Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Private Cloud Cures Rehab Provider’s Tech Overload 

The Watershed Addiction Treatment Programs gives substance and alcohol abusers the tools they need to recover from once overpowering addictions. Yet the fast-growing treatment center's small IT team did not have the tools it needed to support physicians, psychiatrists, paramedics, and other staff at the rehabilitation provider's multiple locations.

Over 20 years, the Watershed has grown to multiple centers in Texas and Florida. It employs more than 600 people who, over about 20 years, have helped more than 45,000 patients recover from their addictions. Yet in that time, the IT department has maintained a headcount of three people, said Whit Baker, IT director at Watershed, in an exclusive interview with EnterpriseTech.

The organization used some technology to automate and quickly assist patients, he said. A phone system, for example, automatically detected callers' location and information, using that data to route them to the call-center employee who took their initial call, said Baker. This prevents callers from being forced to repeat information, a step that could discourage them from seeking help for their addiction, he said.

The IT team itself needed more help, though. It was responsible for overseeing about 350 Dell computers that served the organization's around-the-clock group of 600 employees. But with even more growth on Watershed's short-term horizon, a multi-vendor aging infrastructure, and no plans for additional IT employees, Baker told the organization's chief financial officer something had to change.

Technical support, however, was not the only reason Watershed sought a new methodology.

Nurses can log on to their desktops from any Wyse terminal.

Nurses can log on to their desktops from any Wyse terminal. (Source: Watershed)

The organization used Citrix XenApp for some systems and decided virtualization and cloud was the future route for Watershed's infrastructure, said Baker. The organization could not afford to add more IT staff or expertise in new technologies, he said. And as Watershed grew, there was no way it could exponentially expand internal IT services, added Baker.

"The other story is that we are a fairly small shop and we are a company that has grown pretty rapidly, especially over the last 10 years," he said. "I would have to go to every single location and install at least two domain controllers, a file server, a print server, backup server, backup tape devices and of course all the metal and bones computers. Then when our users needed to move to another location, the IT team was chasing our tails all day long because every user becomes a customized account on a customized box. Then they have bandwidth issues. Every time you log onto a machine your profile picks up a little bit of code from the machine you log onto, so we were fighting profiles constantly – and that's a little hard to do with just three guys."

Employees took longer and longer to log on, critical time they wanted to spend helping patients recover from addictions, said Baker.

A long-time Dell customer, the center relied extensively on the vendor's sales team for recommendations and guidance, he said, and followed its suggestion to move from VMware to Microsoft Hyper-V. A long-time user of virtualization for its datacenter, Watershed's new virtualized desktop solution featured Dell Wyse clients as virtual desktops for all employees, which then connect back to the center's Citrix and Hyper-V environments.

"We said, 'Okay, we're going to the cloud,'" Baker recalled.

Dell Compellent SC8000 controllers

Dell Compellent SC8000 controller

Like any infrastructure changes, it took patience to adopt private cloud, he said. With the help of Dell Implementation Services, Watershed installed eight PowerEdge R920 rack servers with Intel Xeon E7 processors; Dell OpenManage Essentials and Dell iDRAC8 remote access controller; Dell Compellent SC8000 controllers and Compellent SC220 enclosures; Dell Networking N3048 and N4032 switches, two Dell N3048 switches in each server rack, and several Dell N4032 switches in the SAN and client networks. To ensure uptime, Watershed uses Dell Compellent Live Volume for the patient database and other key applications. It purchased the technology via Dell Financial Services.

The private cloud met all Health Insurance Portability and Accountability (HIPAA) security and privacy mandates for patient data, said Baker. The organization has multiple layers of security technologies installed, along with safeguards to prevent employees accidentally sharing files from its proprietary database and ensuring only authorized staff access appropriate levels of patient data, he said.

As a result of the private cloud implementation, desktops load in approximately six seconds and IT no longer needs to custom-upgrade each staff member's CPU, according to Watershed. This has boosted productivity and employee satisfaction, executives said.

"What we do here all comes down to treating addiction and saving lives," said CEO Christopher Crosby, in a statement. "All our efforts are focused on that, and if technology gets in the way, we can’t accomplish that mission. We’re able to remove technology as a barrier by using the Dell private cloud. Technology is now a facilitator, so we can increase both the number of patients and, more importantly, the quality of care we can give."

Likewise, the small IT team can focus on extracting more business value from patient data, based in part on the information it's collected within its homegrown SQL-based system. That database, built from scratch 18 years ago, is overseen by two SQL developers whose sole jobs are devoted to nothing but customizing SQL to meet the needs of executives and management.

"The beautiful thing about SQL is no matter how many databases you have, you can very easily link them together. All these databases are talking and linked together. SQL is the key to everything for us," Baker said.

About the author: Alison Diana

Managing editor of Enterprise Technology. I've been covering tech and business for many years, for publications such as InformationWeek, Baseline Magazine, and Florida Today. A native Brit and longtime Yankees fan, I live with my husband, daughter, and two cats on the Space Coast in Florida.