Health care companies fill prescription for Linux

IBM is pushing Linux into health care, an area where demand for highly customizable applications could make the open source operating system shine.

A migration to Linux by Priority Healthcare Corp. could signal that yet another industry is about to get on board

with the open source operating system.

On Thursday, the Lake Mary, Fla.-based specialty pharmacy and distributor went public, saying that over the past few months it had switched out its series of Dell PowerEdge servers for a handful of IBM eServer xSeries servers running Red Hat Linux Advanced Server. The news comes on the heels of several health-care-related announcements from Big Blue over the past few weeks.

Charles King, principal analyst with Pund-IT Research in Hayward, Calif., said the announcement is indicative of how certain characteristics of the health care industry make it a good match for Linux.

"The applications [in health care] are highly customized," King said. "When you have these kinds of applications, you either need the ability to tweak or the ability to have ISVs [independent software vendors] produce something specific that really fits a need. Linux in these cases is a good play, especially on the xSeries and frankly on the iSeries platform as well."

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IBM in February introduced the eServer X3 architecture, a culmination of a three-year, $100 million development effort, said Jay Bretzmann, the director of IBM's eServer eSeries division.

The new X3 architecture provides up to 46% higher four-way performance than the previous generation of Intel Xeon processor-based systems, enabling businesses to simultaneously run 32-bit and 64-bit applications and more rapidly process massive amounts of data, he said.

"We see this as a proof point that this 'mega grid' idea that Dell is pursing works fine when in mini grid, but when you actually try to implement it at the mission-critical enterprise level they don't really have the services required," Bretzmann said.

In light of Bretzmann's criticism of Dell's mega grid strategy, King said it was still too early to tell if such commentary was accurate.

"Mega grid has only been around two to three months. I suppose IBM was looking for the idea that xSeries would be replacing mega grid, but given the time frame I don't see how that could be," King said.

Mega grid was part of a joint announcement made by Dell, Oracle Corp., EMC Corp. and Intel Corp. earlier this year that was basically a consortium of large companies that were going to work to try and commercialize grid offerings, King said.

As part of the migration, Priority Healthcare has standardized its call centers from several separate business divisions onto a common IT platform in order to maximize resource utilization and reduce costs. The move to IBM was driven in part because Priority experienced issues with the hardware performance of its previous supplier, said Javier Muniz, director of technology at Priority.

"We researched the market for servers to replace Dell and decided that IBM xSeries systems were the way to go because of their unequalled engineering," Muniz said. "We were also impressed with IBM's support for Linux, the breadth of the IBM product line and its resources are truly outstanding."

Working with IBM and business partner Agilysys, Priority Healthcare chose four xSeries 445 servers to run its database and is experiencing twice the I/O throughput it was getting from Dell, Muniz said. The scalability of the new servers is also much greater, and the company finds it can do more with the same amount of real estate. Priority is so pleased with the product that it has decided to replace Dell with IBM eServer xSeries 346 systems as its new standard platform for all applications in their joint venture with Aetna, including office automation, file, print and fax services.

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