September 8, 2008

Behind Closed Doors at a Data Center
By Jim Knaub
Radiology Today
Vol. 9 No. 18 P. 8

If you’re not an IT professional, touring a data center will prove to be an eye-opening experience that gives you a whole new impression of what off-site archiving and disaster recovery mean.

That was my experience during a tour of a Qwest CyberCenter near Denver. Fujifilm Medical Systems USA had invited customers of archiving and disaster recovery services for a look behind the scenes of the facility that hosts its archive and disaster recovery servers. Fujifilm invited me to tag along on the tour it arranged for its customers attending the recent AHRA conference. The visit showed how far off-site backup has evolved: It is in no significant way similar to sending a magnetic tape home with the receptionist.

Imaging facilities’ levels of computerization vary drastically. The imaging informatics experts that comprise the faculty at the Society for Imaging Informatics in Medicine (SIIM) are certainly familiar with at least the infrastructure supporting off-site archiving and disaster recovery. Many work for organizations with up-to-date IT systems and supported by considerable in-house expertise.

However, much of the imaging world still operates with a couple of servers somewhere in the facility managed by limited IT support. Those are the people who would really benefit from a tour such as the one the Fujifilm folks offered its Synapse PACS and archiving customers.

The Denver facility is a Tier 3 center—there are four levels, with Tier 4 being the highest. (For more details on the difference among the levels, visit The site is also used by an online auction company you may have heard of and the federal government.

Data archiving and security are about layers of protection. If the power goes out, the battery backup uninterruptable power supply (UPS) kicks in instantly. The UPS holds the fort until the generators kick on. The generators then produce electricity to run the system (and recharge the UPS batteries) until commercial power is restored.

Qwest’s Denver facility has such a system—on steroids. You’ve likely seen a boxy UPS battery unit hooked to a computer; it sits on the floor and the power cords of the equipment are plugged into it. The Qwest center has cabinets full of large UPS units stretching most of the length of a long corridor. Eight 2,000-horsepower diesel generators provide power in fewer than 30 seconds after the UPS batteries kick in when commercial power supply fails.

To prevent the power from going out, each server rack has two independent power sources available to each rack unit from two different power distribution units. Finally, everything at the Qwest data center is backed up to a similar facility operated by Iron Mountain.

Fujifilm’s and other companies’ servers are housed in a climate-controlled room with a raised floor that enables easy access to the power and data lines that run beneath the raised floor and come up into each rack cage.

The computer hardware is all protected by fire detection and suppression systems, including two types of fire detection systems (photoelectronic/ionization and sniffer), a direct alarm to the local fire department, and a multizone, dry-pipe fire suppression system that allows fire suppression to be contained in the affected area without disrupting servers elsewhere, according to Qwest.

The facility’s security includes a 24/7 on-site security guard, indoor and outdoor security camera monitoring, badge/picture ID access screening to the building, and biometric identification screening for admittance to the raised floor housing the servers. A Qwest employee must accompany individuals into the secure area where the server cages are housed.

Again, Qwest’s idea of security seems to be on steroids. The biometric hand scanner at the entrance doors to the server cage area identifies the employee seeking access to the room and requires a pulse, so a perpetrator couldn’t sever an employee’s hand and use it to gain access like you might see in a movie. Some companies using the site for hosting had their own similar biometric ID systems to gain access to their cages.

Each company using the facility to host its servers controls and maintains what goes on inside its cage. The servers inside Fujifilm’s cage can be remotely accessed to download replacement copies of corrupted files over the Internet. If the client imaging facility’s servers are damaged, Fujifilm’s disaster recovery contracts stipulate that it will ship a fully configured direct replacement server to the client’s facility within 72 hours of reporting the disruption, according to Reynold Yordy, Fujifilm’s managed service business manager. The replacement unit mirrors the original server and can be connected to the PACS and put the system back up and running in short order.

Fujifilm or any other off-site backup service provider can detail what its facilities provide, but the message for imaging administrators touring a data center is a better understanding of what disaster backup service is all about—archiving and protecting images and other patient information. Treating patients is the overall objective, but making sure the information is quickly and readily available to physicians is the reason for digital information systems.

— Jim Knaub is editor of Radiology Today.