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Holy Spirit says new data center will be potent tool in fight to keep pace with technology

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Leo Banning Jr. is network manager for Holy Spirit Health System. A new 37,000-square-foot data center is slated to open next month at the hospital’s East Pennsboro Township, Cumberland County, campus. Photo/Amy Spangler
Leo Banning Jr. is network manager for Holy Spirit Health System. A new 37,000-square-foot data center is slated to open next month at the hospital’s East Pennsboro Township, Cumberland County, campus. Photo/Amy Spangler

When Holy Spirit Health System's new data center opens, Leo Banning Jr. expects it will take IT employees just a day to move in.

What they work with, however, is a much longer story. According to Banning, finishing the technical part of the move is a complicated process that will take about a year.

Banning should know. He's Holy Spirit Hospital's network manager, and he has helped navigate the system through a torrent of changes in recent years. It's not just electronic health records, although those have been dominating headlines. It's more system devices, as providers become more connected and equipment as lowly as IV pumps becomes smarter and more data-hungry. It's more patients bringing phones and computers to the hospital. It's biometric sign-in systems. It's videoconferencing and advancing into telehealth.

The march of progress is evident in the system's IT workforce, according to Edith Dees, vice president and chief information officer of HSHS. In 2005, the department had 40 people; now it is nearly double that, including some 25 contractors brought in to help handle the crush. And demand in the health care data and technology industry is such that HSHS is beginning to hire people right out of college and pair them with experienced hands for a year until they have enough experience and familiarity with the systems to work independently.

Until now, HSHS hasn't had an ideal environment for either IT workers or the technology they use because they inhabited several spaces that weren't designed for those purposes.

"At one point," Dees said, "our core data center was in the basement of the hospital, which has 8-foot ceilings — not ideal for heat displacement."

Once, Dees and Banning said, a data center air-conditioning system failed and within five minutes the temperature shot to the top of the thermometer, 130 degrees Fahrenheit — an IT department's nightmare.

But the data center is going to change that. Located just across the hospital campus in East Pennsboro Township, Cumberland County, and slated to open at the end of the month, it is the site of a former Weis supermarket that has been transformed into a fortress of redundancy. From the new fiber-optic loop and the excess cooling capacity to the generators and the record backup, the 37,000-square-foot facility is designed to foster collaborative, efficient work and ensure that there will be no ruinous incidents of systems down.

"I wish I knew what one hour of downtime costs a hospital," Dees said. "I'm sure it's thousands of dollars."

The center will have a tiered security system, with separate access areas for visitors, employees and managers. There are many internal windows, to allow easy visual monitoring. And in the heart of the data center, customized passes will allow vendors access only to the racks they need.

The rack area will use a hot aisle containment system, which separates supply and return airflow to allow easier and more efficient cooling. The area has a lot of capacity, Banning said, and the building is designed so that when the room is full, it can easily expand into what is currently an adjacent training area.

"We can double the size of the data center overnight," Banning said.

Another feature Banning is particularly fond of is the dedicated build room, where the assemblies required to keep the system's roughly 2,500 computers and other technology up to date will happen. Also, an electric van is being purchased for the IT department to use when delivering the equipment.

Other distinctive features will include conference rooms with coffee-themed names; a "destress" room where employees logging long days can go for a mental break; and art chosen in an employee photography contest.

Overall, HSHS spokeswoman Lori Moran said, the center and processes associated with it are expected to add 70 new positions within a year. The structure, which no longer bears any resemblance to a supermarket, is expected to stand for half a century and accommodate burgeoning data needs for the next 15 years.

Center investment draws support

The cost of the data center construction is estimated at $8.6 million, with the total spent on the fittings (racks, storage, switches, etc.) at a little more than $2.1 million, according to Holy Spirit Health System spokeswoman Lori Moran. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett recently announced that a $3.25 million Economic Growth Initiative grant was awarded to the project.

"Holy Spirit saw the issue of rapidly expanding need for space related to its data center as an opportunity rather than a problem. Through ingenuity, perseverance and hard work, the hospital will soon be able to recognize not only benefits for its operations, but will also be able to better serve patients," Corbett said in a news release. "This project exemplifies the spirit in which these awards are made."

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