The Cloud Lives Up to its Billing

By Samuel Greengard  |  Posted 2016-01-27 Email Print this article Print
Private Cloud

A leading medical billing firm turns to a private cloud and virtualization and increases flexibility, improves performance and lowers costs by around 30 percent.

The challenges and costs associated with managing IT infrastructure have prompted a growing number of organizations to turn to the cloud. In many cases, this approach allows IT departments to operate more strategically, while also boosting overall performance and flexibility.

At Affiliated Professional Services (APS), a privately held medical billing firm located in Wareham, Mass., the cloud has been transformative. "We have achieved huge gains," reports Stephanie Hulbig, MIS director for the firm.

In the past, APS, which handles more than 9 million claims annually and has staff members scattered around the country, operated its own on-premise data center with physical servers and storage. The company viewed this approach as a competitive advantage and a way to distinguish itself in a crowded marketplace.

Unfortunately, the approach caused some problems. For example, when a server or other system went down, challenges often began to mount. In some cases, Hulbig says, the company found itself waiting for parts for hours or days, and employees couldn't get their work done.

At the same time, the IT department recognized a need to streamline IT management costs and space requirements. It also had to address a fairly complex upgrade cycle and warranty replacements.

Mapping Out a New Direction

APS turned to integration and consulting partner to map out a new direction. One option was to purchase a new storage area network (SAN) and other hardware and essentially maintain the status quo. Another option was to transition to a cloud environment and use virtualization to better manage and allocate computing resources.

The need to keep operations up and running without interruption sealed the deal. "We have staff working every day around the clock," Hulbig explains. "So we have to make sure there is no unforeseen downtime."

The company opted to deploy a private cloud with VMware, which could manage Windows, Unix and Linux systems and applications. Today, all of APS' IT resources are virtualized on premise.

The transition, which was completed in October 2015, has allowed APS to reduce the number of physical servers it operates from 20 to four. At the same time, it has ratcheted up agility and flexibility, while significantly improving disaster recovery and business continuity.

"We now have the ability to provision and deprovision resources, such as RAM or storage, at the click of a button," Hulbig reports. "We can spin up a new server or add a new application and license and be up and running immediately. We also have automatic failover capabilities, and we can run a backup anytime during normal business hours rather than only after hours."

The private cloud and virtualization have led to a cost savings that approaches 30 percent for servers, storage, RAM and other hardware. No less important: APS has witnessed a dramatic improvement in system performance for both staff and customers.

Hulbig says the transition to the private cloud and virtualization went smoothly. and APS mapped out a transition plan, and the company was able to switch over to the new environment while keeping operations up and running.

"We now have fantastic flexibility, better performance and lower costs," Hulbig reports. "The upside has been enormous."

Samuel Greengard writes about business and technology for Baseline, CIO Insight and other publications. His most recent book is The Internet of Things (MIT Press, 2015).

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