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Nicklaus Children’s Health System Enhances and Automates Network

“DNS is the heartbeat of any corporate network because many different systems depend on it to function. Not having to worry about a DNS system failure is priceless because it not only means 100% uptime, but enables our clinical teams to provide the best patient care experience. Having Infoblox’s true and solid solution, one that is highly available, integrated with core network services (DNS/DHCP) and has support for automating workflows, is enormously attractive and key to efficiently and successfully managing any network.”
— Marcus Rivera, Team Lead, Domain/Cloud Services Architect, Nicklaus Children’s Health System

The Customer

Nicklaus Children’s Health System (NCHS) is the parent organization of Nicklaus Children’s Hospital, South Florida’s only licensed specialty hospital exclusively for children. Headquartered in Miami, Florida, the organization employs over 5,000 people and includes a growing number of locations and services. The organization’s vision is to provide the best healthcare possible to children through all stages of health and life,both physically and emotionally.

Facts

Customer: Nicklaus Children’s Health System

Industry: Healthcare

Location: United States

Initiatives: Implement a more robust, high performing network platform; Improve resiliency against network outages

Outcomes: Reduced network outages by 99%, Automation of systems for reduced costs and labor, Standardized and documented processes

Marcus Rivera leads the IT Department’s Technology Development team and has worked for the organization since 2010. He brings over 24 years of Healthcare IT experience to the organization. His focus has been on Microsoft Active Directory, Azure AD, Group Policy, Certificate Services, Windows Platforms, Exchange Server, Microsoft 365 and their respective wrap-around technologies. He has been working closely with Infoblox as a successful and loyal customer since 2008.

The Challenge

The customer’s core networking challenges revolved around a change in corporate IT strategy in 2009. At that time, the Network Engineering team identified the need to design enterprise-grade network infrastructure from the ground up that would be more resilient to network outages and downtime. The team thus needed to redesign the underlying architecture in order to create a more robust, reliable and secure environment that would minimize outages and scale for current needs and future growth.

Upgrading to Enterprise-Grade Network Architecture

The customer’s entire network was previously depending on Microsoft Network Infrastructure (Windows Server – DNS, DHCP & WINS) spawned during the early days of Windows 2000 Server. “Since the inception of Active Directory, Microsoft DNS/DHCP was the easiest option for IT professionals to adopt for several reasons,” says Rivera. “First, it’s free. Second, IT professionals like me are required to learn the platform as part of their MS certification track.

Naturally, System Engineers would likely gravitate to using it in production with confidence, after leveraging it in preparation for their exams.” However, while inexpensive and easy to set up, Microsoft’s implementation of DNS/DHCP was not sufficient for delivering enterprise-grade network infrastructure that the customer needed.

Infoblox’s integrated, centrally managed approach to delivering enterprise-grade DNS, DHCP and IPAM supports the current evolving healthcare IT needs, while providing the highest standards for network security, service uptime and operational efficiencies.

Network Automation in Health Care IT

Network automation has become an important element for healthcare IT. Exploding administrative costs, expanding patient expectations, and increasing burnout of clinicians have pressured healthcare organizations to accelerate the Digital Transformation in order to improve the healthcare experience. Network automation is also a valuable strategy for supporting innovation, improving network performance, minimizing labor and operating costs and more.

Rivera explains, “Folks were initially resistant to adopting change and that forced me to be sort of an evangelist for a more robust IPAM solution. They were originally using an Excel spreadsheet for keeping track of IP addresses and device inventory”, he explains further: “Having Infoblox’s true and solid solution, one that is highly available, integrated with core network services (DNS/DHCP) and has support for automating workflows, is enormously attractive and key to efficiently and successfully managing any network.”

In the beginning, IPAM was just the tip of the iceberg. With the dawn of the merge between Development and Operations (DevOps), automation was a real evolutionary step for our organization. It has allowed us to easily integrate silo-ed environments, leading to greater agility, service delivery performance and reliability. The automation of these tasks also helped them to minimize costs and lets the Engineering and Operations Teams focus on more productive tasks. “Adopting Infoblox’s NetMRI solution helped move us closer towards this culture.”

Improved Customer Experience and Seamless Migration

Despite facing additional challenges from convincing different teams of the value of standardization, the customer has since experienced an overall improvement in their day-to-day operations, since migrating to Infoblox. They underwent a seamless and virtually effortless migration process, executing a swing migration versus a total rip and replace. Working with the Network Engineering team, they started with the VLAN migration from Microsoft DHCP Server, followed by DNS Zone Transfers, zone data Imports and configuration of DNS Forwarders. Over a period of a few days, as VLANs were migrated, so were the respective clients. Redirecting Active Directory Domain Controllers to their new DNS was the next step and then, after finally eliminating any remaining legacy Window DNS clients, the migration was complete.

As a result, the customer has significantly improved its overall network performance and reliability. The organization now benefits from minimized risk of network outages while also improving security posture by removing DNS from Domain Controllers, thereby reducing the attack surface to Active Directory. “Nicklaus Children’s Health System’s mission is to inspire hope and to promote lifelong health by providing the best care to every child,” Rivera states. “Everyone on the team was nervous about the migration because they knew how it would impact patient care if something were to go awry. Knowing that I don’t have to worry about our DNS/DHCP infrastructure, or worry about having a complete system outage is priceless. It allows us to focus on providing the best care to our patients and their families.”

Developing a DevOps Culture

With the Technology Development team adopting system automation practices, it allowed them to move to an improved DevOps culture, enabling Nicklaus Children’s IT department to improve efficiency, productivity and improve internal collaboration. This all translates to better patient care.

The complete move to a DevOps culture continued with the customer’s integration of virtual machines and their deployment process. “Server provisioning is a big deal” Rivera stated. “In the past, it took hours to deploy a server. These days, leveraging virtualization technology and scripting automation processes, my team can spin up a server in minutes. Leveraging the power of Linux and Ansible Tower, Windows PowerShell and Infoblox grid technology, allows us to automate our server deployments and integrate the solution end to end, including IP address management and DNS host record provisioning. It’s a true start to finish solution, all with a few text fields to fill in and a mouse click”.

To that end, the team integrated different platforms; Ansible Tower to help with Linux deployments, Microsoft Orchestrator to assist with the Windows platforms. Together, they were able to automate processes across hybrid deployments and built bridges between logical IT services and support, where Infoblox became the single source of truth.

Looking to the Future

Nicklaus Children’s Health System is looking to plan and execute several upcoming projects in the near future. While DNS and DHCP is running strong, Rivera goes on to say that there is always room for improvement. “My mentor has always told me that you can’t get too comfortable. If you do, you know it’s time to get going” he says. Future projects his team will be working on include implementing AnyCast DNS, Reporting and Analytics, integrating with additional security platforms and expanding the footprint of the grid into their perimeter network. Rivera concludes, “Infoblox is here to stay, at least while I am here, which is why we need to continue to capitalize on our investment.”

For More Information

To learn more about how you can improve your healthcare organization’s network reliability, simplify network management with a unified platform for your core network services and more, visit the Infoblox website or try Infoblox for free today.

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