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Catholic Healthcare West Reduces Costs with Standardized Identity Management

Standards-based Linux-hosted directory services displaces Microsoft Active Directory

With more than 40 locations, Catholic Healthcare West was managing user identities across hundreds of applications running on multiple platforms. A streamlined identity management solution running on Linux has increased security and improved regulatory compliance, while dramatically reducing costs.

Catholic Healthcare West (CHW), headquartered in San Francisco, is the eighth largest hospital system in the nation and, with more than 9,500 beds, the largest not-for-profit hospital provider in California. The CHW network of more than 7,500 physicians and approximately 40,000 employees provides quality healthcare services for more than four million patient visits annually.

As with many healthcare organizations, many of Catholic Healthcare West's facilities had locally developed information systems and software. As a result, it was managing disparate systems and platforms across 40 hospitals and medical centers. Each location also had its own way of managing network access and user identities for nearly 1,400 applications.

To streamline IT operations, CHW wanted to move away from proprietary platforms and create a standardized, open environment. The organization also wanted to create a standard approach to identity and access management that would increase security and meet regulatory requirements, while still giving physicians and staff fast access to applications.

After thorough research, including talking to many customers who had implemented identity management across a large enterprise, Catholic Healthcare West selected a Novell identity and access management solution to run on SUSE Linux Enterprise Server.

"A solution based on open standards fits our model of doing business," said Eric Leader, chief technology architect for Catholic Healthcare West. "Healthcare procedures are not proprietary, and information concerning how best to meet the needs of our patients is freely shared among caregivers. Because we work in an open community, it makes sense for us to have an open environment."

CHW consolidated all of its directories and migrated its Windows NT domains to Novell eDirectory to manage 20,000 user identities. Novell Identity Manager synchronizes user identity information across applications running on multiple platforms including Microsoft Windows, Linux, and multiple versions of Unix.

"Many of our applications require Microsoft Active Directory, but we were uncomfortable standardizing on a proprietary platform," Leader said. "Novell eDirectory supports open standards and allows us to manage identities across our diverse environment."

With centralized identity management, CHW can provision users three times faster, giving them immediate access to the applications they need. Users even have a single ID and password for many applications that are integrated with eDirectory. CHW will also be using Novell SecureLogin to give users single sign-on access to applications that are not LDAP-enabled.

Centralized identity management has greatly improved the organization's overall security and ability to comply with HIPAA, Sarbanes-Oxley, and other regulatory requirements. Using Novell Audit, CHW can conduct timely audits to track who is accessing information and when. The IT staff can also immediately revoke network access when employees leave the organization.

"We operate in a highly regulated environment where the requirements are always changing," Leader said. "We simply had to consolidate identity management or we would see a huge increase in time spent managing regulatory issues. The identity and access management solution provided by Novell helps us stay ahead of the curve."

CHW runs its Novell identity management solution on 30 SUSE Linux Enterprise Servers and HP hardware, and also runs several mission-critical systems on Linux, including Oracle databases, software distribution, claims management, and digital image archives.

"Microsoft licensing became too burdensome, so we looked for lower-cost alternatives and found that many of our large vendors were providing support for Linux and open source," Leader said. "As we purchase new software, we look for vendors who run on Linux. Eventually, we would like to run our entire organization on Linux."

A solid disaster recovery strategy is also an integral part of HIPAA compliance. With SUSE Linux Enterprise Server, CHW is implementing redundant systems faster and at a lower cost than with proprietary platforms.

"The flexibility we have with SUSE Linux has exceeded our expectations," Leader said. "There is no way we could keep up with rapid change if we continued to manage proprietary platforms. We now have a cost-effective way to remain compliant and maintain high availability."

With a Novell identity and access management solution, Catholic Healthcare West centralized identity management across its diverse enterprise and reduced initial user administration time by 70%. The organization has increased security with role-based access, auditing capabilities, and streamlined provisioning and deprovisioning to immediately grant or revoke access.

"Before implementing the Novell solution, we provisioned users in a hundred different ways," Leader said. "We didn't think we could streamline this process without substantially increasing our staff. With the Novell solution, we have a high-quality, yet cost-effective solution that actually frees up much of our staff to work on other projects."

Running SUSE Linux Enterprise server has improved performance for several mission-critical systems, while significantly reducing hardware costs and reducing server administration time by 25%. The organization anticipates an estimated cost savings of $1.5 million.

"Novell's support for Linux has been excellent," Leader said. "We've now moved Linux from a hypothetical idea to a mission-critical platform in our organization."

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SYS-CON's Linux News Desk gathers stories, analysis, and information from around the Linux world and synthesizes them into an easy to digest format for IT/IS managers and other business decision-makers.

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