NHS Trust Future Proofs IT infrastructure with Energy Efficient New Data Centre for Sustainable Operations
Data Centre UK
New Design/Build Data Centre Project Of The Year
Entry Description
Northern Care Alliance, one of the largest NHS Trusts formed by a combination of two previous trusts, has built a new data centre to streamline the operations of its constituent parts, retire legacy systems that had reached their end of life and prepare the infrastructure to meet stated NHS goals of “enabling health tech and innovations so…the NHS and social care can benefit from world-leading innovation and research.”

The merged body encompassed four hospitals and a total of 24,000 staff. Prior to the merger transaction, one of the constituent trusts operated two legacy data centres that had been in operation for several years. Each acted as a failover for the other, providing redundancy for the system as well as immediate spare computing and storage capacity in the event of a major malfunction. However, with one of the data centres housed in a building in Manchester that was due to be demolished, and the other facility in Salford operating almost at capacity, a new on-premises data centre became an absolute necessity.

In addition, a further two data centres were inherited from the second constituent Trust and these also became a part of the long-term plan to migrate and consolidate all the new Trust’s on-premises data-centre capacity to just two installations.

As clinicians had traditionally owned a great degree of autonomy when it came to acquiring software, part of the legacy was thousands of separate software applications, many of which had originally been acquired as short-term solutions but had ended up becoming long-standing fixtures for which the IT staff became responsible.

As part of the NHS mandate was to adopt a “cloud-first“ approach wherever possible to selecting software, it became necessary to retire many legacy solutions while continuing to support the most vital applications such as the Electronic Patient Record (EPR) system which continues to be hosted on site for latency reasons and will soon transition to a new Single Patient Record (SPR) system and made available throughout the new Trust.

The Trust has adopted a hybrid approach to deploying IT solutions, combining both on-premises and cloud-delivered services – seeing it as the optimal solution to meet the infrastructure requirements of its current and expected application mix and the needs of its users.

Many new and innovative technology-based medical treatments require high-resolution imaging or Artificial Intelligence (AI) which require high-performance and low-latency processing best performed by computing infrastructure situated locally and on the same premises. These include applications such as genomic and personal medicine.
Given the available funding to support its current infrastructure and latency demands and develop a facility to also support future scalability and higher IT performance requirements, the Trust approached Datacentre UK, an Elite Partner to Schneider Electric with extensive experience in designing and constructing data centres for the healthcare sector.

Space constraints are typical in hospitals so the Trust located the new data centre in the undercroft of an existing building, converting an unused area into a suitably secure and environmentally controlled space to house IT equipment. An additional benefit of this approach was the inclusion of two new offices in the building.

With uptime a key imperative, Datacentre UK provided a fault tolerant and highly resilient Tier 3 rated data centre design with 200kW of IT capacity. With 2N dual-redundant configuration on both power and cooling systems, the new data centre utilises high efficiency Schneider Electric Galaxy range of uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) with lithium-ion batteries for ongoing reliable operations. To further support efficient operations, the cooling system includes Uniflair InRow chilled water-cooling units from Schneider Electric with Free-Cooling chillers outside.

Thirty (30x) APC 750cm x 1200cm equipment racks, each incorporating an APC 3-phase 22kW switched power distribution unit (PDU), have been installed to accommodate servers, storage and network devices. To enhance cooling efficiency and meet high density computing requirements, the racks are in a Hot-Aisle / Cold-Aisle configuration, using EcoStruxure  Row data centre to prevent the mixing of supply (cool) and return (exhaust) air streams.

Since the hospital floors above the new data centre incorporate extensive plumbing works, there was a potential risk of water ingression into the data hall. However, this risk was mitigated by Datacentre UK’s installation of a self-contained prefabricated housing for the new facility. The prefabricated housing is essentially a “box within a box”, which provides an additional safeguard against any water hazard.

A key benefit of the new on-premises data centre is that it gives the trust the ability to scale up to deliver additional services in an efficient and reliable manner. It has allowed the Trust to establish formalised governance procedures to ensure that only correctly specified and supported applications are deployed and that requests for new applications from users are carefully considered to ensure no vulnerabilities are introduced.

The quality of the new data centre ensures that the most secure and low-latency applications can continue to be hosted on premises. Meanwhile, applications that can be delivered by the cloud also free-up onsite data centre capacity to host more mission-critical systems. This will allow the Trust to reduce its footprint of on-premises data centres from five to two in number, while permitting the scalability necessary to support innovative applications, including those based on digital imaging, in an efficient and sustainable manner into the future.

Furthermore, the ability to manage all applications from behind a single pane of glass in a secure, sealed environment will help the Trust to improve patient outcomes and explore exciting new health tech systems based on artificial intelligence and machine learning.