Regional Datacentres and MIDAS in Northern Ireland

Guest post by Susan Campbell from Business Services Organisation

The MIDAS platform for Northern Ireland Health and Social Care (HSC) policymakers will be hosted by the Business Services Organisation (BSO). BSO provides regional business support functions and specialist services to the health and social care sector in Northern Ireland including IT services. These services include the provision of approximately 120 regional IT systems such as the Electronic Care Record, the NIPACS regional imaging system and the systems used by all General Practitioners.

Back in 2002, a project was initiated to migrate over 300 applications running on 110 separate servers located in Health Service sites across Northern Ireland into 2 datacentres.

Figure 1: Equipment in the Belfast City Hospital datacentre

Over the next 14 years, the services hosted grew in number, size and complexity.  The datacentres became fully utilised from a floorspace perspective. Storage requirements grew from less than 1 Tb in 2003 to over 1 Pb in 2013. There was on-going pressure to accommodate new systems and increased back-up requirements. The level of dependence on the datacentre hosted services also grew as services such as Regional clinical imaging and the Regional Electronic Care Record were implemented. Both datacentres were located on hospital sites.  This had risks in particular arising from constant building refurbishments and capital build projects which on occasions disrupted power supplies. Although such outages were rare, critical 24/7 services such as the Electronic Care Record were impacted.

In 2014 BSO agreed to work with 3 other public sector bodies to procure shared Public Sector datacentres. The procurement was completed in 2015 with the contract being awarded to BT.

Figure 2: BSO staff (including Karen Bailey, MIDAS Policy Board member) at the opening of the new datacentres

Some features of the new datacentres:

  • Tier 3, with full N+1 resilience on UPS, Generators and Cooling
  • Vendor neutral -BSO’s choice of hardware and software to run HSC systems – sourced by BSO from its chosen  supplier
  • CPNI and CESG assured
  • High speed network access
  • Fully scalable and designed to cover public sector needs until 2032.

For further details see:

BSO started the migration to the new datacentres in Spring 2017. In contrast to the previous process in 2002, many applications were quickly replicated and moved over the network to the new datacentres within minutes. BSO currently has around 1,450 servers utilising 4Pb of storage and supporting 212 applications.

What does this mean for MIDAS? The environment will offer improved performance, reliability, resilience and availability. The hardware platform was able to be created within days of the request from the technical partners. The data and tools loaded to the platform will be secure. Storage will be scalable and backup and restore processes will be fast.

One of the services hosted in the new datacentres is the HSC Regional Data Warehouse (RDW) – a large, secure data store which receives regular data extracts from a range of key HSC Information Systems. It includes Secondary Care and Community Care structured data. The RDW provides secure access to the data, primarily offering Business Intelligence and Management Reporting facilities to HSC organisations. It plays an essential role in the provision of operational and performance management information across the HSC. It underpins the provision of the HSC Honest Broker service. The Honest Broker service enables the safe and secure provision of anonymised data to HSC organisations and to researchers carrying out approved health and social care related research. The data that is being used within MIDAS is extracted from the RDW.

We are looking forward to seeing the products produced from MIDAS.

The intention is that the learning and capabilities delivered by MIDAS can be used to enhance the Regional Data Warehouse with new functionality around building datasets and better visualization being made available to the broader community of users. Exploitation of Open Source software is another area of interest.

The introduction of an agile capability to load and build data into a form where it is easily accessed and analysed along with better visualization of the analysis should provide opportunities to inform the development of health and care policy in Northern Ireland and help deliver more effective services for all patients and clients of the HSC.