South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust has opened two performance optimised data centres to run its IT operations and support its mobile working and virtual desktops strategies.

The Northern Ireland trust provides acute, community and social care to a population of 345,000 from four hospitals and 120 other sites, in which around 11,000 employees work.

Assistant director of technology and communications, Stephen Stewart, said it is working on a ‘bring your own device’ policy as the need for mobile becomes more and more apparent.

“I have got people on a daily basis wanting to use iPad, iPhone and Android devices and they want to use them now; they are not prepared to wait.

“The capability and the knowledge of users is growing; everybody is an ICT expert now,” he said during a ministerial trip to mark the opening of the HP PODs.

The BYOD strategy is supported by the Airwatch mobile device management system, recently bought by VMware, which the trust is rolling out in a phased implementation.

Underpinning that is the trust’s virtual desktop infrastructure, supported by its roll-out of VMware’s Horizon virtual desktop infrastructure and Imprivata single sign-on to give staff access to clinical systems from any device.

The performance optimised data centres, or PODs, are two 20-foot containers, situated outside the main hospital building at Ulster Hospital. Each of them houses an HP CloudSystem, with virtual servers, storage, and connectors.

HP worked with BT to deploy the centres, which are connected via a 40GB campus fibre network, and which were installed as part of a rebuild project.

Initially, the trust planned to build “bricks and mortar” data centres to sit on a floor in the new hospital building, but the PODS proved a faster and more cost effective solution.

“Data centres are expensive to build and we found that the building programme was too long, four to five years,” said Stewart.

“They would sit in a clinical building and not really designed to fit data centres. The most important thing is that we’ve been able to give back a lot of space for clinical use.”

The HP PODs were deployed within six months. Stewart explained that they take advantage of Northern Ireland’s weather, because they use its naturally cool air chill the servers.

Unveiling the PODs, Northern Ireland’s health minister Edwin Poots said he hoped the trust would become an exemplar, with other trusts following its lead.

“We’re very excited about this. A large box may not seem exciting to the public, but we have our challenges in healthcare and if we’re going to deal with those challenges we need to make the best use of technology to allow us to deliver healthcare more efficiently,” he said. “That includes embracing the technology we have available to us.”

Read more about EHI reporter Lis Evenstad’s recent trip to Northern Ireland in Insight.