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Prescribing the right medicine for IT in pharmacies

How pharmacy chain Day Lewis revamped its storage strategy.

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Pharmacies need IT which is both fast and reliable.

Image: Day Lewis

As the UK's aging population grows, it is no surprise that the pharmacy business and the areas which support it are expanding too.

Day Lewis is a privately held pharmacy chain with branches across the UK. It counts among its customers luxury department store Harrods and oil rigs in the North Sea.

ZDNet recently spoke to Day Lewis IT manager Colin Kendrick, to find out how his team is managing this growth and what it means for its storage strategy.

How big is Day Lewis?

Kendrick: We're mainly based in the south of England, with 282 branches at present, but we may reach the point where we start to look further afield. The plan is that we will be at 400 [branches] by 2020 and this is keeping my team very busy. We keep growing year on year and we are approaching almost 3,000 staff.

How quickly are you growing?

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Day Lewis's Kendrick: "When you go to Flash, that increases the speed, and you have that with all the benefit of compression and dedupe. The performance is just great."

Image: Colin Barker

We have grown 10 percent, year-on-year for the last five years. Our pharmacies now go from Penzance to Hull. We have a focus on London. We probably have 80 or 90 pharmacies within the M25 but from there it has expanded.

How did you come to use Tegile for your storage?

A couple of years ago we embarked on a disaster recovery piece of work where we wanted our own, private datacenter in the cloud, where we were going to replicate our core systems.

We employed a company to look at the issue for us and their recommendation was Tegile. We talked over the issues like de-dupe and it was from that conversation that we started to look at our own in-house systems.

From that we began to feel a little uncomfortable about how our systems worked, so we thought we should split our servers geographically and run them at two separate sites.

Once we had decided on that, we started to talk with other vendors as well and to do the comparisons -- and the Tegile system sounded good. They would do all the conversion including the compression and deduplication piece.

How long has it been installed for?

The DR piece went in slightly before our office piece and that was [about] 18 months ago.

We are still at just under 70 percent of capacity. The platform for us has grown, so we are just shy of 210 services. Even the IOPs have grown and overall the system is looking really good.

We moved our in-house accounts system over to Tetra just a couple of weeks ago. The only reason that it hadn't moved earlier was because our ERP system used to sit on it, and it was a really sensitive piece of kit.

It's got all our warehousing on it and, if it slowed down at all, we would be affecting those hundreds of pharmacies out there. You have to remember that we have all these stores out there with hundreds of pharmacies and there is a 'pick window' for getting all the stock out to the stores. We have about three hours before that deadline of around 5.30 in the evening. If we are running slow at around that time, we get a lot of pushback.

Our warehouse management system has to run fast. So my account manager, who has a small team for this, was always getting nervous at about six because we have these big databases moving everything, so eventually we persuaded him that it was time [to upgrade].

We transferred the new system over on a weekend. We were very surprised. We thought it was going to take all weekend, but we were done by Saturday afternoon.

How many people are on your team?

We are currently at 15. The ERP system and our conventional medical records system are our two biggies for crunching numbers.

How long do you have to keep the records for?

Seven years, in case there are any complications: you have somebody on one medication and then there is a change, for instance. Then there are all these changes from government that come through. The Care Commission regulation, for example. That means more information is added to our systems all the time.

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Because of the compression and the deduping running on the Tegile system, Day Lewis says the storage space used was cut by 75 percent.

Image: Tegile

In all of this, have you made changes to your system?

In terms of racks, we went from four to three and there is a big push to go down to make it simpler, to make it vertical. We were on an HP MSA platform and the idea is to replace the MSA with Tegile.

How much has physical hardware changed or is changing?

We were already on multiple platters on the MSA 2000 but I don't know where we would be now. I was talking to my systems manager and I think we were at 40 terabytes and we have replaced this with 18. And we can still run fast.

It's great. My manager is happy so I am happy.

Once you have compressed the data, there is no fall off in performance?

No, and, of course, these are all the questions we ask. Traditionally, when you go back to when we had, say, a Windows system, you could compress to a certain extent but the performance just fell off.

When you go to flash, that increases the speed, and you have that with all the benefit of compression and dedupe. The performance is just great. When we bring the data into the system with flash, we have the benefit of dedupe and the performance goes up.

With health service applications, you will want both improved performance and reliability, right?

Yes, and the systems are always growing. When I started we were at about 170 appliances and one warehouse. Now just in five years, we have grown with more stock, we have had to keep pace with all the volumes we need -- and we have added another 100 or so pharmacies. And everybody is saving more and more data and types of data, videos, and [Adobe]Photoshop files.

How much data do you have stored now, and how do you store it?

We have 40TB in two stores, each of 20TB. Because they are active/passive, it was just the case of flicking the switch. When we put the second system in at the remote site, we transferred it with no effect on performance.

Of course we had to plan for growth when we were setting it up. Tegile told us we had plenty and, in fact, with full compression we have 8TB of actual use out of the 20. So we have plenty of room for expansion.

Do you have your own apps that you have developed yourselves?

Yes. Out ERP system is our own. It was a system that was first built 10 or 12 years back and it has gone through various revisions, but it is ours. Our business is so demanding and always changing that we need that control.

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