Real estate firm trusts cloud-based NAS in data center, remote offices

Healthcare Realty Trust uses EMC Atmos as private cloud in its data centers, and Panzura cloud-based NAS in remote offices.

When Healthcare Realty Trust (HR) revamped the way it distributes and shares files among users in remote offices, it took an inside-outside hybrid cloud storage approach.

The real estate investment trust company uses EMC Atmos as a private cloud in its Nashville, Tenn., and Denver, Colo., data centers, and Panzura's Global Cloud Storage System cloud-based NAS to enable file sharing for remote users.

HR's cloud model replaced Citrix XenApp for application distribution and file sharing. The Atmos-Panzura combination lets HR centrally manage and back up data while allowing users in other offices to access the centrally stored files.

HR provides on-site leasing and property management to 28 health care sites spread across the United States, and data must be shared across those sites.

Robert Dillard, associate vice president for technology services at HR, said the company had three goals for the cloud setup. It set out to eliminate the Citrix application, install business applications on local computers so the applications would run locally, and find a way to give workers access to data locally so the data did not have to be pulled over the network.

"The mandate was to make the user experience from the remote office the same as the experience in the corporate office," Dillard said. "We leveraged Citrix for hosting applications, Microsoft Office, leases and accounting information, and all the business applications. It was not a matter of consolidating storage for better backup. For us, it was about improving the user experience."

After settling on Atmos to store centralized copies of files in the two data centers, HR considered Riverbed Whitewater cloud storage gateway and Cisco Wide Area Application Service (WAAS) WAN optimization software for remote offices. But that would leave its users dependent on the network, which would mean latency.

Dillard said EMC recommended Panzura's cloud network-attached storage (NAS) controller. "We found the solution fit like a glove," he said. "Typically, Panzura allows us to centralize large amounts of data that can be shared by people who are geographically dispersed. It allowed us to use it like a NAS device in each local office. The entire file storage is four terabytes. Each office now may be able to access 10% of the total data set."

HR has installed a Panzura gateway in one office and in the Nashville data center, with the intent to roll out the rest in nine offices and the Denver data center next. Eventually, Dillard expects all HR offices to contain a Panzura gateway.

"With the Panzura gateway, when a file is updated, we can push the file and changes to the specific offices," Dillard said. "Employees don't have to wait for the updated file to be pulled from the Nashville data center because it's already located on the Panzura device. Plus, it's cheaper to pull the data in-house. It's pretty simple. We map the local network drive to the local Panzura."

Dillard said HR didn't have a specific budget for the cloud project. "We were looking at user productivity," he said. "The company looked at this as a soft cost. We don't use technology as the driving force. It's the business need that matters."

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