ClinPhone Implements SAN Cluster Solution Using HP Veritas

OverviewIn the global pharmaceutical industry, getting a new drug to market before rivals is critical to a company’s success. But because of the need to conduct clinical trials of all drugs before they can be made available to the public, this can be a very lengthy process. So when Nottingham-based ClinPhone was set up in 1993 to help pharmaceutical companies manage their clinical trials, enabling them to speed up the drug development process, it quickly became a success.Since then, ClinPhone has grown rapidly, to become the world’s leading provider of this type of service. Set up in 1993, ClinPhone is now the leading provider of electronic trial management services to the pharmaceutical industry.

ClinPhone has 300 staff at its head offices in Nottingham, with 3 offices in the USA, plus offices in Belgium and Germany. ClinPhone’s client list includes many of the world’s major pharmaceutical companies.ClinPhone’s main service is the collection of management data from medical practitioners (known as investigators) involved in conducting clinical trials. The investigators dial in to ClinPhone’s Interactive Voice Response System, which asks them questions to which they respond using the touch-tone keypad of their telephone. The system then gives them instructions based on guidelines developed by the pharmaceutical company involved.

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The service handles calls from around 100 different countries.Keepin up with demandIn the past 18 months, demand for this service has doubled, and as a result ClinPhone decided last year to upgrade its database platform. Its existing system was a bespoke one, which had met the company’s needs so far, but was not scaleable enough to keep up with future demand. In addition, many of ClinPhone’s clients use Oracle’s database products and expect their suppliers to use similar technology.ClinPhone had already decided on Oracle as its database platform, both from a technical point of view and because this was the preferred option for its clients.

It then went out to tender for a technology partner to put together a total solution.”We went to six vendors and asked them for outline proposals, then invited a shortlist of four in to do detailed presentations. Three of the four offered Sun as the hardware platform and the fourth, HP partner Logicalis, offered HP Unix technology”.Streets ahead”It soon became clear that HP Unix was streets ahead as a hardware platform, and that Logicalis knew what they were talking about and had the ability to deliver what we wanted. We were looking for a clustered very high availability solution and Unix stood head and shoulders above the rest.” One of the key factors in ClinPhone’s decision to choose Logicalis was its close partnership with both HP and Oracle.

“Logicalis was able to bring together senior people from HP and Oracle for pre-sales meetings, and the fact that they had those companies on their side and prepared to support them was a major deciding factor. The overall package came over as offering the right technology, and a group of companies who could put it all together.”The solution that Logicalis, HP and Oracle came up with was based on clustered HP Unix servers running the Tru64 operating system and Oracle’s parallel server database. Each cluster node consists of an ES40 single processor, an RA8000-based SAN and a pair of SAN switches. In addition there is a DLT tape library for backup and a DS10 server for development and testing.

The nodes are connected using Gigabit Ethernet and a fibre-based memory channel to enable clustering.Major challengeThe biggest challenge of the project was that ClinPhone already had a market leading service and needed to be sure that its new technology platform would deliver the same level of service and fault-tolerance to clients from day one. “We were moving to a completely new database platform, hardware and software and had to be sure that it would be as reliable and secure as our existing system from the start”.Because this was ClinPhone’s first experience of Unix, Tru64 and Oracle, training existing staff in these skills was also a major challenge. ClinPhone has a policy of developing its own staff rather than bringing in new skills from outside, so it had to embark on an intensive training programme.The project has gone remarkably smoothly.

“We’ve been surprised at how well it’s gone.” The Unix cluster is up and running and the company has completed redeveloping its applications to run on the new system. The first clinical trials are due to be run on the new system this year.Business benefitsClinPhone expects to see three key benefits from the system. The first is scalability.

“Our existing system is running 250 clinical trials now and has the capacity for more, but eventually it will reach its limits. The new system gives us much more scope. There’s no limit to the number of trials we can handle – we can just plug in more and more servers as we need them.”The second benefit is that it will enable ClinPhone to develop new services. The company has already started piloting a Web-based data collection service, which involves collecting all the patient notes involved in clinical trials as well as logistical information about the trials themselves. This will mean a massive increase in the amount of data held on the ClinPhone database, and the new database provides the capacity necessary to handle this.

“With our previous technology we only had the capacity for a few projects using this service.”Finally, the new system will enable ClinPhone to more easily meet the high security standards required to comply with regulations governing clinical trials. “Our clients are looking to us to run a database that they can see is compliant from a security point of view, and Oracle meets that need.”Platform for the futureThanks to Logicalis, and its partnership with Oracle and HP, ClinPhone now has “a platform for the future” – one that will enable the company to maintain its marketleading position by continually developing new services.And ClinPhone’s partnership with Logicalis looks set to be a long one. “Logicalis has provided us with an extremely high level of service.

Since this contract began we have embarked on a number of other projects with Logicalis using HP technology. We are doing more and more business with them.”Logicalis Systems are exhibiting at Storage Expo the UK’s largest and most important event dedicated to data storage, now in its 5th year, the show features a comprehensive FREE education programme, and over 90 exhibitors at the National Hall, Olympia, London from 12 – 13 October 2005