The PACS imaging software is one of the most important applications in a hospital. To make sure it keeps running smoothly, the application is linked to an application delivery controller, which essentially provides the necessary security and high availability. When UZA’s maintenance contract for these controllers expired, the hospital called in Xylos and asked us to design generic controllers that UZA could also use for other applications. This way, the hospital wanted to lower its application management costs.
An application delivery controller uses load balancing principles to improve an application’s availability. It balances work between different servers so they don’t have to run at full power, wich improves the systems’ performance and lifespan.
UZA’s costs for load balancing the PACS system were sky-high. The hospital uses General Electric’s PACS hardware, a closed black box solution, with application delivery controllers by F5 Networks. When the maintenance contract for the ADCs expired, UZA had to either upgrade or open the black box and replace the ADCs with more flexible load balancers. They chose the latter option and turned to Xylos again after the company had already done a similar project for them in the past.
UZA wanted to use Citrix technology for its PACS system again. They were very satisfied with their Citrix Netscaler VPX load balancing software, which manages network traffic for the hospital’s mail server and other applications. “Netscaler’s most important advantage is that you can work with virtualised instances. You can set up and configure every instance separately, and every application uses its own instance”, says Sebastian Goethals, Project Manager at UZA.
“If we could link such a ‘virtualisable’ load balancer to our PACS devices, we could use the technology for other applications as well, since we had already planned to purchase new Netscalers and we had to expand our load balancers for other applications.”
UZA decided to replace F5 with two Citrix Netscaler SDX load balancers – one in each data centre. Xylos made sure every instance was redundant, which increased the applications’ availability considerably to create a high-available solution. It also allowed the company to consolidate the hardware from seven to two devices.
“At UZA, we mainly focused on the scale-in principle, which consolidates the virtual instances’ application support on a single hardware device while retaining all configuration options. We now have one application delivery controller that can be used for several applications. This makes managing everything significantly easier”, says Kurt Callens, Application Delivery Competence Centre Lead at Xylos.
Thanks to the consolidation, UZA has saved tens of thousands of euros. “Purchasing two Citrix Netscalers turned out to be just as expensive as the yearly maintenance costs for our seven F5 load balancers. If you look at it that way, the Citrix setup was almost free. Xylos managed to create the same functionality for a much lower price. This technical feat is unique in Europe”, says Goethals. “When it comes to Citrix, no other business in our country compares to Xylos. They have an excellent relationship with Citrix, who have supported us greatly so far.”
UZA is now more in control of its applications – and with their Netscaler SDX, their solution is scalable as well. The hospital has improved the availability of several applications, such as their Exchange mail server, Skype for Business, and Citrix Unified Gateway, the application which gives employees remote access to the hospital network.
“This technology will also play an important role in our new electronic patient files’ availability soon. We used to only be able to set up load balancing for 12 to 15 applications at a time, but now, we do this for 40 to 50 applications on average. It’s an enormous improvement”, Goethals concludes.
“Netscaler’s most important advantage is that you can virtualise the technology and use it for several different applications. Now, we do load balancing for 40 to 50 applications simultaneously on average.”