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A Backup a Day Keeps Disaster at Bay

Backup and recovery in health care

Data protection is never more vital than in the world of health care, where sensitive and life-impacting data is the cornerstone of medicine. More than 3,600 physicians in 26 states turn to our company for outsourced claims reimbursement management, making backup and recovery as critical as the reliable Linux platform.

athenahealth is a revenue-cycle management service for health care providers, offering integrated billing, collections, and practice automation as a single subscription service to increase the money, time, and control of its medical groups. More than 390 medical groups and hospitals use athenahealth, making us responsible for managing nearly $1 billion in physi-cian revenues. This includes 3,600 physicians and 14,000 end users representing 48 medical specialties operating in 26 states.

We combine technology and an experienced team of claims management professionals to create direct linkages between medical groups and the insurance companies. This results in faster payment at lower cost, higher revenue retention, and less hassle. Utilizing a comprehensive practice management platform (accessed via a high-speed Internet or private network connection), we submit over 700,000 claims monthly and deliver a range of services to improve the cash flow and manageability of medical offices. athenahealth reduces the days in accounts receivable from an average of 62 days to 48, cutting administrative costs by 40%, and rechanneling physicians' time and energy into delivering high-quality patient care.

With data impacting so many doctors and patients, it's obvious there is some pressure in making sure our data protection and disaster recovery solutions are in tip-top health. Reliability of our servers and operating systems is also key and we, of course, turned to Linux for the great majority of our network. But researching the optimal backup and recovery technology revealed that few vendors focused heavily on the Linux market.

We have more than 150 servers in our Linux network running SUSE 8, which comprises approximately 85% of the overall network. The remaining 15% are Unix and Windows. We have three specific environments:

  1. Production: Our client-facing world
  2. Development: Our internal environment
  3. Corporate: Our Windows desktop environment
We needed a cost-effective data protection solution that would, most importantly, support Linux but also the mixed environment. BakBone Software's NetVault for Linux was an easy-to-deploy, affordable solution to meet this challenge.

Data is stored in Oracle data files and backed up nightly to the order of a terabyte a week. We use NetVault's Virtual Disk Library (VDL) to send backups directly to a local hard drive for improved performance. VDL staging can minimize the impact on our network and act as a buffer, to ensure device streaming when it's time to copy staged data to tape.

Besides the critical health care-claims reimbursement data, other information typically backed up includes Oracle data files, developers' home directories, MS Exchange files, code repositories, intranet files, accounting files, and personnel files.

We do incremental backup on actual data and system changes. We don't do OS-level backup as the network is built on one image. The consolidated file system backup feature uses incremental backups to create a full backup and index. This is a useful feature as it allows us to take any number of incremental backups and build a new full file system backup based on the last incremental and last consolidated backup.

The total cost of ownership of NetVault has proven much lower than more expensive solutions from other vendors, who also do not cater to Linux. We've found that NetVault on Linux requires less time for backup and recovery, allowing our IT staff to spend more time on proactive tasks. The ease of use has saved us time and money - no professional services were needed. It was easy to deploy and integrate into our cross-platform environment with a GUI that provides a consis-tent look and feel and centralized control in multivendor environments.

By doing your homework on the unique data protection needs of your company, you can be prepared for any inconvenient setback or outright disaster. And don't let a one-size-fits-all solution be forced on your shop. A solution that supports and optimizes Linux is out there for you.

More Stories By Ed Park

Ed Park is Chief Software Architect of athenahealth

More Stories By Bob Gatewood

Bob Gatewood is Chief Technology Officer of athenahealth.

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