp. servers port to the Centillion switches
for 155-Mbps distributed access.


A Bay Backbone Concentrator Node router directs data traffic. A second BCN router at
the communications office provides outside connections for Internet and e-mail
applications.


The hospital has more than 1,800 employees and 200 doctors on staff. The network has
about 1,200 nodes, Peake said, and the center plans to add 300 soon.


The LAN supports 10-Mbps links to desktop PCs. Although some of the connections are
switched, most are shared.


The center’s basic medical application is the Composite Health Care System, which
gives medical personnel throughout DOD access to medical and administrative information
such as order entry, laboratory records and patient disposition status.


Legacy applications use the Digital LAT and IPX protocols as well as TCP/IP.


The hospital is moving many of its applications from Unix to Microsoft Windows NT and
will use TCP/IP exclusively over the new network.  

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