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Hunter health division consolidates domains

Health division consolidates domains

The Hunter New England (HNE) division of New South Wales Health will soon commence a massive migration project to consolidate some 12,000 end users into one Microsoft Active Directory domain.

The project is just one aspect of a wave of consolidation of IT resources that has been taking place after HNE was formed in January 2005 through the merger of several smaller divisions. HNE has responsibility for health services from Newcastle up to Boggabilla in the north of the state, providing care for a population of 840,000 people with some 14,500 staff.

"We've completed most of the application systems merging," HNE chief information officer Warren Laurence told ZDNet Australia this week via telephone, noting the Active Directory migration was the next step in the ongoing rationalisation process.

"We had three separate Windows domains in our organisation. We've collapsed it down into two, and we're about to go to a full Active Directory domain.

"It will take us about six months to migrate all of the services into that new domain across our organisation.

"We've completed the planning for that, and we're currently in a proof of concept stage," Laurence said.

A project manager will oversee three teams of IT workers simultaneously migrating resources in different sections of HNE.

Laurence said apart from the technical benefits of having a single domain to administer, the move would have an impact on the organisation as a whole as staff who are currently logging into systems labelled under their old divisions start to identify with the new merged group after the domain consolidation.

"The sooner we get rid of some of the old organisational labels, the better it is for people feeling united as the new organisation," he said.

More Microsoft moves
In more moves affecting HNE's approximately 6,000 desktop PCs, Laurence said NSW Health's new state-wide software licensing deal with Microsoft signed in April provided the opportunity for his division to standardise its desktop PCs further.

Rather than the common "standard operating environment" approach to desktop PC management, Laurence espouses what he calls a "compressed operating environment" or COE approach.

"You might have a standard, but what is actually operating out in the organisation, in an organisation that has nearly 6,000 desktop devices and another 1,000 printers, moving those devices in a managed way all at once is impossible," he said.

"So we set a standard, and then we try and compress to that. And manage the rate at which we go forward, and manage the rate at which we pick up the stragglers from behind."

For example, over the past six months HNE has migrated some 600 Windows 95 and 98 machines to more modern versions of Microsoft's operating systems.

"Now I've got about 40 left. And I've got some Windows NT 4 clients," said Laurence. The CIO noted it was hard to upgrade those machines because they typically ran highly specialised medical applications that weren't compatible with the likes of Windows XP.

"I can't say to those people, you've got to buy a new auto blood analyser, because this one's [Windows NT PC] no longer supported -- it costs $75,000 for a new auto analyser," said Laurence. He noted HNE was also gradually "compressing" the versions of Microsoft Office it used.

On the Windows Vista front, HNE will not immediately upgrade to Microsoft's latest operating system, although the health division has switched its purchasing habits to make sure any desktops it buys will be Vista-compatible.

"Any new device that comes into our organisation is Vista-capable," said Laurence. "At some point in time we'll make an informed decision ... we'll be ready to pounce when it's the right time to migrate the organisation."