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Feature - 9 March 2021 (ComputerWeekly)

NHS datacentre transformation projects continue apace during pandemic

NHS trusts have continued to invest in their datacentre estates throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, but the nature of their upgrade projects continues to evolve

UK National Health Service (NHS) datacentre builds and modernisation projects are continuing apace against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic, as IT leaders need resilient IT infrastructures on which to base their digital transformation plans.

John Thompson, managing director of datacentre infrastructure management specialist Advanced Power Technology (APT), says the future looks rosy for its projects, which are largely focused on refreshing power and cooling or monitoring and management tools, but also include the building of new datacentres. Tenders and contracts continue to progress with a range of NHS trusts.

“When the pandemic started in January 2020, we were expecting to stop work halfway through – but what happened was quite the opposite,” says Thompson. “They said ‘this is our central datacentre – we need you to finish it as soon as possible’. It was very helpful for them to have the infrastructure refreshed, and now they can monitor it, and see any issues.”

The nature of datacentre redevelopment contracts also look to be changing. Organisations are placing more emphasis and openness on finding partners to help them develop their strategies, says Thompson, noting that NHS in-house datacentre teams have in the past often been relatively poorly resourced and informed – suggesting that greater transformation is possible with guidance.

“We are starting another datacentre for a Lincolnshire hospital, and we’ve got another one ahead of that, which may well be a prefabricated one,” he says. “They’ve all got some element of cloud services going on, or hybrid cloud and on-premise.”

Modernisation projects deploying converged infrastructure can lower the total cost of ownership (TCO), releasing resources to boost performance and productivity – including the increasingly data-driven insights that improve and future-proof healthcare delivery. Preconfigured converged infrastructure systems can also be faster to deploy.

NHS datacentre investment levels remain healthy

Ensono, a VMware partner and infrastructure specialist, confirms that continued NHS investment can be enhanced by a software-defined infrastructure, which can typically be about harnessing hybrid IT.

Simon Ratcliffe, principal consultant at Ensono, says that in December 2020, the company was contracted to build a new data platform to support University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust’s quest to improve acute care.

This evidences a new view of fostering incremental improvements in individual NHS projects that enable transformation – through infrastructure modernisation, among other things.

“Every time you used to hear about an NHS project, it was a big systems integrator [SI] being awarded a 15-year, £300m project,” says Ratcliffe. “With Birmingham, you can see the change which, bizarrely, is driven by the infrastructure. We can try a bit, be agile, and iterative.”

Covid-19 seems to be accelerating the push to look at whatever will help build a better healthcare system, which means being able to work with multiple data sources to derive maximum benefits at the end point, he says.

When the NHS can develop better datacentre infrastructure, this can help it to get ahead of need and keep up with future demand, he points out.

Properly curating or triaging all data as it is created and moves through one or more healthcare organisations makes it increasingly possible to exchange useful information between public healthcare bodies and private pharmacies or similar, says Ratcliffe.

“Covid has accelerated a lot of change anyway, in technology in general, and absolutely inside the NHS,” he adds. “I think the mindset has changed. The analogy I might use is that we are getting better at identifying root causes, rather than just seeing the symptoms. Turning data into information helps do that, and you need the infrastructure to do that.”



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