Monday, May 14, 2012

Wyoming hospital takes leap to the cloud for email

CASPER, WY – Wyoming Medical Center (WMC), a 100-year-old hospital in Casper, Wyo., has dumped its frustratingly limited in-house legacy email system for Google’s cloud-based system. WMC officials say the new Google system has saved the hospital money and trouble, and they don’t have concerns about privacy.

Last August, the 207-bed WMC completed the transition of its entire organization from Novell Groupwise to Google Apps – Google’s email system for businesses and organizations, says Tom Schoenig, the CIO at WMC. The hospital was one of the first three healthcare systems and the first hospital in the country to adopt Google Apps for its email. The decision came after a number of years with constant server breakdowns during the middle of the night and too little email capacity for providers, he says. In addition, Web access to the in-house server was touchy.

[See also: Google Health shutdown spurs debate over PHR viability.]

“With the Novell system, even with upgrades, our Web piece was unstable at best,” says Rob Pettigrew, WMC’s network manager. “It was the thorn in our side.  We couldn’t figure out why it kept crashing.”

Pettigrew said it was a running joke in the hospital’s tech department: “Why don’t we just get Google to handle this email?” So one day, out of sheer frustration, they called Google. And it turns out, Google could do just that.

“Once we made the decision it would be best to switch to Google Apps, all of us had to convince our administration, he says. "It wasn’t a straight apples to apples comparison on cost, because the Novell system and Google Apps can’t compare. The real savings came in the enormity of the email space Google could give us. Groupwise gave us 200 MB of space per user. Users at the hospital were constantly complaining that their mailboxes were full.

Google gave us 25 GB per user. “We couldn’t give that to our users with hundreds of thousands of in-house servers,” says Pettigrew.

Of course, the hospital administration was concerned with security on the Google cloud system, Pettigrew says, but "we explained to them. A four-man hospital IT team can’t beat what an entire company like Google can do on security. Google handles safety and is always concerned and always upgrading its safety measures. This all happens in the background."

The hospital hired an Atlanta-based company called Cloud Sherpas to help transition to Google email, making it seamless and painless, according to Pettigrew. Cloud Sherpas is Google’s top implementation partner.

“One of our biggest fears was of migrating the system from Novell to Google,” Pettigrew said. “Clinicians don’t like a lot of change. It’s intimidating to them and intimidating to us. The best thing Google did for us was introduce us to Cloud Sherpas. Their plan was rock solid, if we deviated we would have run into trouble, but we had a very successful conversion. We did a lot of training and had a fairly large beta group. We went overboard on the training. But, we were paid off with a surprisingly quiet day of conversion. It was  smooth and we haven’t looked back since."

Google Apps allowed the hospital to keep its own domain name and run its own system, but Google provides all the service on the backside, Pettigrew explains. “All we worry about now is training users on the new system.”

Pettigrew says the IT team at WMC is fielding calls from other hospitals, wanting to know what they think about the Google Apps program.

Schoenig said Google security policies and procedures keep the email safe. “At the end of the day, the email resides with Google, under Google’s infrastructure, protocol and within the safety of its data centers.”

Follow Diana Manos on Twitter @DManos_IT_News.

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